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TSA To Retest Full Body Scanners For Radiation 199

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-ok-guys-they're-just-bad-at-math dept.
cultiv8 writes with this excerpt from USA Today: "The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner that emits ionizing radiation — 247 machines at 38 airports — after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected. The TSA says that the records reflect math mistakes and that all the machines are safe. Indeed, even the highest readings listed on some of the records — the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes — appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation. Even so, the TSA has ordered the new tests out of 'an abundance of caution to reassure the public,' spokesman Nicholas Kimball says. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released 'as they are completed,' the agency said on its website."
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TSA To Retest Full Body Scanners For Radiation

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  • by intellitech (1912116) * on Saturday March 12, 2011 @03:47PM (#35466188)

    Shouldn't they be testing the radiation output from these machines at regular intervals to make sure they're safe?

    (as opposed to just checking them when the public needs "reassuring")

    In the past, the TSA has failed to properly monitor and ensure the safety of X-ray devices used on luggage. A 2008 report by the worker safety arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the TSA and its maintenance contractors had failed to detect when baggage X-ray machines emitted radiation beyond what regulations allowed. They also failed to take action when some machines had missing or disabled safety features, the report shows.

    Oh, wait, that's right. For the most part, they're incompetent, or just don't care.

    The least they could do while subjecting people to discomfort and harm is ensure that they're keeping damage to a minimum. Assholes.

    • by malakai (136531) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:03PM (#35466320) Journal

      Did you not read the blurb? Let alone the article?

      after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected

      These machines are on a maintenance plan. A few anomalies early on prompted the TSA to force retest all machines before their scheduled maintenance window.

      They did exactly what you whined about them not doing.

      • by headhot (137860)

        Well considering the machines have never been looked at by the FDA or any other agency, or any other independent of side review, how do you know they are looking for the right thing in their scheduled maintenance?

        • a guy shows up, 'does stuff' and leaves.

          what, you want more for your theater?

      • by sjames (1099) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:12PM (#35466790) Homepage

        A medical facility that allowed an x-ray machine to expose patients to an order of magnitude more radiation than it was supposed to for any length of time would have hell to pay.

        TFA does not say that TSA detected problems and so is re-testing everything. It says that AFTER they were forced by lawmakers and the press to release records AND it was determined that at least 33% of those inspections were rendered worthless by seriously sloppy procedure AND lawmakers rumbled about taking action, THEN and only THEN the TSA reluctantly offered to retest everything.

        That's far from your characterization.

        • by mhajicek (1582795)
          Even if they're perfectly safe they're still completely useless, a huge waste of money, AND unwarranted search. But, that's America.
      • I wish I had your confidence that these machines are regularly tested by competent technicians. Unfortunately, my faith in the competence of the TSA, their subcontractors, and their subcontractors' subcontractors doesn't extend that far.
    • The radiation danger to individuals may be significant, but the real danger is to the TSA agents that work in close proximity to the devices 40 hours a week or more. It would be worth the money to put one of these in the office of director of homeland security. Passengers don't have to even go through these devices if they don't want too. Plus they are easy to avoid. Most airports have multiple lanes and it is easy to just go to the line without the scanner. In my own airport CLT I can avoid it by goin
      • by Professr3 (670356)
        Many airports have been "randomly" pulling people from the metal-detector lines and telling them they have to go through the x-ray scanners. People are not given a choice - they can either go through the scanner, or get hit with a 10,000 lawsuit if they leave the airport.
        • by xzvf (924443)
          You have a choice between the scanner or an enhanced pat down. You don't have to go through the scanner, but the alternative poses no health risk.
  • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday March 12, 2011 @03:51PM (#35466216)
    While all you geeky LOSERS patter on about being exposed to LESS radiation than your fucking CELL PHONE (and really, do ANY of you masturbation freaks actually ever get out of your mom's basement?), the WINNERS are dealing with actual real issues involving warlocks and tiger blood. I get zapped at the airport maybe 8 times a year. The amount of alcohol and cocaine I take will kill me first, and I plan on NEVER DIEING.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @03:55PM (#35466250) Homepage Journal
    Where you have to get your balls groped to be able to travel. You would be hard pressed to make a public servant grope your balls even in 3rd world countries. But, its free in america.

