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ACR Weighs In on Airport Full-Body Scanners

January 13, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics
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If you’ve been listening to the news at all lately, you’ve probably heard the recent debates over the use of full-body scanners in airports, sparked by the Christmas Day bombing attempt in Detroit. Last week, the American College of Radiology (ACR) released a statement on the scanners, which allow screeners to see through passengers’ clothing to check for hidden weapons. Some concern has been raised over the safety of the radiation levels the scanners produce.

According to the ACR statement, the Transportation Security Administration uses two types of screening systems: millimeter wave technology, which uses low-level radio waves; and backscatter technology, which uses extremely weak X-rays.

“An airliine passenger flying cross-country is exposed to more radiation from the flight than from screening from one of these devices,” the ACR says. According to estimates by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Management, it would take 100 backscatter scans a year to be considered a Negligible Individual Dose for a flyer. “By these measurements, a traveler would require 1,000 such scans in a year to reach the effective dose equal to one standard chest X-ray,” the statement concludes.

In a recent US Today/Gallop poll of more than 500 regular flyers, 78 percent said they support the use of full-body scanners. Most concerns had to do with issues of modesty rather than radiation.

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