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full body scanner tsa airport securityEvery Wednesday, we’ll feature one practical travel tip here, on our blog. Get our clever weekly tips and other travel resources in your inbox by subscribing to our blog or signing up for our newsletter.

Just how safe are those full body scanners that are becoming a familiar fixture in airports around the U.S.? Not safe enough, says the European Union, which banned backscatter X-ray machines in airports across Europe last month, citing traveler health concerns.

Because the machines emit ionizing radiation, some scientists suggest that passengers who pass through the scanners could be at increased risk of cancer. One researcher interviewed by PBS/ProPublica predicts that the machines could potentially “give 100 travelers cancer every year.” (See the video below for the full report.)

The TSA staunchly maintains that the machines are safe. A spokesperson told us last year that “each full body scan with backscatter produces less than 10 microREM of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about two minutes of airplane flight at altitude.” To read the entire statement we received from the TSA, see From Pat-Downs to Full Body Scanners: The TSA Firestorm.

The backscatter machines are one of two types of full body scanners used at U.S. airports. Millimeter wave machines (which are still legal in Europe) are generally considered the safer option because they use lower-frequency electromagnetic waves instead of radiation.

If you’re concerned about the backscatter machines, you have a few options. Before you step through the security checkpoint, ask the TSA agent which type of machine is in use. If your lane has a backscatter scanner instead of a millimeter wave machine, you may want to skip the scan entirely and choose a pat-down by a same-gender TSA agent instead. Also, keep an eye out for the old-fashioned metal detectors, which are still in use in many security lanes across the U.S.



Are you concerned about the safety of the backscatter machines?

– written by Sarah Schlichter

2 Responses to “Travel Tip of the Week: Know Your Airport Security Risk”

  1. Connie says:

    Very nice point and I have thought about it in the past.

    I would like to ask if anyone knows about body scanners in cruise ships. We pass through them several times in every cruise, actually in every port. Are they of the backscatter or the milimetter type? Thank you in advance.

    • Hi Connie,

      I believe that most cruise ports have traditional metal detectors, not this new type of full body scanner. If in doubt, though, I’d ask the security person there before you pass through.

      Sarah Schlichter
      Editor
      IndependentTraveler.com

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