Should You Be Afraid of the Body Scanner Raising the Risk of Cancer? Nah, and Neither Should Pilots

If you’ve been watching pilot unions tell their members to decline to go through the body scanner when they go through security, you’re probably feeling concerned about your safety as well, right? The good news is that there don’t appear to be any real safety implications for the casual traveler and it’s unlikely to be problematic for pilots either. My guess is that this is more of a backlash against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules than anything else. While there are plenty of privacy and annoyance factors to consider, it seems like safety isn’t a major concern.

Pilots Fight TSA AIT Rules

Much of this has to stem from recent TSA moves. Now, if you are at a checkpoint where there is a backscatter, full body scanner and you are asked to go through it, you have the right to say no. If you say no, however, then you will be subject to a full body massage. The TSA has recently changed the pat-down procedure so that the front of the hand will be used instead of the back and the hands may wander closer to, uh, sensitive areas. In other words, go ahead and turn down the body scan but you’ll then be groped. It’s not a great option.

Pilot unions have now come out saying that their members should avoid body scanners, or what is now being referred to as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), due to concerns about radiation. This is an x-ray machine, after all. Captain Dave Bates, president of Allied Pilots Association which represents American’s pilots, says in a letter that pilots should decline the AIT and instead opt for a pat-down. He then says it’s unprofessional to receive a pat-down in public in uniform so pilots should ask for a private screening. If that means that the pilot is unable to be ready to fly on time, then that’s ok. Safety first.

Now Mike Cleary, head of the US Airline Pilots Association at US Airways, has taken it even further. He says that crewmembers should have a witness with them during the pat-down process. After that, pilots need to “evaluate their fitness for duty. As has been determined, there is a wide range of possibilities once you submit to a private screening, and the results can be devastating.”

This is obviously turning into a huge issue, but why? The pilots say that the issue is due to radiation exposure, but much of this seems to be primarily an objection to pilots being subjected to screening at all. The pilots have long argued, and rightly-so in my opinion, that screening on-duty pilots is ridiculous. After all, they are the ones with the locked cockpit door behind them. If they want to do damage, they don’t need to smuggle something on the plane to do it. They control the plane. There are issues with ensuring that someone is actually a pilot and that they are on-duty, but those are solvable. Flying pilots shouldn’t need to be screened, so now the unions are, in my opinion, putting out these directives in order to try to bring some urgency to the issue.

But should you be concerned about your own safety here from radiation? I don’t think so. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put out a lengthy letter to the University of California regarding concerns stated by Dr John Holdren about the potentially harmful effects of these machines. I’ve read through the letter and I’d say I understand half of it at best. So maybe smarter people than I can help translate, but I get the main points of it. As Kai Ryssdal says, let’s do the numbers.

The established standard for radiation exposure for the general public from man-made, non-medical sources is 1,000 µSv (microsieverts) per year. One microsievert is one millionth of a sievert, and if you’re familiar with the now-outdated measure of rem, a sievert is 1/100 of a rem, so these are tiny little numbers.

Since it’s not possible to control all sources of radiation exposure, the general rule is to try to keep it under 250 µSv per year from sources that can be controlled. For a radiation-emitting machine to be considered “general use,” as the backscatter machines are required to be by TSA, it has to emit 1,000 times less than the 250 µSv limit for each use, or 0.25 µSv. The backscatter machines have passed that in every test. In fact, it appears that the machines actually emit 0.05 µSv per use. That means that a person could go through the machine 13 times a day for every day of the year and still not have exceeded the limit.

But there was also concern that since the exposure is primarily focused on the skin, that could be a problem area even if the general exposure was not. According to the letter, the annual dose limit for skin exposure is 50,000 µSv per year. Even if the machines emitted the required 0.25 µSv (higher than what it actually is), it would take nearly 250 exposures per day to reach the skin limit. That doesn’t appear to be a problem.

Pilots are unhappy because they already face higher doses of radiation from constantly flying. The higher altitude for longer periods of time means more exposure. The FAA estimates that someone flying 1,000 block hours between DC and LA at 35,000 feet in a year would receive a dose of 5,000 µSv. Let’s say that means the person took 200 flights (at an average block time of 5 hours). If he had to go through the AIT each time, it would add only 10 µSv, a downright tiny number in the scheme of things.

Bottom line? If pilots are really concerned about radiation exposure, they should stop flying. The additional amount from the AIT machines is negligible when compared to what they get while in the air.

And remember, if you’re taking a couple trips to year to see grandma, the exposure is truly almost nothing. The exposure to radiation, I mean. The exposure to TSA agents resulting in humiliation is a whole different story.

