The EU has banned X-ray body scanners in airports — for medical reasons

Illustration for article titled The EU has banned X-ray body scanners in airports — for medical reasons

What price will the United States pay in the name of security? A PBS NewsHour investigation published earlier this month reported that as many as 100 Americans could develop cancer each year due to radiation emitted by full-body X-ray scanners, which continue to pop up en masse at airports across the US.

And while 100 people (out of hundreds of millions of annual airline passengers) certainly doesn't sound like a lot, it's figures like these that have led the European Union to announce this week that it will ban the use of X-ray body scanners in airports throughout the EU.

According to a press release, issued by the European Union on Monday:

In order not to risk jeopardising citizens' health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports.


In place of backscatter X-ray machines, European countries will be permitted to use scanners that rely on radio frequency waves… which, you know, haven't been linked to cancer.

[Via Scientific American]

Photograph via AP

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Dr Emilio Lizardo

There is no reason to believe that radiofrequency scanners are more or less safe than backscatter xrays. RF radiation is the same that people irrationally fear from their cell phones. The radiation dose from the xray scanners is substantially lower than the dose from even a short plane trip. The 100 excess cancer cases is based on many assumptions, some of which may not be correct and it's difficult to prove 100 excess cases being due to any specific cause (or even existing) out of a million or more new cancer diagnosis yearly.

Bottom line? This is much ado about nothing. There are literally dozens of things a person can do that will reduce their cancer risk more than avoiding backscatter X-ray machines.