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TSA Says Body Scanners Emit Acceptable Radiation Levels

May 25, 2011

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said on Tuesday that new tests of full-body scanners deployed at airports found that the radiation they emit was within acceptable levels.

The machines have been deployed at dozens of airports to thwart attacks on the U.S. aviation system, which has continued to be a prime target of al Qaeda militants.

“The latest reports confirm previous testing and show that every backscatter unit currently used for passenger screening in U.S. airports is operating well within applicable national safety standards,” TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball told Reuters.

There are about 486 full-body scanners in 78 airports in the U.S., of which 247 are so-called backscatter machines made by Rapiscan Systems.  They expose a person to about 0.0025 millirem of radiation.

Test results released by TSA in March found anomalies like missing data or calculation errors unrelated to safety.  The agency then ordered new tests for the scanners as well as other X-ray equipment used to screen baggage that had problematic reports.

According to TSA, the machines produce no more than 0.005 millirem per scan.  The agency said in comparison, a chest X-ray will expose someone to 10 millirem of radiation and the maximum recommended exposure to radiation from man-made sources is 100 millirem per year.

TSA accelerated deploying full-body scanners after a Nigerian man tried to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam as it approached Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The full-body scanners have provided a backlash among some, who were upset because they produce revealing body images.

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