Just when we were finally accepting the new world order of having to subject our most intimate of intimates to airport security scanners, sources are now saying that the machines may be responsible for rapid increases in cancer for TSA employees. Union representatives for employees at Boston Logan International Airport have uncovered a “cancer cluster” among those who work side-by-side with body scanners at the airport, the same airport where several of the 9-11 hijackers boarded their flights on September 11th. Pressures at Boston Logan to make sure passengers are safe is the highest priority, but it might be the resulting harm to employees that does the most damage.
The issue has quickly spiraled into a controversy after the TSA failed to take any necessary steps to investigate the matter. In fact their response was borderline condescending: telling employees that their risk for late-life cancer is at the same level as everyone else’s. This caused the story to snowball into a soap opera TSA officials may have an extraordinarily hard time getting themselves taken out of. At the center of the scandal: whether or not the TSA intentionally withheld vital information or knowingly used questionable evidence to push for the implantation of full body scanners in American airports.
According to sources recently released documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act have proven that the TSA and Department of Homeland Security both mischaracterized data provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Apparently the NIST had not definitively proven that body scanners are safe to stand near for long periods of time. On the contrary, the NIST had said that body scanners do in fact emit enough radiation that workers should avoid standing near them as much as possible.
TSA employees are on the record now saying that they were consistently kept in the dark when they asked questions about the safety of body scanners when they were first being installed in December of 2010. An official from the union that represents TSA workers said that she doesn’t believe the agency is sharing enough information with its workforce.
Scientists and medical professionals are not mincing words when they speak about the dangers of working around body scanners. Dr. Michael Love, operator of the biophysics department x-ray at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has openly declared that statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from the radiation that body scanners emit. Studies once considered biased and untrustworthy are now being considered as evidence in what could end up becoming criminal negligence. For instance Columbia University did a study a year ago that determined that body scanners cause an increase chance of developing skin cancer. The Inter-Agency on Radiation Safety has stated that body scanners should not be used on children and pregnant women.
So…what does all this leave for you, the traveler? Consider that unless you are a pregnant woman, a child, or a frequent (and I mean frequent) flyer, you should be okay. The kind of dangers that have been discussed are only likely to occur for individuals who are exposed to body scanners for months on end or have bodies weakened enough or young enough that the emitted radiation can do some damage. You can walk through body scanners in peace for now. But take this issue as an opportunity to re-examine your own thoughts on airport security measures. How many people might die from body scanners? How many people might live because they’re used? Something has to give, because the strip search isn’t much of an alternative as far as I’m concerned.