    That, or a good dose of healthy radiation ..

    "Hello sir ! What would you like to have today ? Ball-grope, or radiation ?"

    now come to think of it, even that 'hello sir' part may be extra in that sentence.
    • by malakai (136531) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:04PM (#35466326) Journal

      Take the radiation on the flight out, then the ball grope on the return flight to make sure you don't have testicular cancer.

      win-win

    • by Kenja (541830)
      "Where you have to get your balls groped to be able to travel."

      Try taking a train in Asia.
      • by unity100 (970058)
        some perv groping you amidst the crowd doesnt classify as an official grope, brought to you by your tax.
    • make it like beavis and butthead do america full body cavity search.

    • But, its free in america.

      Pfft. I wish. Have you seen the price of plane tickets these days?

    • by wgoodman (1109297)

      It isn't free! you have to buy a plane ticket.

    • by mhajicek (1582795)

      But, its free in america.

      A big part of the problem is that it isn't free; we're all paying for it. Do you know how much those machines cost? Do you know how much the manufacturer lobbied to get them mandated?

  • So glad that the people who use these machines on people and make mathematical mistakes in their logs are the ones that are going to be testing it for safety. That should settle the matter.
  • by teeloo (766817)
    This sets a new bar for incompetence. Its almost comical that they are admitting that someone didn't divide by 10 to get an average, but instead *added* the numbers together. This smells like its too dumb to be true, and they are hiding something.
  • by headhot (137860) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:10PM (#35466374) Homepage

    Their example of "appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation." is a bad one.

    The force of a bullet hitting a person is the same as that of the stock hitting the shoulder of the shooter. I'd rather be on the shooter's end.

    Just because the amount of radiation is the same (or less) it doesn't mean its the same type. The scanners concentrate that radiation at one frequency, not over a broad spectrum. That frequency is absorbed not by the whole body, but by the first few millimeters of flest. That means that bit of flesh is getting thousands of times higher levels of exposure then that of the whole body mass exposure of back ground radiation.

    • The force of a bullet hitting a person is the same as that of the stock hitting the shoulder of the shooter. I'd rather be on the shooter's end.

      While I appreciate the analogy, I'm pretty sure that's wrong. Force is time-dependent; the bullet keeps getting energy imparted the entire time it's going down the shaft, during which time it accelerates up to speed. It has enormous impact because it's trying to shed all that energy into the material it's hitting all at once, and most materials (like flesh) don't have enough strength to hold up against firepower of that magnitude. However, the butt of the rifle (assuming it's kept against the shoulder) d

      • You don't need Mythbusters, just Newton's Third Law.

        The force imparted to the bullet and that applied to the rifle are equal and opposite and every instant that gases are exerting pressure on the bottom of the bullet they are simultaneously doing the same to the breech at the other end of the barrel. To suggest that the bullet gains more energy than the rifle is nonsense since its acceleration drops below zero as soon as it has left the barrel - in fact, its momentum starts decreasing at that time.

        PS, bulle

        • The FORCE imparted to your shoulder by the stock is not the same as the force of the bullet when it HITS--it's the same as the energy the bullet receives as it gets up to speed. You could get a city bus up to speed (say 5-10 mph) by pushing it with weak fleshy human hands, but if it hits a brick wall, chances are metal and/or brick will break, while your hands did not sustain any injury at all.