68 Responses to Should You Be Afraid of the Body Scanner Raising the Risk of Cancer? Nah, and Neither Should Pilots

  1. Sean says:

    How can we really trust anything from people who write a letter that wouldn’t pass muster with a high school English teacher:

    “In fact, independent safety data do exist.” -9th paragraph

    Really…

    Also the FDA’s response to the concern that the devices could emit higher doses of radiation than advertised is addressed with this:

    “Manufacturers of any type of electronic product that emits radiation — including full-body x-ray security systems — are required to notify FDA immediately upon discovery of any accidental radiation occurrence or radiation safety defect.”

    So if basically we have to trust the Manufacturer of Backscatter X-ray machines to fess up if any safety issue regarding increased radiation exposure is discovered….again, not very reassuring.

    Remember all the problems the TSA had maintaining the “puffer” machines? What if they have similar trouble with their Backscatter X-Ray machines? With puffer machines at least TSA maintenance failures didn’t have the potential to produce increased radiation doses.

    My question is why not simply use millimeter wave scanners, which use microwave radiation more similar to that emitted by cells phones and doesn’t have nearly the potential ill health effects of the Backscatter X-Ray machines?

    • Rich says:

      Sean…you should always be careful when you criticize someone’s writing. Maybe it was just a typo. Kind of like in your last paragraph when you call them “cells” phones. Also, your paragraph beginning with the sentence, “So if basically…” wouldn’t cut the mustard in my English class.

      • Sean says:

        luckily, I don’t write official government memos while commenting on the news over my morning coffee. Yes, there was a typo in my writing, but its not an official government report.

        • Mike says:

          What’s the gramatical error here? The word “data” can be treated as either singular (using “does” in your example sentence) or plural (using “do” in your example sentence). Singular is more commonly seen, but plural is actually the more formal way to construct the sentence as the word “data” is always plural, with “datum” being the singular form of the word.

    • cletis walkman says:

      Sean: You’re right, that sentence in the ninth paragraph probably wouldn’t pass muster with a high school English teacher. But I disagree with where you assign fault; the problem is not that the people who wrote the report are stupid, it’s that many English teachers and numskulls like you aren’t sophisticated enough to know that this sentence is, in fact, grammatically correct.

      “Data” can be both a count noun as well as a mass noun. Although it is most commonly used as singular mass noun, in many academic and scientific disciplines (say, e.g., a letter from the FDA to UC-Berkeley scientists), “data” is used as a plural count noun. Thus, “In fact, independent safety data DO exist.” (emphasis added) is not only grammatically correct, but appropriate usage in context.

      • Sean says:

        Cletis,

        The letter was not from the FDA to UC-Berkely scientists. First of all the scientists were at UC-San Francisco, you can find the original text of their letter here:

        http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf

        Their letter was addressed to Dr. Holdren, who is currently Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Dr. Holdren then forwarded these concerns to the FDA who responded to him with the letter cited by Cranky above.

        In terms of grammar(which I regret mentioning as it distracts from the real issues here), we’ll have to agree to disagree on the proper contemporary usage of the word “data.” There are more than enough sources online to support either argument and I realize now to totally dismiss either usage as incorrect would be contrary to the nature of language as an ever evolving means of human communication.

        An interesting discussion on the topic from a statistical/scientific standpoint can be found here:

        http://www.iq.harvard.edu/blog/sss/archives/2007/09/how_many_data_a.shtml

    • Gromit says:

      “Data” is the plural of “datum.” In English, “data” may be used in the singular, too, but the plural use certainly is not incorrect.

  2. Alex Hill says:

    What we should be concerned about with the full body scanners is that they are much slower than metal detectors and the TSA isn’t opening enough lanes to handle the lines. My most recent experience was a 34 minute wait at DTW (North Terminal), entirely backed up from the full body scanner the TSA was using for primary screening. Only two of the six lines were open (one metal detector which was only being used occasionally and one full body scanner, plus two X-ray machines for bags). For once, my bags were waiting for me because of how long the full body scanner takes. If the TSA had enough staff to operate the three scanners and three metal detectors they had at this checkpoint, fine, but this is absurd.

    Incidentally, I complained to the TSA and got the following reply: “We would like to apologize for the misunderstanding that TSA is responsible for the lengthy lines leading to the checkpoint. TSA is responsible for the area beginning at the security checkpoint leading into the secured area. The area leading up to the security checkpoint is regulated by the airport and the airlines assigned to that particular terminal.”

    Wowzer. In other words, if the line from the security checkpoint stretches outside the security checkpoint, it’s not our fault. Wish I could get away with that sort of logic in my job.

    • CF says:

      Now that I agree with. But I was simply referring to the safety issue in this post. The slow processing time is just ridiculous.

  3. Austin says:

    I respectfully disagree with your conclusion, and will be opting out of AIT scans for the foreseeable future for the following reasons.

