Search This Blog

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Safe are Whole-Body Airport Scans?

In it’s December 13, 2010 issue, Newsweek published a chart comparing the radiation a person receives from the new full-body x-ray scanners in airports to other sources of radiation. The radiation levels are listed below:

Airport whole-body scan                            0.01 MREM
x-ray of extremity                                     0.10 MREM
Dental x-ray                                             0.50 MREM
Cosmic radiation, sea level                      24.00 MREM/year
Terrestrial radioactivity                             28.00 MREM/year
Mammogram                                          40.00 MREM
Cosmic radiation, Denver                         50.00 MREM/year
Radon in average home                         200.00 MREM/year
CT scan of abdomen and pelvis           1,500.00 MREM
Level causing radiation sickness      100,000.00 MREM

If the results are to be believed, and Newsweek usually carefully checks its sources, then the airport whole-body scans appear to be low-risk. That is not to say that they are without risk, because any radiation may bring some risk with it. Also, the comparison to environmental radiation exposure per year can be misleading because, when you go through a scanner, you receive the full dose of radiation in a few seconds, and the rate of exposure could be a factor in causing undesirable changes to body cells. For example, the sea-level cosmic radiation exposure per year translates to only 0.0000007 MREM per second. Nevertheless, the exposure from an airport scanner appears far less than that from a dental x-ray, which most of us accept as part of our health maintenance. An additional factor is that the genitals, which are particularly vulnerable to radiation, are usually shielded when health-related x-rays are taken. Since the “underwear bomber” prompted the scans in the first place, the genitals can not be shielded in such scans. At this point, the scans appear safe, but each individual must decide whether or not a body pat-down is preferable to a scan.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome questions and comments.