          I'm not saying you wouldn't sustain injury if the stock of your rifle was the size and shape of a bullet, but I'd

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:17PM (#35466422) Homepage

    There's a keychain-sized radiation detector [nukalert.com] available for $160. It's a sealed unit, always on, and has a 10-year battery life. It sounds a burst of "chirps" if it detects radiation, with the number of chirps indicating logarithmically the level of hazard. One chirp, the level of radiation is safe for 40 days of exposure. 10 chirps, lethal within hours. Putting one in front of a dental X-ray machine produces about five chirps.

    Carry one of those through a body scanner and see what happens.

    • what will happen? they'll take it from you and throw it into the anti-freedom(tm) water/liquid/soap drums.

      100% chance they can come up with an excuse to detain you or search you for pretty much any whim of theirs. your 'detection device' could be seen as trying to spy or interfere with them. in their sick anti-freedom(tm) minds, you would be the bad person, not them!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:36PM (#35466976)

      They're illegal in New York City. The reason given is to prevent public panic.

    • But.. you'd have to go through the machine. If it's not safe to go through, the detector isn't going to do much other than say, "yeah, you're screwed"

  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:33PM (#35466528)

    Indeed, even the highest readings listed on some of the records — the numbers that the TSA says were mistakes — appear to be many times less than what the agency says a person absorbs through one day of natural background radiation.

    That is irrelevant, and in my recommendation whoever came up with that formulation should be fired, or at least reassigned to duties far from any actual responsibilities.

    I have been unable to find any actual numbers for dosage recorded in this case, so let's look at the National Council on Radiation Protection Commentary No. 16 - Screening of Humans for Security Purposes Using Ionizing Radiation Scanning Systems [ncrppublications.org], which I believe governs this.

    The Commentary states that general-use systems should adhere to an effective dose of 0.1 microsievert (Sv) (0.01 millirem) or less per scan, and can be used mostly without regard to the number of individuals scanned or the number of scans per individual in a year. An effective dose of 0.1 Sv (0.01 mrem) per scan would allow 2,500 scans of an individual annually [i.e., if each scan required 0.1 Sv (0.01 mrem)] without exceeding the administrative control of 0.25 mSv (25 mrem) to a member of the general public for a single source or set of sources under one control. Assuming 250 workdays per year, this would correspond to an average of 10 scans each day, a frequency that is unlikely to be encountered.

    So, if the actual dose is 10 times that, or 1 micro Sv / scan, then the "administrative control" of 250 microSv / year would require only 250 scans, or one per workday, a frequency which would not be "unlikely to be encountered." In fact, both really frequent flyers and airline crew would be likely to match or exceed this. To be blunt about it, the TSA chose words intended to obscure the likelihood that their radiation guidelines are being violated, at least for some members of the public. This does not inspire confidence.

    Remember, too, that this technology was pushed heavily by Michael Chertoff when he was in office, and now he is profiting from its deployment. That also does not inspire confidence.

    I think that there should be an independent audit of the TSA's use of X-Ray backscatter and that until that is done members of the flying public should refuse to take those scans. It is better to get groped than to get cancer.

    • by stevelinton (4044)

      Background radiation is typically (depends where you live amongst other things) 2.4 miliSieverts per year. So even if the dose was 1 microSievert, and you flew through that particular machine 250 times per year, that's still 10% of background.

    • by epp_b (944299)

      That is irrelevant, and in my recommendation whoever came up with that formulation should be fired, or at least reassigned to duties far from any actual responsibilities.

      I'd settle for the person in question being charged with criminal negligence.

  • Does anybody really expect that the TSA would admit that their scanners are dangerous and then remove them? No way. Not after the hundreds of millions of dollars they've spent buying them. I guarantee their tests will show that everything is A-OK regardless of what the truth might actually be.

    • #define _OK 1
      #define _NOT_OK 2

      extern int get_status_of_test();

      int safety_check(void)
      {
          (void)get_status_of_test();
          return _OK;
      }

      (hope they don't 'wikileaks' my ass for disclosing their secret source code)

    • by McGruber (1417641)

      Does anybody really expect that the TSA would admit that their scanners are dangerous and then remove them? No way. Not after the hundreds of millions of dollars they've spent buying them.

