TSA to spend money on radiation dosimeters

by Lisa Simeone on January 7, 2012

Here at TSA News, we’ve done several posts on airport scanners (including More TSA scanners are coming–are you ready for your close-up?, What do air travelers really think about the TSA scanners?, New body scanner controversy erupts before the holidays, to name a few).  All link to scientific evidence and expert testimony, unlike the TSA’s public relations campaign, which is calculated to assuage citizens’ concerns simply by dismissing them outright.

Not only is the TSA backpedaling on promises made to Congress to conduct independent safety studies of the scanners, the agency has also lied about the studies it claims to have done. For instance, TSA Administrator John Pistole has repeatedly claimed that both Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have tested the scanners for safety and given them the all-clear. This statement is patently false.

As we have pointed out several times and will do so again here, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has obtained documents from DHS that prove that neither Johns Hopkins nor NIST studied the scanners currently in use at airports nor declared them safe:

In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA’s airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.” For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security – Full Body Scanner Radiation Risks and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Jun. 24, 2011)

One question critics of the scanners have repeatedly asked is why, if the scanners are so safe, has the agency refused to issue its employees dosimeters? Why not protect your employees and assure them that they are working in a safe environment, rather than just asking them to take your word for it?

As EPIC goes on to note:

EPIC has asked the court to force the agency to disclose documents containing radiation testing results, agency fact sheets on body scanner radiation risks, and an image produced by the machines. new report from ProPublica states that the “U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns As It Rolled Out Airport X-Ray.” EPIC has already obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing the radiation risks presented by the machines. For more information, see EPIC: Body Scanners and Radiation Risks (FOIA). (Nov. 1, 2011)

Well, finally, the TSA has put out an RFI (request for information) to vendors selling dosimeters. As Government Security News reports, the agency is required to periodically examine its radiation-emitting equipment. The agency’s RFI states:

The measurements will assist the TSA in determining if the Transportation Security Officers (TSO) at selected federalized airports are exposed to ionizing radiation above minimum detectable levels, and whether any measured radiation doses approach or exceed the threshold where personnel dosimetry monitoring is required by DHS/TSA policy.

Are TSA employees who work around these machines up to eight hours a day being harmed by radiation leaking from them? As Wendy Thomson wrote in December of 2011:

Both the NIST and the Johns Hopkins University informed the TSA that because the machines are not shielded, radiation overshoot escapes from the sides and the top. The area on either side is susceptible to about 4.5 feet, while the open area over the top really is susceptible: up to about 14 feet.

The TSA has already made it clear what it thinks of us, the citizens and travelers of this country. Now (perhaps because of the TSA union?), it’s finally responding to its own employees with a little more respect.

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