Opinion Brief

Full-body scanners: The 'totally unacceptable' new radiation scare

The TSA insists full-body scanners are safe, even after surprisingly high radiation reports trigger a round of retesting

The Transportation Security Administration is retesting 247 full-body X-ray scanners, some of which have shown radiation levels 10 times higher than expected, at 38 airports. The extra scrutiny applies to certain machines made by one company — which account for roughly half of the devices being used at airports nationwide. The TSA insists the machines are safe, saying that the highest recordings probably reflect math errors, and that even those levels of radiation exposure are less than what a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation. The agency says it's only doing the review out of "an abundance of caution to reassure the public." Does that reassure you?

This is scary... and maddening: How "infuriating," says Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir. The TSA has been assuring the public non-stop that these full-body scanners are safe, yet now it's admitting "gross errors" in calculating radiation emissions. It's welcome news that the agency is acting fast to get to the bottom of this, but that "certainly doesn't do anything to ease travelers' minds" about the radiation they've already absorbed. And these errors are inexcusable. As Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says, "It is totally unacceptable to be bumbling such critical tasks.""Radiation from TSA scanners may be more than we thought"

Relax, scanners are safe: Let's put this in perspective, says Blogger Bob at The TSA Blog. A backscatter X-ray scan exposes a traveler to about 0.005 millirems of radiation, compared to 4 millirems in a chest X-ray and 0.1 millirems from a single day of natural background radiation. Independent examinations have proved "the technology is safe," despite some errors in maintenance records. Once the new test results are posted online, you will be able to "see for yourself.""TSA releases radiation testing reports"

Voluntary TSA transparency would have been more reassuring: The TSA isn't doing these tests out of "an abundance of caution," says Teddy Partridge at Firedoglake. It's doing them because USA Today and suspicious lawmakers have been demanding more openness about radiation levels for months. They chose an extremely busy news day last week — Japan's earthquake, Obama's news conference, Wisconsin's continuing union showdown — to concede (and bury) their embarrassing errors. So the TSA is bad at math but terrific at PR spinning. That's hardly the kind of knowledge that will soothe travelers."TSA slips scanner re-testing into busy Friday news day"

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