    First, there is still the open question as to the actual dose equivalent of radiation per use. The sievert is not just based on the amount of radiation emitted by the machine (expressed in grays), but reflects the biological impact of the radiation based on the type of radiation and other factors. The question the UCSF scientists have raised is that the 0.05 µSv dose is based on the assumption that the radiation is evenly absorved throughout the human body, but in actuality the anyabsorbed radiation is only absorbed by the skin. Therefore, it is highly misleading to use the whole-body figure of 0.05 µSv. In this case, the FDA letter indicates the true exposure under this assumption is 0.56 µSv per scan.

    Second, the manufacturers and the government have not allowed independent third parties to actually study the radiation impact of the use of the backscatter AIT machines. As the Russian proverb (appropriated by Ronald Reagan) states, “trust, but verify.”

    Finally, even if we take at face value, the hypothesis that under normal operations the AIT does not expose an individual to dose equivalents anywhere near the maximum recommended exposure levels, what happens if the machine breaks or malfunctions? Sure, they can say that there are safety mechanisms in place to prevent this, but there have been plenty of civilian radiation accidents in the past that demonstrate that no safety mechanism is completely fail-safe. The Therac-25 incidents are the seminal example from the 1980s, but it still happens; see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/health/24radiation.html for a good example. And these happened under the supervision of individuals who had received extensive training to use radiation-emitting devices. I suspect the TSOs don’t quite receive the same level of training…

    • CF says:

      I did refer to the skin dose limit in my post as well. Apparently, the skin dose annual limit is 50,000 microsieverts and with the 0.56 per dose cited, that’s still the 250 screenings per day I referenced above.

      It is true that nothing is fail-safe, so an accident could happen, but these are not medical grade instruments here. I may just be naive, but this is a case where I’m willing to just trust and deal with it.

  4. Oliver says:

    I am a bit surprised you didn’t mention the recent AIT/pat-down refusal incident with the ExpressJet pilot as part of the story.

    Do pilots current have IDs that are (a) near impossible to forge/alter and (b) does the TSO glancing/pointing flashlight at the pax IDs know how to check them? If so, I’m fine with pilots bypassing the scanners/pat-down. Of course, then FAs are going to ask for the same, with the argument that they are at times behind the secured cockpit door as well (pilot potty break).

    • Mike says:

      My problem with that is if the IDs aren’t “nearly impossible to fake” then these same people can end up in the cockput anyway…

    • CF says:

      Not sure why the ExpressJet pilot is really related to this post about radiation safety. That guy just didn’t want to do any screening at all, so he wasn’t allowed to fly. I fully understand his protest, but it’s no surprise that was the end result.

      • Oliver says:

        In his forum posts on the ExpressJet forum he referred to the alleged risk of the radiation as a reason for refusing the scanner, if memory serves right.

    • CF says:

      Oh, and I don’t believe that pilot IDs are perfect, but that’s something that should have been fixed long ago. Let’s use biometrics and then let them bypass security.

  5. Dan says:

    Two things here:

    1. The TSA needs some public resistance, regardless of the actual cause. They’re such a stupid knee-jerk organization that forces their will upon us and then expects us to like it. I’m glad to see some push back on their methods, regardless of the merits of the actual complaint. (Logically, I have a mixed reaction to the nude-o-scope. It may very well have its merits. But the real problem is that the TSA comes up with many inane policies that need to be challenged. I support challenging the TSA for the sake of challenging the TSA on this one.)

    2. We can’t trust the government on everything. Sorry, but it’s true. The government is about politics first and effective policy second, and as long as that’s true, we’ll never know if a policy is designed to cover their backside and make them look good, or if it’s truly beneficial for the public. That is to say, we’ll have to wait and see about the radiation exposure levels from the nude-o-scope. We know lots of things now that we didn’t 20 years ago, and the same could be true with this thing.

    • ASFalcon13 says:

      “‘1. The TSA needs some public resistance, regardless of the actual cause.”

      Agreed, but how do folks go about doing that? There’s serious disincentive for individuals to resist, as significant resistance can lead to missed flights or arrests, so there clearly needs to be some sort of group effort. Are there any organized groups with a loud enough voice to make a dent in this? I can also see speaking through your vote, but which candidates or politicians are pushing for rollback of TSA procedures? It’s overshadowed by bigger issues, like health care or the economy.

      Seriously, I agree, but what do we do?

      • ASFalcon13 – “””””Seriously, I agree, but what do we do?””””””
        ————

        The one thing everyone can do is write to their/all elected officials in Washington and the White House. Don’t rant, but write a level headed letter as to what troubles you and give any ideas you may have towards the situation. Doing this at least lets those people who have the power to make changes know how you the public feels.

        • A “Say no to the Nude-o-scope” campaign should be organized.

