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Opting out of the full-body scan could save your life


Four UCSF scientists sent a memo to the President's science advisor last April, explaining why the administration should do further testing before deploying the whole-body scanners.

The executive summary:

1. The "low" dose of radiation is concentrated at and just below the skin, and is therefore potentially "high" at those points. The risks of damage to white blood cells, the cornea, the thymus gland, the testicles (don't touch my junk, indeed!), and the skin are unknown; the potential risks to older people, cancer patients, AIDS sufferers, and children are especially worrying.

2. Like other software-controlled radiation devices, these scanners can injure or kill you if they are miscalibrated or experience a glitch in the control system. This is not a hypothetical scenario in the general case: radiation therapy machines have killed patients. (Links available on request if you doubt me.)

It seems that the MSM have covered this, but I missed it at the time (just picked it up from a comment on a story at the NY Times). Did a public outcry result? Did the Administration diligently follow up on the issues raised in the memo? Does the Pope shit in the woods?

The memo itself is easy to read and I recommend it, but here are some essential quotes:

The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.


Any glitch in power at any point in the hardware (or more importantly in software) that stops the device could cause an intense radiation dose to a single spot on the skin. Who will oversee problems with overall dose after repair or software problems? The TSA is already complaining about resolution limitations; who will keep the manufacturers and/or TSA from just raising the dose, an easy way to improve signal-to-noise and get higher resolution? Lastly, given the recent incident (on December 25th), how do we know whether the manufacturer or TSA, seeking higher resolution, will scan the groin area more slowly leading to a much higher total dose?


In summary we urge you to empower an impartial panel of experts to reevaluate the potential health issues we have raised before there are irrevocable long-term consequences to the health of our country. These negative effects may on balance far outweigh the potential benefit of increased detection of terrorists.

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