Image via Wikipedia Would You Rather Risk Getting Cancer Or Just Get Your Privates Patted?
Nov. 12 2010 - 3:33 pm 3,797 views
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That seems to be the trade-off these days.
Get ready to decide when choosing which security line to go through in airport security. I’d probably rather get patted. I’m no expert on radiation exposure but the way these things usually work–with CT scanners, or cell phones–is that authorities start out saying “relax, everything’s perfectly safe.” Then a few years later they admit that well, maybe not, please accept our deepest apologies for exposing you to danger.
Choose line B and all you get is a bit of free affection from a government worker. (And how often does that happen at the DMV?) For me at least, getting patted is no big deal unless you have hang-ups. And here in Philadelphia, where carrying an illegal handgun is part of the local culture, you often get patted down to enter a night club or an Eagles game. Maybe I’m used to it.
The federal government has insisted ever since the TSA decided to install 300 full-body scanners, or strip searchers as critics call them, that getting a small dose of radiation is safe. Or it’s a small price to pay to avoid another Christmas Bomber. The feds even got seals of approval from the major medical societies, like the Radiology Society of North America. But it could be a bit of a smokescreen.
*I called up Dr. David Schauer, a retired naval officer and expert in radiation risk, who now runs the National Council on Radiation Protection. His group first published a report in 2003 that set the standards for the X-ray like body scanners now being employed at Reagan National and several other airports. Read about a more recent version of the report here.
The NCRP’s recommendations form the basis of a lot of the conventional wisdom around dosage levels. (Not just for airports but for medical machines as well.) He says that the standard makes sense in the context of “what is the justification” for making people get radiation exposure. Given that terrorists are boarding planes with explosives that don’t set off medical detectors, you don’t need a lot of justification. He says that he, his wife and his three kids would have no problem getting body-scanned. I pressed him though. After all there’s another option, getting frisked. So putting aside the terrorist threat, are these X-ray-like machines even a slight health risk? Getting patted down clearly isn’t. He said he would send me some documents to read.
*A University of California, San Francisco med school professor made a splash today by saying beware of scanners. I first saw the story here on CNET. Professor Joe Sedat says that even though the radiation dose may be low, it may be intense where it hits certain parts of the body like the cornea, the testicles or the skin. His point is basically: why take the risk. Seems like a good one. Here’s more from Sedat.
*The White House, facing an angry mob of sympathetic people (airline attendants, pregnant women), is trying to be transparent to avoid further controversy. In this blog entry there are links to the letter from Sedat and his colleagues to the administration, and a response from the White House science advisor John P. Holdren. Holdren’s email says that the science is settled, the scanners are safe, and the problem is what the warden in Cool Hand Luke would call a failure to communicate. (I wonder if the President and the Homeland Security Department like getting that kind of feedback?) There’s also a link to correspondence from another administration scientist at the Department of HHS, who says that Sedat’s math is way off–that someone would need 1,000 scans to approach minimum levels of worrisome radiation exposure.
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