          Maybe try to get the upper elites on most airlines to refuse. The airlines usually offer them free accommodation on later flights if they miss them. I think if the Kettles see a bunch of F/C and Elites refusing the Nude-o-scopes, they will follow suit.

          Maybe also educating them of the health risks with leading questions like:
          1. There are decades of research on Climate Change/Global Warning and we don’t all agree on that, how can we be so sure about something with less than 1% of the research?
          2. When I get an dental X-ray they put a shield over my reproductive parts, why not this?
          3. Didn’t the government knowingly deny treatment to American citizens suffering from a disease where there was a known cure? How can we be sure about the risks for this.

          The thing that they are banking on is the several levels of anger:
          Level 1: You just deal.
          Level 2: You gripe or rant.
          Level 3: You sit down and put it in written form.

          Most people will stick and levels 1 or 2 and not write their congressman about it.

      • Dan says:

        “Agreed, but how do folks go about doing that?”

        Well, that’s exactly why I’m supporting the pilots unions on this one, even if it’s just a “you go guys!” on an internet forum. At least they have the organization (and hopefully some protection) to take a stand. Yes, there may be a few delayed flights (hopefully not canceled) but it might be the price worth paying to screw around with the TSA.

    • David says:

      I couldn’t agree more.

      So, if enough people opt out and have to go through the pat-downs and then file sexual harassment complaints following the pat-downs, won’t it choke the system and force someone with common sense to think about solutions???

      • “””””So, if enough people opt out and have to go through the pat-downs and then file sexual harassment complaints following the pat-downs, won’t it choke the system and force someone with common sense to think about solutions???”””””
        ——————–

        Sadly with TSA the solution would be instead of a pat down everyone would have to get naked and their clothes hand searched while someone looks over your naked body to make sure you don’t have anything ‘hidden’ anywhere. Think being arrested and stripped searched like you see in a movie or on TV’s Lockdown series.

    • CF says:

      1) Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to fight the TSA. You know how it goes – just file it under “national security” and all of a sudden, there is no arguing. You aren’t a patriot, blah blah blah. Has anyone ever seen a successful fight against the TSA?

      2) True, we can’t. But I don’t see a good reason not to trust the feds on the safety of these machines. I have no problem with people expressing concerns and trying to verify further, but I haven’t seen anything that really scares me yet.

      • It was a fun rant but yes, it’s a fait accompli for the most part. I only see it changing if a congressman has an issue that gets publicized. But that being said, it’s apples to oranges but the Tuskegee Experiment did happen. I could see the needs for security theater weighing more than the risk factors.

        How about bringing back Clear and operating with the original intent? I would deal with all the biometric jazz to pass up the nude-o-scope.

      • Cranky, I’m sorry, but this is the same government that is suppose to be guarding the public food supply, oversee and protect us in matters of auto safety, and inspecting petrolium sites to enforce safety and environmental compliance.

        After what I have seen in the loose attitude of government respo0nsibilities I caution you to be more careful with your trust in government. If you find out later that you could never have a family because some TSA Bozo fried your jewls it will be too late. Best to be proactive I think.

        You are correct in saying complaining to TSA will get you no where. Again, you might as well be complaining to Homer Simpson. The only recoarse that may have some effect is contact/pressure your congressman. If enough folks do this , some good may come of your complaints. It is the ONLY tool of defense we have.

  6. Jeremy G says:

    Cranky, your analysis doesn’t cover enough of the relevant issues here.

    Even highly trained medical technicians have been overdosing patients with excess radiation, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes unaware of the output levels of the CT scan machines being used. See, for example, the LA Times piece from December 2009: “researchers from UC San Francisco found that the same imaging procedure performed at different institutions — or even on different machines at the same hospital — can yield a 13-fold difference in radiation dose, potentially exposing some patients to inordinately high risk.”

    The NY Times just reported that “manufacturers of CT scanners should do a better job of training and educating those who use their equipment, and that the machines themselves could be made safer by warning operators that a dangerously high radiation dose is about to be administered.”

    Now, backscatter x-ray scanners are not the same as CT scanners. But whether it occurs via malfunction or because the TSA someday decides to improve the quality of its scans, higher-than-claimed levels of radiation exposure will inevitably occur in at least a few airports. A simple firmware update could increase the level of radiation emitted, and we’d all be none the wiser.

    If medical professionals at major hospitals can systematically deliver overdoses of radiation for years without attracting the attention of the FDA, I see no reason to trust the TSA to keep levels sufficiently low, or to believe that any regulatory agency will adequately monitor the radiation levels we’re being exposed to.

    Hospitals can’t even agree on how to manage and report overdoses: “Dr. Alberto Gutierrez, an F.D.A. official who oversees diagnostic devices, said Monday that the full extent of the overdoses might never be known because of imprecise guidelines governing how and when radiation overdoses should be reported.”

