TSA to Study X-Ray Body-Scanner Health Risks, Pistole Says

TSA to Study X-Ray Body-Scanner Health Risks, Pistole Says
A Transportation Security Administration employee demonstrates an advanced image technology millimeter wave scanner using new Automated Target Recognition software being tested at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will study the health risks of the full-body scanners that use X-rays, Administrator John Pistole said.

“I am concerned that there’s a perception that they’re not as safe as they could be,” Pistole said at a Senate homeland security committee hearing today in Washington.

While the TSA has said that the scanners are safe, based on external health studies, the agency has never conducted its own research, Pistole said, in response to senators’ questions. A report published yesterday by ProPublica questioned the research used to determine the safety of the scanners.

TSA has 250 of the machines, made by OSI Systems Inc.’s Rapiscan, at airport checkpoints across the country. The TSA also has about 600 full-body scanners that use millimeter-wave technology and do not emit radiation. Those are made by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc.

The X-ray, or backscatter, machines “have tested safe for decades,” Peter Kant, executive vice president for the Rapiscan unit, said in a telephone interview. “We certainly support any additional testing to once again revalidate the safety.”

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Kant said he shares Pistole’s concern about public perception. Additional tests should help end “perpetuation of the falsehood that the machines are unsafe,” he said.

Both types of scanners have been criticized by pilots and passengers for producing graphic images showing the body under a person’s clothes. The L-3 scanners have been updated with software that produces generic outlines instead. A similar fix for the Rapiscan machines is in lab testing, Pistole said.

That testing should be finished soon, Kant said. The TSA has told Rapiscan it won’t buy more of its machines until the software is updated, Kant said.

Senator Susan Collins, the ranking Republican on the homeland security committee, urged Pistole to stop using any passenger screening technology that emits radiation.

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