Can You Handle The Truth?

24 May

Here are some facts about my life.

1) In December 2001, I had the unfortunate experience of being on the plane where Richard Reid aka The Shoe Bomber unsuccessfully attempted to destroy our aircraft in-flight by detonating explosives hidden in his shoes. 2) Like many cancer patients, part of my treatment plan included total body radiation (TBI). 3) I love to travel! I am very lucky because my husband is usually up for traveling anywhere at any time due to his strange obsession with airline miles.


So why am I telling you this? Well these three facts have created a conundrum for me.   As you may know the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun using whole-body imaging scanners as a primary screening measure on travelers passing through airport security checkpoints. These scanners use backscatter X-rays that expose the individual being screened to very low levels of ionizing radiation.[1] Currently, there are 486 imaging technology units at 78 airports that use imaging scanners.[2]

Due to my past run in with Mr. Reid I am hyper sensitive to airline safety. I am fine with submitting to a scan where the TSA can see me in my birthday suit if it means that the skies will be safer. (Note to TSA agents, yes I am always this pale). However, I think I have had enough radiation for one lifetime and I am concerned about exposing myself to anymore.  I suspect that even if you haven’t had TBI the idea of having your body exposed to the matter that is used in nuclear warfare is not ideal. Although I would like to note that I just watched the movie Fantastic Four and the heroes gained their superpowers because they were exposed to a large dose of cosmic radiation. Which leads me to ask the important question why can’t I make myself invisible like Jessica Alba’s character? Unfair!

 So how dangerous are these scanners? Should I refuse to enter one and instead choose to submit to the awkward pat down from the TSA agent? I decided to ask an expert. Lawrence T. Dauer, PhD, CHP is the Radiation Safety Manager atMemorialSloanKetteringCancerCenter. Dr. Dauer was gracious enough to not only answer my questions but allow me to share his knowledge with you.

So without further ado I present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on radiation scanners.

Question (Allison): How much radiation are wereceiving when we go through these scanners?

Answer (Dr. Dauer): “The radiation scanners we go through at the airports are designed to utilize the very smallest possible doses, minimal percentages of background. They are in the microrem range and we receive about a thousand times more than that each day just from natural background radiation.”

 Question (Allison): How will my health be affected by the new scanners?

Answer (Dr. Dauer): “The National Council on Radiation Protection has evaluated these units very carefully and determined that they cause no real health effects. “

 Question (Allison): Even if I am a frequent flyer?

Answer (Dr. Dauer): “The FDA has evaluated the scanners and noted that the risks are miniscule and do not pose a significant risk for any persons, even frequent fliers. Therefore, (it is) nothing to be concerned about.”

 So there you have it. It seems that the radiation you receive via the airport scanners does not adversely affect your health. Bon voyage!


3 Responses to “Can You Handle The Truth?”

  1. Laurie Cohen May 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Very informative. I will now be slightly less paranoid and annoyed when going through airport scanners.

  2. Robert July 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Nice research! I have often wondered about those things. Also, I love Dr. Dauer’s collection of bowties….!

  3. Cynthia August 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    Great interview questions. Enjoyed this post very much. I’m sure lots of people have these questions on their mind. I did – and this helps. Thanks, Allison. Happy Travels!

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