March 12, 2011

TSA To Make Screening Radiation Data Available To Public

Radiation test results from airport screening equipment will start being made public by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in an effort to calm the lingering fears many passengers have about potential health risks.

The TSA said it also discovered anomalies in some reports, including missing data and calculation errors unrelated to safety. It said as an extra cautionary measure it has ordered retesting of all full-body scanners as well as other X-ray equipment airports use to screen luggage.

Concerns from both passengers and airline crews have surfaced due to repeated exposure to radiation from the body scanners.

"Independent third-party testing has confirmed that all TSA technology is safe," TSA Administrator John Pistole told Reuters in a statement. "TSA takes significant steps to ensure the safety and health of passengers and our workforce as we work to protect our nation from terrorist threats."

Some travelers expressed anger over the use of the scanners because they produced a nude picture of themselves and also had the potential for increased exposure to radiation. But the TSA has maintained that the radiation emitted is minimal and not dangerous, citing experts from the Food and Drug Administration and other scientists. New software is also being tested to address further privacy concerns.

There are currently 486 full-body scanners in place in 78 US airports, of which 247 are called backscatter machines made by Rapiscan Systems, a unit of OSI Systems Inc, and expose a person to about 0.0025 millirem of radiation. The scanners cannot produce more than 0.005 millirem per scan, the TSA said.

In comparison, chest X-rays expose someone to 10 millirem of radiation per scan, and the maximum recommended yearly exposure from man-made sources is 100 millirem, according to the TSA.

The TSA said it will boost its management and supervision of the testing and procedures. It has also ordered contractors to retrain personnel conducting the studies and requested the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to re-evaluate the TSA's safety program.

"The mistakes were the result of calculating and procedural errors that were identified by Rapiscan management and have been corrected," said Peter Kant, executive vice president of Rapiscan Systems.

The machines have fail-safe triggers to "shut down long before safety limitations could be reached," he said.

About 105 of the scanners have been tested by Rapiscan. The company says it has found no problems with any of those machines.

The radiation reports can be found on the TSA's website and will be conducted and published once per year.


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