Backscatter Whole Body Scanners – Why Research Matters
Call me paranoid. Call me a conspiracy theorist. Call me crazy.
But I won’t walk through a backscatter scanner at airport security.
I have 2 primary reasons for this:
- There hasn’t been enough research done to know what the long-term effects of these x-ray scanners might be.
- I’ve yet to fully understand how something that comes with a warning for children and pregnant women could still be OK for others.
Last week’s announcement that children who receive CT scans have a higher risk of developing brain cancer and leukemia reinforced the importance (to me) of not walking through the backscatter whole body scanners at the airport.
The study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that children who had received CT scans were at a higher level of risk (albeit small) than those whom did not receive CT scans. Furthermore, a child who received 5 – 10 CT scans, was 3 times more likely to develop leukemia.
To be clear, I am NOT arguing whether or not a child should receive a CT scan – these are important in diagnosing brain and other injuries. My point is that the long-term effects are only now being realized as years of data have been accumulated and analyzed. And it is interesting to note that:
Because the backscatter machines are not used for medical purposes, there is no oversight by the FDA, as is required for medical x-rays.
In this article by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock, he points out that when CT scans were first introduced, the American College of Radiology said that they were equal to 1 chest x-ray. Later, it was learned that it’s actually closer to 1,000 chest x-rays.
“So what?” you might ask. Well, radiation generates free radicals in your cells which ultimately increases your risk of cancer. (Know all those anti-oxidant products you’ve been buying? They are meant to repair cells damaged by those free radicals.)
Yes, a CT scan is very different from the backscatter scanner and the radiation level is greater with a CT. However, the energy from the backscatter covers your entire body, on the skin’s surface and just a few millimeters below. Because some radiation-sensitive tissues are very close to the surface (circulating blood cells, eyes and the testes), it’s easy to see how we may see an increase in cancers in or around these areas in the coming years.
Though young children and pregnant women are the ones encouraged NOT to go through the backscatter, the elderly (with years of damaged DNA accumulated over time) may also be at a higher risk of cancer, including melanoma. Add to this list people with impaired immune systems such as cancer and AIDS patients or those with immune deficiency disorders and you can see how this might open a can of worms if the government were to say that backscatter scanners were not safe for this larger population.
If we were living in a pure environment, free of toxins, pesticides and radiation received elsewhere (such as from actually flying), I might not be standing on a soapbox about the backscatter. But we don’t live in a toxin-free environment, and the cumulative effects of the backscatter scanner are a big fat unknown.
Our bodies are under a tremendous amount of stress – both environmental and emotional – and I see no reason to add potentially deadly radiation exposure to it when I have a choice to opt out.
I realize it’s highly unlikely that everyone reading this is going to opt-out of the backscatter scanner and instead choose the invasive groping-that’s-called-a-pat-down next time you’re at the airport. BUT, do me this favor…
Make an informed choice.
Research already shows that radiation is not good for us. An occasional dose? Not likely to send your cells all in a spin – but why risk it?
If you do choose to opt-out, don’t let the TSA agents harass you into thinking you’re an idiot for doing so. Leave yourself 5 – 15 extra minutes to check in for your flight so if they are slow in finding you someone who can pat you down, you’re not stressed and acquiesce because of staff shortages.
The more of us who choose to opt out, perhaps the better staffed they’ll be and the better we’ll be treated.
Me? I’ll continue to keep my eye open for the lane that is sometimes available with no backscatter. I’ll opt-out when I can’t find that lane and will keep drinking my green tea and goji berries (both high in anti-oxidants).