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David Schauer, the council's executive director, says he has no qualms about being scanned by backscatter devices, and would allow his three sons to be scanned, too.
TSA spokesman Nick Kimball said Thursday that both types of scanners are safe, cost about the same and are similarly effective. He said the TSA chose to use both types to keep the process competitive and to "drive innovation."
He noted that unlike medical workers who deal with more potent radiation, TSA employees do not need to wear protective gear while operating the scanners.
Scanners are tested for safety before being set up at airports and tested again periodically once they are in place, said Daniel Kassiday, an FDA radiation expert.
The FDA has estimated that the risk of fatal cancer from the maximum allowable dose would be 1 in 80 million per backscatter screening. And doses from a single scan are considerably lower than the maximum, Kassiday said.
By comparison, the chance of dying in a car driven for 40 miles are 1 in 1 million.
Rez agrees the odds of getting cancer from the scanners may be low. But he calculates it's about the same as the chance of being on a plane blown up by terrorists. And he says that makes mass scanning not worth the effort.
The government says independent testing proved the airport scanners are safe. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory did independent tests -- but only to determine how much radiation the devices emit, not to examine safety, said Helen Worth, a lab spokeswoman.
The amount of radiation the devices emit in a lab setting versus real-world use may be different, and a group of scientists from the University of California at San Francisco argues that tougher safety testing is needed.
The four scientists expressed their concerns in an April 6 letter to Holdren, the White House adviser. It took him six months to respond.
Though the scanner images do not reveal what's beneath the skin's surface, the radiation they emit could potentially affect breast tissue, sex organs and eyes, said David Agard, an imaging expert at the University of California at San Francisco.
The response "is just a regurgitation of what the industry people have been saying," said John Sedat, a UCSF professor emeritus in biochemistry and biophysics.
He faulted the government for not doing safety testing in animals to see if the scanners caused any worrisome biochemical changes. Kassiday said the university scientists have not justified why that kind of testing on such low-dose devices would be necessary.
National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements: http://www.ncrponline.org/
Health Physics Society: http://www.hps.org/
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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