    TSA has no incentive to keep radiation exposures low: once the backscatter machines are widely adopted, it’s all but certain that radiation levels will creep higher due to malfunctions, operator errors, and desire for clearer, more penetrating scans.

    • Oliver says:

      I’d sure hope that there isn’t some knob on that machine that the blue shirts can use to crank up the radiation level. Is there?

      • JTW says:

        It’s there on regular xray machines so they can increase the dose when encountering something “of interest”.
        Wouldn’t surprise me at all if it’s there on these things as well (and pretty soon all machines are turned up to max at all times “just in case we miss something”).

        It’s a human rights issue more than a security or health issue though. These things are deliberately designed to take you out of your comfort zone while submitting to government scrutiny. And with the alternative being government condoned sexual harassment, the vast majority of people will do as they’re told and submit.
        What’s next though? Once people have been conditioned to accept this treatment as normal, will that “enhanced patdown (a.k.a. gropedown, a.k.a. sexual harassment) also become mandatory, with the alternative being forcing the passenger to strip naked and subject to a body cavity search there and then in the security line?

        • CF says:

          You mean on the baggage xrays? The ones that specifically say to keep your body parts out of the machine? I think that’s a different story because there is no human exposure involved. Who cares if they turn up the image clarity on that if it doesn’t have an impact? I can’t imagine they’ll allow that for something that touches a person.

          I do agree with you that this is a human rights issue first and foremost. My point here was to talk about the safety concern in an isolated way. But on the human rights side, yeah, it’s pretty concerning.

    • CF says:

      From what I see, comparing a “general use” machine like this to a medical device seems like a stretch. Medical devices are operated by highly-skilled operators and have very high levels of radiation, comparatively. Those devices are not meant to be used unless absolutely necessary and then only sparingly.

      The backscatter machines are not run by skilled operators and so the thought that any adjustments can be made by the front line seems suspect. If the TSA decides it wants to increase the radiation for its own purposes, it still can’t go higher than the .25 microsieverts without being reclassified and then I will be happy to fight this from a safety perspective.

  7. “””””He says that crewmembers should have a witness with them during the pat-down process. After that, pilots need to “evaluate their fitness for duty. As has been determined, there is a wide range of possibilities once you submit to a private screening, and the results can be devastating.””””””””
    —————

    Sorry I don’t get this. Why should a pilot have a witness to be patted down? And ‘evaluate their fitness for duty’, you mean a pilot trained to be calm if their plane is falling out of the sky may go to pieces of a male TSA agents hand brushes up against their ahhhhh ‘manlyness’ shall we say.

    • Oliver says:

      “pat down” in a private setting with a witness causing, uh, unfitness to fly afterwards? What are they implying is going to happen between the three of them in that private screening room?

    • Bob says:

      David SF-

      I think it’s more an issue of the pilots being afraid that one TSA officer may erroneously classify them as “unfit to fly”… e.g, thinking a pilot is drunk if he stumbles a little (never mind that his cold has hurt his sense of balance), or smelling alcohol on a pilot’s breath and not realizing that it’s from his mouthwash, not his flash.

      Obviously the $9/hour TSA person would have to call a supervisor in situations like these, and perhaps the pilots are being a bit extreme, but I understand their point. If you’re going to be alone with a TSA or law enforcement officer, it really can’t hurt you to have a witness for things like this, if just to prevent he said / she said disputes.

  8. I don’t like the shady gray area this sets up. What happens when we find out that the agents were covertly turning up the settings to make the images more clear. People who I’ve seen harass people who cause a metal detector to beep only ceasing when the person volunteers to be patted down. Only then did the agents say never mind and give them less grief.

    The risks might be low but we don’t have enough data. There needs to be pushback on these regulations that protect us from the last threat, not the next one (like the rubbish scanning of shoes, eliminate that and you’d cut probably 20sec per person in TSA lines)

  9. It is my opinion that it is VERY dangerous to trust government assurances when the government is trying to sell a new policy or law. I can see possible birth defect, male sterilization or cancer law suits in the future.

    It will only take one or two machines to fry people before it becomes a national/world disaster. My vote is NO on this new device. I don’t want to glow in the dark!!

    AND – being sexually molested by incompetent TSA personnel is not an answer either. There needs to be a 3rd person monitor for these aggressive searches.

    The Gov’t/TSA should have a more reasonable approach, respect and policy for the increased security. We do not leave our Rights for certain levels of privacy in the boarding line at the airport. I personally have now lost patience with the level of stupidity demonstrated by TSA.

    • CF says:

      Well, while the backscatters are new, apparently the x-ray device used in the machine has been around for 20 years or so, so there is good history on it. No guarantee, of course.

