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Are full body scanners safe?

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Are full body scanners safe?

We are all asking the same questions related to the new body scanners that the US government is imposing upon us during travel after 9/11: Is getting scanned safe? There are two sides of the story, so I am going to give you both the FDA/TSA'a view and the independent Radiologist/MD's views (mostly those from UCSF that have sent letters to Obama to ask for a repeal of this decision by the TSA) and my own point of view, and you all can do what you choose!  I just want to let you know the possible risks and let you know those at highest risk for long term effects.

What are these scanners all about?
The TSA has introduced the body back-scanners which gives a view of your  front and back through rapid speed low density radiation and  is presumed to give a view of any items that would be hidden under your clothes.  Their goal is to detect any hidden weapons or explosives.

So what is the concern?
The FDA and TSA claim that the radiation is completely safe because it is such a low amount of radiation, but there are numerous radiation experts that disagree, saying that exposure to radiation should be eliminated at all cost, so why expose yourself when it isn't necessarily needed.  The risks can be higher for those with immunocompromised bodies (i.e. passengers with HIV/AIDS or cancer), the elderly, children, and pregnant women.

The FDA/TSA's Side:
The FDA even created a web site to squelch peoples fears about body scanners, just remember, they want you to get scanned, so take their info with a grain of salt.  Daniel Kassiday from the FDA claimed that one dose of x-ray causes "an extremely low risk to an individual" and that we are exposed to more radiation in our daily lives than one dose of the radiation from these back scanners.   The FDA also claims that it would take 1000 to 2000 back scans to be the equivalent to 1 medical chest xray.  Despite no true testing of this technology, they also claim that the scans are safe for the pregnant women and children, based on their calculations.

Independent Radiologists view:
These scanners haven't been studied to know if there is an increased risk and they requested an impartial panel of physicists and medical biologist and radiologists to determine the risk to people.  It should be treated just like any other medication that the FDA approves, these scanners should be held to the same level of testing.  They are requesting the same level of expectations for these scanners as they would for any other medical equipment or medications that the FDA approves, as outlined in a letter to the President in April 2010.  They also have concerns for the immunocompromised patients that already have cell mutation, and exposure to even "low dose" radiation can cause significant cell damage, and increase the risk of skin cancer.  Also, they bring up the risk of men and radiation, and the risk of sperm mutation from these exposures.  As well, the risk to children hasn't been studied, while the risk of radiation to pregnant women has been determined as too much of a risk to the fetus.  So, it is not understood, and there is no research to determine that IS safe.

Nurse Bridgids take:
I don't think that it is too much to ask to study the risks to us before exposing us to radiation before we hop on a plane.  I don't mean to question our government, and that is not what I am saying, but from a purely scientific point of view, we cannot give a study medication that has yet to be approved by the FDA to a patient without them signing tons of waivers, but the TSA decides that we all need to get scanned, so we do it?  I think not.  Basically everyone is exposed to various bits of radiation every day from phone towers, cell phones, power plants, etc from the environment, so why do we want to add any additional exposure?  Plus, people who work in hospitals and any sort of power plant or in an area of high electricity are at high risk anyway, so why should we also get some exposure when we are going on vacation?  I would prefer a heavy pet down by a gropey TSA agent rather than get scanned and risk my fertility (radiation can zap even eggs in storage!) or increase my risk of cancer.  I travel a bunch of times a year, but what about people who travel constantly for work, do they deserve this exposure?  How is their risk determined?  I know medical professionals that feel differently, but unless the TSA can prove two things to me, I will refuse: 1) They are finding more weapons and explosives and stopping them from getting into plane cabins and 2) There is no risk to my body from the exposure to radiation.

You decide what is BEST for you and go with it, I don't want to sway anyone either way, because obviously I am anti, but I want you to be safe and know that these scanners haven't been studied, so if you are at higher risk, you may want to think twice!

Yours in Good Health


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