By BURGESS EVERETT
After months of congressional cajoling, the Transportation Security Administration agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to probe the health effects of radiation from imaging machines used at airports, according to a senior GOP senator.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said late Monday that she had been informed of the decision to probe the effects of the imaging technology. Collins, who has written a bill that would require an independent study of the “backscatter” machines, said in a statement the TSA “has heeded my call to commission an independent examination into the possible health risks travelers and TSA employees may face during airport screenings.”
“Administrator Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment,” a TSA spokesman said.
A contracting notice posted by the GSA says NAS will issue a report on “whether exposures comply with applicable health and safety standards” and whether TSA’s screening process is “appropriate to prevent over exposures of travelers and operators to ionizing radiation.”
“While TSA has told the public that the amount of radiation emitted from these machines is small, passengers and some scientific experts have raised questions about the impact of repeated exposure to this radiation,” Collins said.
TSA recently removed 91 of the X-ray machines and replaced them with newer millimeter wave machines, which scientists believe pose fewer radiation risks. The TSA said it plans to eventually redeploy the removed backscatter machines, although officials said last month the machines are still in storage in a Texas warehouse.
ProPublica reported a year ago that as many as 100 air travelers each year could get cancer from the machines, which have also carried privacy risks because of the detailed images they display. TSA has previously dismissed the amount of radiation emitted is “negligible” and points to numerous studies on its website finding that the backscatter machines are safe.