  10. Bill says:

    Why isn’t anyone reigning in the TSA?

    • JTW says:

      The only ones who could reign in the TSA are DHS and the White House (and possibly a federal court), all of which have a vested interest in not reigning them in.

  11. JayB says:

    Cranky,

    When you write your book: “I Have No Life, I Blog!” I hope you include this topic and the poster comments. I think it expresses, if not solves, many if not most of our daily concerns!

    Well, maybe not the mystery vapor trail, but keep up the good work. I await your next topic, or topics, or, whatever!

  12. Toni says:

    You had me at the FA’s going into the cockpit when the pilots needed to take a potty break. There HAS to be a logical reason for that, but for the life of me, I cannot figure it out. The mental pictures are freaking me out!

    • JTW says:

      by law there have to be at least 2 people in there at all times during aircraft operations.
      Used to be there were 2 pilots and a flight engineer (who almost always was a qualified pilot). Now a flight attendant has to come in to replace the pilot who leaves.
      While she can’t take over the aircraft if the 2nd pilot needs help, the regulations stand.

  13. Think of it the reverse way about pat-downs. Just look around at all the people at the airport the next time you are there and think if you were the security agent would you want to pat-down some of the people you see? Even with super thick gloves and a haz-mat suit I wouldn’t want to touch most of the people in ‘personal’ places you see at airports. Maybe TSA’s own employees may be the largest group to sound off wanting these new machines to be mandatory or you don’t get past security.

    • David, if you have had the “pleasure” to interface with the individuals that TSA has doing security checks you would better understand the IQ level of these people would not even put them in the direction of the Nobel Prize.

      The closest comparison that comes to my mind is having the Simpsons doing the security checks. There is NO way these people will question their instructions. Some will undoubtedly invent more as they go along with the new “fondling” rules. AND-just think, people of this caliber are at the controls of the potentially harmful X-Ray machines.

      Would Homer Simpson even know if an X-Ray machine was frying people it was suppose to scan? VERY DOUGHTFUL! Too busy oogling the images!!

      • Oliver says:

        I’ve run into idiot TSA staffers and perfectly polite, normal human beings doing a job.

        Just as everywhere else.

        For $9/hr you’re certainly not going to get a lot of Nobel prize nominee applicants. That doesn’t mean everyone working at the checkpoints is automatically a Homer Simpson look/behave-alike.

  14. It appears to me that some people will not get concerned until they are presented to a Urologist/TSA with rubber gloves and ordered to “take the position”. Some people are slow learners and don’t see the steady invasion of privacy by the government.

    It looks like the militant Islamists have won. We have lowered our Rights to the level of the Muslem states in the middle east.

  15. Allen says:

    @CF, I get the feeling you think refusing to go through the machine is silly. I’m not sure why that would be the case. As we’ve seen with drug after drug and medical device after medical device over the last decade, the process of having the manufacturer do research and report it to the FDA in terms of safety has some serious issues. They’re not serious in volume of incidents but they’re serious in both that people have died and because many have later been found to at best have poor data. With it’s track record and given the risk at hand, radiation, it should be understandable that people choose not to take the risk.

    And that brings us to the other side of the coin. What’s the gain and loss? For us travelers we risk life altering health problems for what? Saving 10 minutes at the airport? We already show up the airport 50% earlier than we otherwise would to try to make it on time. We already get to stand around being processed through the security theater either way. Why should any one individual want to risk their health, no matter how small the risk is claimed to be, to save 5 or 10 minutes especially when nothing is gained by it? These machines are just another prop in their expensive farce. They don’t make us meaningfully safer. And the cost to us, what little we have control over is very small.

    Keep in mind that we’ve already had one public incident where a TSA punched a co-worker because the guy made comments about his genitals. More so, these machines are said to include ethernet and USB ports. How long before agents figure out how to pull images off onto a thumb drive before they’re “deleted”?

    Getting the picture? We don’t have much reason to trust the process nor the people operating them. We don’t have independently verified information on how the machines perform when they’re new let alone what happens to them with time. And the cost for not going through them is very low. Why would any rational person choose to go through one when the cost to them is very low and they gain nothing other than a few minutes of time?

    BTW -As someone who’s been patted down by peace officers, people who are actually extensively trained unlike the TSA, being pat down isn’t wonderful but it’s not uncomfortable. I walked out of a liquor store once when they were responding to a silent alarm had to assume it could be a robbery. I had guns drawn on me and was thoroughly patted down in public. Yes, there was a brief moment when I thought “well, that’s a part of the job my brother-in-law never talks about” but it wasn’t anything uncomfortable or bad.

