In a recent article in Radiology, David Brenner, PhD, DSc, of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, in New York, and David Schauer, ScD, CHP, executive director of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, offered their views on the subject of the radiation risk posed by airport scanners.
On the one hand, the scanners currently in use give an effective dose of about 1 microSievert, and research has only shown estimated risks for doses of 5 milliSieverts and up — amounts much higher than scanner doses.
On the other hand, Dr. Brenner notes that there are "current practical alternatives that do not involve ionizing radiation" — such as millimeter wave scanners, which rely on radiofrequency to create an image.
In the end, the researchers conclude, even though individual cancer risk from airport x-ray machines is probably small, the large number of Americans passing through these backscatter x-ray devices every year (there will be approximately one billion passenger scans in the U.S. alone this year) could result in a slightly increased population risk. Which raises the question as to the appropriateness of exposing an extremely large number of people to a small radiation-induced cancer risk.
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