By Radley Balko
The world's largest pilots orgnanization is calling on its members to boycott the nudie scanners being implemented at airports in the U.S. and around the world, citing concerns about radiation.
David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines, is leading the charge to boycott the scanners.
“It is important to note that there are "backscatter" AIT devices now being deployed that produce ionizing radiation, which could be harmful to your health,” Mr Bates said.
“I share our pilots' concerns about this additional radiation exposure and plan to recommend that our pilots refrain from going through the AIT (body scanners).
“We already experience significantly higher radiation exposure than most other occupations, and there is mounting evidence of higher-than-average cancer rates as a consequence."
Mr Bates says it’s less than ideal that people who wish to avoid the extra radiation are left with no choice but to undergo what he calls “demeaning” pat-down searches.
Associate Professor Jan Gebicki, from Macquarie University, who specialises in radiation biology, says that caution should be exercised when it comes to full-body scanners.
“If we cannot establish any cause-effect links between health and scanner exposure, it is safest to assume that any exposure represents a potential risk, even if it is too small to measure,” Mr Gebicki said.
US scientists warned earlier this year of the potential health dangers of the devices, saying that the radiation levels have been dangerously underestimated and could lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
University of California biochemist David Agard warned that unlike other scanners, the radiation from these devices is delivered at low energy beam levels, with most of the dose concentrated in the skin and underlying tissue.
“While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” Dr Agard said.
"Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer."
David Brenner, the head of Columbia University’s Centre for Radiological Research, says the concentration on the skin – one of the most radiation-sensitive organs of the body – means the radiation dose is actually 20 times higher than the official estimate.
The researcher was consulted to write guidelines for the security scanners in 2002 but said he would not have signed the report had he known the devices were going to be used so widely.
And of course, that's not even addressing the glaring privacy concerns. It's notable that when DHS Sec. Napolitano unveiled the new scanners at JFK Airport last month, she declined to submit to a scan herself.
And of course, the kicker is that like many of TSA's ractionary policies, the body scanners may not have even prevented the terror plot that inspired their use.