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Analysis Suggests Cancer Risk of Backscatter Airport Scanners is Low

By Jason Bardi, UCSF News Center | March 28, 2011

Calculations by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of California, Berkeley estimate that the cancer risk associated with one type of airport security scanners is low based on the amount of radiation these devices emit, as long as they are operated and function correctly.

"The doses are low - extremely low," said Rebecca Smith-Bindman, MD, a professor of radiology at UCSF, who made the calculations with Pratik Mehta, an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. "The amount of radiation in these scans is so low that you don't have to be concerned about it."

The amount of radiation absorbed in a single scan, they say, is about the same as what the average person absorbs every three to nine minutes on the ground - just from being alive. (The human body naturally absorbs radiation all the time from such sources as the sun and the earth). In their analysis, Smith-Bindman and Mehta also determined that the average person would absorb 100 times more radiation flying on an airplane than standing in a scanner.

At the same time, Smith-Bindman cautions that the analysis is based on the assumption that the backscatter devices work perfectly and are used as designed.

How certain can Americans be that there are not as-yet-unknown safety risks? For instance, is there potential for software glitches, human errors or mechanical malfunctions that could cause the scanners to exceed their design specifications and expose people to higher levels of radiation?


Read more at Jason Bardi, UCSF News Center