Radiation Overdose at the Airport

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Jan Van Liere
Reality Sandwich

As the rate of cancer spikes among Transportation Security Agency (TSA) officers who work near the full-body scanners at the Boston Logan Airport, union reps are alarmed at having been misinformed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA regarding the safety of these machines. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, has acquired radiation studies, and radiation test results from DHS which the center says gives evidence that the government failed to appropriately test the safety of these devices at airports and disregarded concerns from airport. According to the documents, “A large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease.”

EPIC says the relinquished documents indicate that DHS “publicly mischaracterized” safety findings by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) by intimating that the organization had “affirmed the safety” of the ominous scanners. In fact, antipodal to confirming their safety, the documents obtained by EPIC show that NIST cautioned that TSA officers should avoid standing next to the machines, as to keep exposure to caustic radiation “as low as reasonably achievable.” In contradistinction to repetitive TSA claims that Johns Hopkins had authenticated the benign nature of the scanners, the FOIA docs illustrate how the university’s study actually unveiled that radiation zones around the machines could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit”. In fact, Dr. Michael Love, head of the X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins, publicly stated that “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays”.

Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s center for radiological research, discovered in a study conducted last year that the machines are likely to lead to an increase in basal cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer affecting the head and neck. Post-study, Brenner urged medical authorities to overview his work, indicating the critical notion of mass scanning millions of people without proper oversight. February 2010 saw like concerns voiced by the prominent Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety, who warned in a report that the scanners increase the risk of cancer and birth defects and should not be used on pregnant women or children. And Bloomberg reported, “Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”.

A dark pall has hung over these devices since their inception. If they are really as benign as they are claimed to be, then why did EPIC have to sue for the culpable information? This past December, TSA workers complained about the radiation peril of the scanners, declaring they were being kept in the dark by their employers, in spite of ongoing requests for information. TSA union reps at the Boston airport requested dosimeters (radiation-monitoring devices) to monitor the safety of their officers but have yet to receive them.

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