Are Full-Body X-ray Scanners Dangerous?

November 16, 2010

Be it in airports, court buildings, or other venues, Americans are increasingly encountering full-body imaging systems, the new wave in electronic security screening.

General-use X-ray security screening systems represent one of two full-body scanning technologies currently being put into widespread use to check people for concealed weapons, explosives, or other contraband without having to make physical contact.

Extensive use of full-body scanning technologies, including the general-use X-ray systems, is a relatively new development. Thus it’s natural for people to have questions—including questions about whether these systems pose any health risks.

Very small amounts of X-ray

General-use X-ray security systems found in U.S. airports are also called “backscatter” systems. They use very small amounts of X-ray that are “bounced” off the person being screened. The reflected energy is received by an array of sensitive detectors and then processed by a computer to form an image.

Full-body scanners are large in size, and require individuals to step into the machine and remain still for a few seconds while the scan takes place.

FDA scientist Abiy Desta says, “Millimeter wave security systems that comply with the limits set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the applicable non-ionizing radiation safety standard cause no known adverse health effects.”

Metal Detectors

Meanwhile, people need to be aware that metal detectors are still being used for security screening at many facilities.

Metal detectors, which can be walk-thru portals or hand-held wands, have the potential to affect the function of certain medical devices such as implanted cardiac pacemakers, implantable cardioverter/defibrillators, and spinal cord nerve stimulators.

If scanning with a hand-held metal detector is necessary, warn the security personnel that you have an electronic medical device and ask them not to hold the metal detector near the device longer than necessary. You may also ask for an alternate form of personal search.

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