TSA workers are complaining about the amounts of radiation they are being exposed to on a daily basis in the wake of the mass introduction of body scanners to airports around the country.
USA Today reports that TSA agents are unhappy with the fact that they are being kept in the dark by their employers, despite repeated requests for information.
“We don’t think the agency is sharing enough information,” said Milly Rodriguez, occupational health and safety specialist at the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA workers.
“Radiation just invokes a lot of fear.” she added.
According to the USA Today report, several TSA employees have expressed their concerns to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
…a TSA employee at an unidentified airport asked CDC in June to examine concerns about radiation exposures from standing near the new full-body X-ray scanners for hours a day. The CDC said it didn’t have authority to do a hazard assessment unless three or more current employees at one location made a joint request, according to a September letter from the CDC to the unnamed worker. The CDC provided the letter to USA TODAY.
Despite claiming that the body scanners and baggage scanners emit safe doses of radiation and are routinely inspected, the TSA has refused to release its radiation inspection records.
Worse still, an independent study by the CDC carried out in 2004, found that some baggage scanners were in violation of federal radiation standards, and were emitting two or three times beyond the agreed safe limit.
A further 2008 CDC report noted that some x-ray machines were missing protective lead curtains or had had safety features disabled by TSA employees with duct tape, paper towels and other materials.
Now there are even more x-ray devices in use, TSA workers’ concerns, as well as recent public backlash, is beginning to force the issue.
This has prompted members of congress to get involved, with a group led by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, demanding that the TSA release the documents.
As the USA Today report explains, The TSA is responsible for inspecting the x-ray scanners itself, rather than the FDA, because they are not classed as medical devices.
Following the congressional attention, the TSA has said that it will attempt to release the radiation records to USA Today, but has not indicated when this will be, citing the need to review the records for security reasons.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the top Republican on a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee over federal workforce issues, has vowed to press the TSA for the documentation.
“It should send some flashing red lights when they won’t allow the public to review that data,” said Chaffetz, who oversaw the passage in the House last year of an amendment to ban “strip-search” imaging at airports.
“You don’t have to look at my wife and 8-year-old daughter naked to secure an airplane,” Chaffetz said at the time.
“You can actually see the sweat on somebody’s back. You can tell the difference between a dime and a nickel. If they can do that, they can see things that quite frankly I don’t think they should be looking at in order to secure a plane,” Chaffetz told the House.
Frankly, more TSA workers should be concerned over the levels of radiation they are being exposed to and are being asked to expose the public to.
Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins school of medicine recently told AFP that “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays”.
“…we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he added.
John Sedat, a University of California at San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the National Academy of Sciences tells CNet that the machines have “mutagenic effects” and will increase the risk of cancer. Sedat previously sent a letter to the White House science Czar John P. Holdren, identifying the specific risk the machines pose to children and the elderly.
The letter stated:
“it appears that real independent safety data do not exist… There has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.”
The TSA has repeatedly stated that going through the machines is equal to the radiation encountered during just two minutes of a flight. However, this does not take into account that the scanning machines specifically target only the skin and the muscle tissue immediately beneath.
The scanners are similar to C-Scans and fire ionizing radiation at those inside which penetrates a few centimeters into the flesh and reflects off the skin to form a naked body image.
The firing of ionizing radiation at the body effectively “unzips” DNA, according to scientific research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The research shows that even very low doses of X-ray can delay or prevent cellular repair of damaged DNA, yet pregnant women and children will be subjected to the process as new guidelines including scanners are adopted.
The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety concluded in their report on the matter that governments must justify the use of the scanners and that a more accurate assessment of the health risks is needed.
Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, according to the report, adding that governments should consider “other techniques to achieve the same end without the use of ionizing radiation.”
“The Committee cited the IAEA’s 1996 Basic Safety Standards agreement, drafted over three decades, that protects people from radiation. Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” reported Bloomberg.
Scientists at Columbia University also entered the debate recently, warning that the dose emitted by the naked x-ray devices could be up to 20 times higher than originally estimated, likely contributing to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma which affects the head and neck.
“If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The population risk has the potential to be significant,” said Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s centre for radiological research.
Despite all these warnings, The Department of Homeland Security claims that the scanners are completely safe, pointing to “independent” verification from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both federal government bodies.