    • CF says:

      I have no problem if people want to skip the AIT, but I’m just saying that there’s no obvious safety concern that I see. If people don’t want to do it, then that’s just fine. It’s not silly. Everyone has their own rationale and that’s the way it should be.

  16. Bob says:

    Cranky, I know this is a small part of your post, but I’d like to pick it apart:

    “The pilots have long argued, and rightly-so in my opinion, that screening on-duty pilots is ridiculous.”

    I used to agree with this statement, and can see why some wouldn’t think it logical, but it falls short on one important count.

    **It’s not what the pilots’ intentions are, it’s what’s in their bags/person as they cross from the unsecured to secured area.**

    If pilots aren’t screened, who’s to stop a person from doing a “brush pass” on a pilot (or bumping into them, distracting them, etc) and planting a weapon on them? The pilot goes into the sanitized area without being screened. There the person does another “brush pass” etc. and retrieves their weapon, which they used the pilots’ unscreened bag (or pocket, if you want to X-ray pilots’ bags) to smuggle past security.

    This is literally straight out of Hollywood (I forget the movie) and may not seem all that likely, but it’s entirely possible for even a semi-skilled person to do (think of all the thieves in big cities who use slight of hand and similar “bumping” tricks to distract people and steal wallets- any one of them could pull this stunt off).

    This is ignoring the whole issue of security theater (very important for the TSA to maintain) and the issues around potentially forging pilots’ ID cards. Each of those issues alone is a good reason why pilots will continue to be screened.

    In short, even if every single pilot in the world has the best intentions and is not a security threat themselves (as we’d like to believe), by merely giving them the privilege of skipping screening we introduce the potential for others to use that privilege for their own nefarious purposes. As much as I feel for the pilots, I don’t think it’s worth that risk IMHO.

    • CF says:

      I see where you’re going with this. How small can someone make a remotely detonated device? Small enough to slip into a coat pocket? I dunno – just seems so implausible to me, as do many other things out there. I guess it gets back to how much security are we really willing to endure instead of taking a slight chance and living a more normal life?

      • Bob says:

        Cranky,

        I understand your point. I’m not an engineer, but even as far ago as WWII they had time-based detonators the size of a pen. Is it a major risk, no probably not. Is the risk worth taking? I agree that that’s somewhat debatable, but I don’t think that this particular risk is any less likely or substantially more difficult to get away than some of the other risks that the TSA is combating. Not a great argument, but still.

        Let’s face it, the real issue here any determined person with a fair degree of intelligence and a little luck is going to be able to enact some pretty serious casualties if they want to; you can’t try to mitigate all risks (even at the airport, let alone in the society at large). The TSA is going to catch the dumb and unlucky terrorists, with a lot of collateral damage (the human rights issues really concern me).

        I honestly think that it’s pretty stupid for terrorists to target airports at this point, as there are easier targets.

        For example, if I were a terrorist (and I’m not, just to be clear), I’d buy a farm that required a large amount of fertilizer and get co-conspirators to be long-haul truck drivers. Do that for a few years under the radar, then drive some 52-footers downtown in a major city and set off some ANFO bombs that would make Oklahoma City look like a fart in the wind. I’m not going to do that, but still… how hard and expensive would something like that be to do? Point being, there are so many ways to terrorize America that no amount of money would defend against them adequately, no matter how hard the FBI and TSA try, and it’s a matter of making good compromises on human rights, cost, and safety (which our current airport security is not, IMHO).

        As for security on planes, what about bringing glass items on board (a “priceless antique vase”, for example)? Smash that over something hard and you have enough sharp glass to cut people up. Could you bring down a plane doing that? Probably not in this day and age (wouldn’t be able to get into the cockpit), but I don’t see how sharp glass would be any less of a potent weapon than boxcutters. It would certainly cause more damage than some of the stuff the TSA confiscates.

        Airport security (and security in general) is like making your home more secure against burglars: in the end, you can never make your home 100% burglar-proof, but you can make your defenses formidable enough that the burglars with half a brain choose your neighbor’s house (or terrorize places other than airports/planes, in this case) instead of yours, and that they cause less damage when they do attack.

        As an aside, thanks for the good info on the backscatter X-rays. It’s nice to know that they aren’t as dangerous as I thought they were, but I’d still rather be groped by the TSA than to have them see everything and get a slight amount more radiation.

        Maybe next time I’ll wear nothing but a Speedo through security and refuse the backscatter so that the TSA can both see and touch everything (Hey, if it’s going to be awkward for me, might as well make it awkward for everyone!). Yuck.

    • Bob says:

      Cranky,

      Just wanted to add this link (http://www.schneier.com/essay-130.html), where Bruce Schneier argues against any special security-skipping privileges for pilots etc, with a different angle. Worth reading.

