Proposed bill in Congress to test xray scanners

In another attempt to get the TSA to comply with a promise to test the backscatter (x-ray) scanners for safety, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is planning to introduce a new bill in Congress. It would require the TSA to conduct an independent study.

This isn’t the first time Collins has pushed for such a study. Last year, TSA Administrator John Pistole told her that he would comply with her request, only to change his mind a few weeks later. So Collins is drafting a new bill. It’s unclear how a new demand will get Pistole to be any more cooperative this time around.

As Collins said last November:

I hope the Obama administration is not backing away from an independent study of the health effects of these radiation-emitting machines. What I asked for — and what the administrator committed to — was an independent study on the health effects of [the] machines, not just a study on whether TSA is doing an adequate job of inspecting, maintaining and operating them.

Now Collins says:

“I have urged TSA to move toward only radiation-free screening technology,” Collins said in a statement to ProPublica. “In the meantime, an independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars.”

As we’ve reported several times, there are two types of scanners — backscatter (x-ray) scanners and millimeter wave (MMW) scanners. The first uses radiation; the second doesn’t.

As we’ve also reported, no independent studies have established the safety of the scanners, despite the TSA’s repeated claims to the contrary. The European Union decided last November to ban the backscatter scanners.

One aspect of the bill Collins is proposing is puzzling: it would “require the TSA to choose an independent laboratory to measure the radiation emitted by a scanner currently in use at an airport checkpoint.”

Why would the TSA get to choose the “independent laboratory”? Isn’t that a little like the fox guarding the henhouse?