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TSA Commissions Backscatter Scanner Health Study

National Academy Of Sciences To Conduct The Research

The Department of Homeland Security placed a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website last week indicating that it would contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study health effects related to backscatter X-ray scanners.

The sole source contract will be awarded to the National Academy of Sciences pursuant to FAR 6.302-1.  A committee will "review previous studies as well as current processes used by DHS and equipment manufacturers to estimate radiation exposure resulting from backscatter x-ray advanced imaging technology (AIT) systems used in screening air travelers."

The committee will the be charged with providing a report with findings and recommendations on: (1) whether exposures comply with applicable health and safety standards for public and occupational exposures to ionizing radiation, and (2) whether system design (e.g., safety interlocks), operating procedures, and maintenance procedures are appropriate to prevent over exposures of travelers and operators to ionizing radiation. This study will not address legal, cultural, or privacy implications of this technology.

In January, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bill that would require the Under Secretary for Science and Technology in the Department of Homeland Security to contract with an independent laboratory to study the health effects of backscatter x-ray machines used at airline checkpoints operated by the TSA, and provide improved notice to airline passengers. That bill has not made it out of committee.

TSA has held fast to its assertion that the effects of the radiation used by the machines is "negligible." The agency says on its website that "TSA uses two types of imaging technology, millimeter wave and backscatter. Currently, there are over 800 imaging technology units at approximately 200 airports. Advanced imaging technology screening is safe for all passengers and the technology meets national health and safety standards."

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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