Study: No need to fear airport body scanners

May 02, 2011

While many have questioned the health risks of body scanners at airports, people are actually exposed to more radiation while traveling in an airplane.

Since the Transportation Security Administration introduced new airport body scanners a few months ago, some Americans have debated on whether the device emits an unhealthy amount of radiation. However, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, say frequent fliers need not fear, as a new study found the scanners are an "extremely low" source of radiation.

To study the risk posed by scanners, scientists divided travelers into three groups: all fliers, frequent fliers and 5-year-old girls who are frequent fliers, since children are more sensitive to radiation. Researchers said that out of the 750 million flights taken each year by 100 million passengers, repeated exposure to scanners would result in additional six cases of cancer. That is a small fraction of the 40 million cancers scientists said would normally develop in a group of that size.

Among frequent fliers - meaning, those who fly 60 hours a week - there may be four extra cancer cases on top of the already 600 cases the group would already develop just from radiation exposure on an airplane.

In fact, flying in an airplane is more likely to lead to high life insurance rates than stepping in a scanner. In a typical cross-country flight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports a passenger is likely to receive 2 to 5 millirem of radiation. While that is considerably higher than radiation received in a scanner, the agency said it is still less than half the dose a person receives from an average chest x-ray.

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