  17. ghelemeister says:

    I would just like to thank CRANKY for some factual information. True, the TSA obviously can’t be trusted… but I like Cranky’s factual explanation.

  18. AirBoss says:

    No dosimeters, no cumulative exposure data or record. Why not?

  19. Peter says:

    Cranky, I think your statistic and data and annual limits are wrong… according to the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP), the annual limits for non-classified workers (ie: non military and non nuclear), such as Flight Crew, the rolling 12 month limits is 6mSv = 600 micro Sievert… The normal annual cosmic radiation on sea level (from normal background radiation that occurs naturally and are exposed by every human being) is approximately 2mSv per annum. Therefore, for normally traveller and Flight Crew or Cabin Crew, they can receive an additional 4 mSv annually before their limits are exceeded. For Flight Crew & Cabin Crew where their job will have them travel above 30,000ft on a daily basis (this is assuming normal domestic flying where crew will travel in area below 68 degree N or S, anything higher or lower then that, crew will receive even more radiation, this usually apply to long haul transpacific or pilot who fly pilot routes), the average 12 month rolling cosmic radiation for flight crew and cabin crew is around 3 to 3.5 mSv… therefore it left about 0.5 to 1mSv or about 50 to 100 micro Sievert before a Flight Crew or Cabin Crew will exceed limits set aside by the International Commission on Radiation Protection. Therefore, even with your theory of 0.5 micro Sievert per scan, 100 to 200 scans will bring any flight crew or cabin crew to exceed their annual radiation limits. So this is why the pilot union are urging their members not to under take full body scan. Radiation is indeed part of the reason.

    • Peter says:

      And Cranky just for your information, I work for an airline, so this is where I got all my data, and my airline keep tracks of radiation level experience by flight crew and cabin crew by using mathematical method set forth by the FAA.

      • One thing I ommitted to say earlier is that those of us who for any medical reason must use radiation for check-ups or treatments could pass the total “safe” level of [annual or life time] radiation recommended by being exposed to the TSA radiation searches.

        I think this is an important point, as those that medically are exposed to radiation above normal annual doses would seem to be more at risk for radiation damage.

    • CF says:

      Peter – Hmm, I was looking at the general public radiation dose limit which is 1 mSv annually (from man-made, non-medical sources), so it’s no surprise that flight crews are higher than that since they’ll automatically exceed 1 mSv just by flying at altitude all year. But I think your conversion numbers are wrong and the comparison might be a bit off as well. First of all, 6 mSv is 6,000 µSv, not 600. Also, the 1 mSv number only includes man-made radiation where it sounds like the 6 mSv number you’re giving also includes cosmic? If that’s 2 mSv, then for comparison purposes, the general public should get no more than 1 mSv and flight crews no more than 4 mSv, yes?

      So, you have 3 to 3.5 mSv as the average exposure just from flying. The source I used showed 5 mSv, but either way, I don’t know if these would even be included in the man-made number. This is all fairly difficult to put together, it seems.

      But either way, I should note that it is not 0.5 µSv per scan but rather 0.05 per scan. It is not permitted to be over 0.25 µSv or it wouldn’t be considered general use equipment. So that would appear to change things by moving the decimal point over.

      Here’s the relevant section of the US Code of Federal Regulations, for those who want to read:
      http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part020/part020-1301.html

    • CF says:

      This simply says that the dose needing to be measured is exposure to skin, not overall. As mentioned, the dose exposure to skin appears to be 0.56 µSv for this machine, up from the general dose of 0.05 µSv. That’s only a 10-fold increase, but the allowable limit for skin exposure is also much higher at 50,000 µSv.

      • bob says:

        My main concern is the DNA Vandalism…… The Terrahertz Waves is a
        direct wave of creating this. DNA RNA strands will be destroyed. Exposure
        is terrible, internally DNA, is worse !

  20. Pingback: Experimenting with a Little Less Cranky - >> The Cranky Flier

  21. So is a 300 pound blob of fat person going to be less effected by the radiation exposure then a skinny 18yr old anorexic teenage girl or a 5 yr old? Will a padding of fat help ‘cushion’ the effect of the radiation these machines put out?

  22. Skymanak says:

    Does the flying public understand and know that the baggage handlers, catering employees, fleet service (airplane cleaners), maintenance personal, etc do NOT go through TSA screening and have access to all the “secured” areas at an airport and aircraft?

  23. Did you see todays ‘Frank and Ernest’ cartoon in the paper? It shows them behind a desk with baggage around them and an airline sign on the wall. They are talking to a man and the caption says “Your luggage is lost. But the good news is the full-body scan says you’re in excellent health!”

    So not only has there been a story in the paper or online about this every day this week, but now it’s appearing in cartoons. With all this negative hype, will something change besides the pat-down procedures for kids under 12 will be different?

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