Ever since last Christmas when a Nigerian man decided to stuff his boxers with explosives, but failed to bring down an airplane, U.S. airports have ramped up security precautions. As part of this effort, dozens of full-body scanners have been installed at more than 20 airports around the country and there are expected to be a total of 1,000 such scanners in place nationally by the end of next year.
This has raised a number of concerns about privacy for those who don't want airport employees peering underneath their clothes, but now some scientists are also wondering whether these safety precautions are actually bad for our health. According to NPR, a group of biochemists at the University of California, San Francisco, have grown concerned about the amount of radiation that may come from X-rays used in the machine, especially considering the increased number of travelers who must pass through them. So they recently sent a letter to President Obama’s science adviser voicing their worries.
"Many people will approach this as, 'Oh, it must be safe, the government has thought about this and I'll just submit to it,'" David Agard, one of the scientists, told NPR. "But there really is no threshold of low dose being OK. Any dose of X-rays produces some potential risk."
However, government officials disagree and argue that the X-rays are at such a low dose that a traveler would have to pass through the scanners 5,000 times to get the equivalent of one chest X-ray at a doctor’s office.
Even if they are physically safe, there have still been some horror stories showing their psychological dangers. In one incident earlier this month, an airport employee passed through the scanner during a training session and one of his coworkers pointed out the man was not well-endowed. After some ill-advised jokes, the employee assaulted his coworker.