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Europe Bans X-ray Airport Scanners, Sort Of

December 1, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Medical Ethics
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The European Commission has banned X-ray airport scanners at European Union airports because of concerns about radiation exposure. At least we think so.

The commission revealed this a couple of weeks ago in a news release that appears to announce the opposite of a ban. It says European airports that want to use “security scanners” may do so. The release goes on about how the scanners are “an effective method of screening passengers as they are capable of detecting both metallic and non-metallic items carried on a person.” It describes various “operational conditions and performance standards.”

Only in the eighth and final paragraph does the release mention that, oh, by the way:

In order not to risk jeopardising citizens’ health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports.

According to the British newspaper the Daily Mail, “The EC has halted all new trials of the machines while a safety report is compiled. A final decision about rolling out the scanners across Britain and the Continent will be made next year.”

These are the backscatter X-ray scanners that became controversial for showing all too clearly the bodies of screening subjects, as you can see from the Daily Mail photos of a demonstration featuring a gentleman who seems to be thinking, “Man, I really should have been going to the gym a lot more often,” and perhaps with reason.

Anyway, security agencies, manufacturers, scientists, and everybody else has been arguing over whether the small amount of radiation exposure—supposedly equivalent to what you’d receive during a couple of minutes of airline flight at altitude—poses any danger.

As the Daily Mail mentions, the Manchester Airport in England plans to continue using the machines. Great Britain is an EU member, but it refuses to adopt the euro, and apparently it gets to ignore some EU regulations as well.

The odd thing is that similar machines, also in use at airports in the United states and elsewhere, achieve similar imaging with millimeter-wave technology, which as far as anyone knows doesn’t harm humans. As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper notes, the millimeter-wave machines now have technology that shows a generic body outline, not the actual passenger, warts, lumps, and all. The X-ray machines so far cannot match that feature.

So why hasn’t everyone gone for the millimeter-wave machines?

Yes, we know we’re being naive in asking that question.

Related seminar: Imaging Advances: Abdominal, Thoracic, Skeletal

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One Response to “Europe Bans X-ray Airport Scanners, Sort Of”

  1. Radiology Daily»AlertArchive » Millimeter-Wave Technology Sees (Almost) All on December 26th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    […] waves can make much finer differentiations than X-rays, and without ionizing radiation. As we mentioned earlier this month, some full-body airport scanners use the technology. SAMMI can detect the grain in the wooden […]