Here's an interesting study that just came out regarding the radiation recieved from airport scanners. Per Physician's Watch (online physician newsletter):
"The backscatter x-ray scanners that were recently installed at U.S. airports pose 'no significant threat of radiation,' authors conclude in a special article in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
While the full-body scanners do emit ionizing radiation, the authors note that it would take 50 scans to get the same amount of radiation as one dental x-ray, and 1000 scans for the same amount of radiation as a chest x-ray.
For 1 million frequent flyers who make 10 trips weekly for a year, the backscatter scans could contribute four additional cancers. Meanwhile, radiation from cosmic rays received while flying would contribute 600 cancers.
The authors conclude: 'Based on what is known about the scanners, passengers should not fear going through the scans for health reasons, as the risks are truly trivial.'"
Archives of Internal Medicine article (Free PDF)
What's the bottom line? The jury is still out on whether on not these scanners are harmful. Keep in mind that this study used ESTIMATED data collected from the government, not independent measured data (ie, a non-governemental agency goes out and actually measures the exact radiation levels in and around the machines), as pointed out to me by a friend in Science Policy (Thanks Jeremy!). It will be interesting to see the long term (ie, after years and years) studies on these devices. Another friend from med school pointed out that the radiation estimates are actually calculated per unit area of skin (epidermis) but not for the entire body, meaning that if the skin is the only body part exposed to the radiation, skin cancers are a possibility.
So, flyer beware. I'm going for the pat-down.
All the best,
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