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Forget Japan's Radiation Cloud -- Could a TSA Scanner at LAX Give You Cancer?

OK, don't actually forget the radiation cloud. Radiation clouds are not to be messed with, no matter how dissipated. But at an international moment when radiation risks are very much on the radar, we're somewhat disconcerted with the news that 22 of the controversial airport-porn machines at LAX, and 500 nationwide, are being re-tested after a routine check showed Rapiscan Systems radiation levels at 10 times those previously reported.

We knew those devils were bad for our dignity, but our health, to boot?

"In our review of the surveys we found instances where a technician incorrectly did his math and came up with results that showed the radiation readings were off by a factor of 10," Peter Kant, executive vice president of Rapiscan Systems, told the LA Daily News.

"A factor of 10"? That has to be the biggest euphemism we've heard since "sexual assault." What Kant means to say that the scanners were noted as giving off 10 times the radiation levels previously recorded.

It's being brushed off as a possible clerical error, but we're spooked. Plus, a couple different scientists think even the old radiation levels shouldn't be taken lightly.

From the Los Angeles Times:

David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, says that, while individual risk may be close to zero, population risk is significant -- and thus the TSA should opt for scanners that don't use X-rays.

Brenner calculates that, because the TSA could perform about a billion scans a year, even if the two scans needed for round-trip travel pose only a one-in-a-million chance of developing cancer for an individual, some people would still get sick from the scans.

There's also a recent Wired investigation about the safety of the scanners:

John Sedat, a biochemistry and biophysics professor, says he's not going to get on an airplane again -- at least not until the TSA rethinks its deployment of hundreds of body scanners that hit travelers with a tiny amount of radiation.

"I'm not going to go through these machines. And I'm not going to be groped either," the 68-year-old University of California, San Francisco, scientist said in a recent telephone interview. "Us older people are probably only one mutation away from melanoma. I'm not going to go through these machines and basically ask for the problem. We all know the older you get the more sensitive you are to sunlight and X-rays."

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez at LAX tells us he hasn't heard of the (likely bungled) reports indicating Rapiscan Systems were emitting 10 times their expected spurts of radiation. He says the scanners are indeed being re-checked, though -- then points us to the TSA's press release page and says he'll call us back.

What do you think? Is this whole radiation scare in California -- Japanwise and airportwise -- a bunch of hoopla? Or should we be overly cautious?


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