Amid the controversy surrounding the new full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints, an important question has been raised: Are the new scanners safe?  The scanners emit a small amount of radiation, and according to an article in the New York Daily News, many frequent fliers and airline pilots are worried about the dangers of this radiation.  

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) holds that the scanners are extremely safe and that the level of radiation a person is exposed to is minimal.  They say that radiation from one scan is approximately equal to what a person is exposed to when flying for three minutes in an airplane at 30,000 feet, where atmospheric radiation levels are higher than on the ground. The American College of Radiology estimates that 1,000 scans a year equal one chest X-Ray, although there are others who gauge equivalence at a much lower threshold.

In a letter to the White House, the FDA stated:        

“The potential health risks from a full-body screening with a general-use X-ray security system are minuscule.  Several groups of recognized experts have been assembled and have analyzed the radiation safety issues associated with this technology.  As a result of these evidence-based, responsible actions, we are confident that full-body X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health.”

However, another group of experts — a panel of doctors and professors from UC San Francisco — believe that the scanners need to be studied for potential health consequences before they are adopted for mainstream use.  In a letter to the White House, the panel expressed their concern that the scanners could increase the risk of cancer and cause other problems, especially for passengers who are older, have a weaker immune system, or are pregnant.  Other scientists worry that the scanners may malfunction in some way, resulting in too much radiation being emitted. 

In the absence of long-term studies, there is no conclusive proof one way or the other.  The FDA believes that the risks are minimal, estimating that the risk of fatal cancer from the maximum allowable dose would be 1 in 80 million per screening.  Doses from a single scan are considerably lower than the maximum.  Frequent fliers, do you have concerns about the long-term safety of body scanners?

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About The Author

Christie Erdman, a guest contributor to the Healthy Travel blog, is a recent graduate of the University of Richmond with a degree in Economics and Marketing. She enjoys traveling, and had the opportunity to spend a semester studying at Universita Bocconi in Milan, Italy during her junior year.


  1. With the latest articles claiming that these scanners can be duped and that the radiation emitted is “20 times higher” than stated, I think it’s more important than ever to get them out of the airports.

    Sign the Petition by a U.S. Senator !!

  2. This is a great article. Thanks for all of the helpful information! I just started a new site for staying healthy while traveling: I share lots of great tips and information on eating healthy on the road, workouts, flying, getting enough sleep, managing stress and more. I’d love for you to check it out!

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