Raven Clabough | The New American
November 21 2011
Though the Transportation Security Administration promised the U.S. Senate it would conduct further studies into the safety of radiation-firing body scanners used at airports nationwide, it has since backed away from that promise. TSA head John Pistole (left) is now claiming that a previously completed Inspector General’s report validates his assertions that the machines are not harmful.
On November 2, Pistole told the Senate Homeland Security committee that the TSA would be furthering independent research into the safety risks associated with the full-body scanners currently in use. Appearing at another congressional hearing on November 9, however, he reneged on that promise, saying that earlier independent studies have already proven the safety of the technology. “I am concerned that there’s a perception that they’re not as safe as they could be,” he asserted.
Analysts say there is good reason for such a perception, however. A report on airport X-ray scanners filed by ProPublica reveals that despite evidence that the scanners could cause “anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year [to] get cancer,” a variety of expert testimonies on the dangers of the technology, and European policies that have actually banned the use of the scanners, the TSA has elected to continue the use of the scanners nationwide. As noted by The New American’s Michael Tennant, “What’s worse, the TSA has other, safer types of scanners, known as millimeter-wave scanners, that the agency says are as effective as the backscatter scanners; but it has chosen to continue deploying the backscatter scanners even though they could adversely affect the health of the flying public.”
The author of the ProPublica report, Michael Grabell, contends that the TSA has ignored concerns regarding the machines from both the public and from the scientific experts:
It skipped a public comment period required before deploying the scanners. Then, in defending them, it relied on a small body of unpublished research to insist the machines were safe, and ignored contrary opinions from U.S. and European authorities that recommended precautions, especially for pregnant women. Finally, the manufacturer, Rapiscan Systems, unleashed an intense and sophisticated lobbying campaign, ultimately winning large contracts.
Still, Pistole attempted to assuage concerns regarding the machines by promising further studies on the technology. During another Nov. 9 hearing — this one before Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation— he commented, “My strong belief is those types of machines are still completely safe… If the determination is that this IG study is not sufficient, then I will look at still yet another additional study.”
Pistole made similar assertions to CNN:
There are those who continue to express concerns, and so I want to do everything that I can to reassure those people that these machines are as safe as possible.
That being said, I just learned about an inspector general report that is in draft form that validates those prior studies, so that may suffice. We’ll work with Congress to see whether that addresses their concerns.
However, the report in question mentions merely the effectiveness of the TSA monitors and backscatter machines, not their safety aspects.