      TSA spent millions on installing "puffer" machines and those have all been removed.

      So, yes, I do really expect that TSA will end up removing the nude-o-scopes.

    • by tombeard (126886)

      Why not? They are already paid for.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:37PM (#35466560) Homepage

    And to speed things up they've already started writing up the results.

  • We need to git rid of all scanners, x-ray machine, etc. There will be random, "aggressive", pat downs by attractive male/female "escorts"... Your choice as to which you will be groped by. There will of course be a charge for this service, cough, I mean security procedure. And there will be a menu of other extras you may request at an additional cost. This will not only solve the security and radiation exposure issues, but the TSA will become self supporting agency and within a few years run a surplus I sus

  • by metrometro (1092237) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:41PM (#35466580)

    Given the rash of medical radiation devices that have been gorking people because they were working incorrectly, I do worry about this.
    Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/health/06radiation.html?src=mv [nytimes.com]

    How about we have an agency OTHER than the TSA provide data on how much radiation in being emitted. Not hard to do -- OSHA rep visits the airport, run the test on each machine, and out. TSA never has to do math again; the radiation output is not a security question anyway.

    And you avoid situations like this one, where testing gets somehow... skipped.
    Source: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/02/umdnj_didnt_test_medical_x-ray.html [nj.com]

    • by Chitlenz (184283)

      I absolutely agree with you, these should be tested and regulated as medical devices. As your article link noted they should be calibrated, QC'd and logged daily, and by someone who knows how to do it (an unqualified check is actually worse than not doing anything, since the wrong setting can be a very bad thing). And you can bet with the number of them out there already a lot slipping through maintenance cracks. The deal is, you can't tell if one's bad, you just get a bunch of passengers with a rash a w

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @04:44PM (#35466592) Homepage Journal

    Mr. Pistole:

    According to federal sources cited around the web, the amount of radiation is less than 1/1000 times [developerdig.com] the dosage from 3 minutes of air travel.

    If these systems are as safe as you say, being scanned 100,000 times is about the amount of radiation one would get from a 4 hour flight.

    It would go a long way towards convincing everyone if, as a publicity stunt, you allowed yourself to be scanned 100,000 times over a four hour period.

    The equivalent dosage would be a little less than from a four hour flight, which is a risk that you regularly take as part of your official duties.

    If you do this and emerge unharmed, I'm willing to concede the point. Until then, I claim that there is no evidence [okianwarrior.com] to warrant any claims as to the safety of airport scanners.

    Rajstennaj Barrabas
    Nashua, NH

    • Post in haste, regret at leisure.

      Looks like I typoed the calculations. It's more like 5,000 scans instead of 100,000.

      But my point stands. I'd like to see someone who is so certain of the safety show us how little the risk is by taking the challenge (with the correct number of scans).

  • What a buncha retahds.

    There is no excuse for this. None. Trying to downplay it with a lame excuse only makes it look like they're covering something up.

    I'll bet the TSA is doing exactly that.

    "It all depends on what your definition of "is" is"

    --
    BMO

  • So if I understand this correctly, the scanners don't expose you to more than you'd normally get in a day. However, it does it in 10 seconds or less.

    To put this in perspective, if I shower for 10 minutes on average, and I find a machine that can blast the water at me in 1/1000th of a second would be good? I think I'd be missing skin among other things.

    How about the fact that I've now doubled the normal radiation in just 10 seconds? If I have to go out to another terminal in an airport where the terminals

    • How about the fact that I've now doubled the normal radiation in just 10 seconds? If I have to go out to another terminal in an airport where the terminals aren't connected (like many of my connections through Logan), I now get triple? If I fly back in the same day, add at least two more hits.

      Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say. We've gotten used to having all these small sources of radiation (at varying wavelengths) around us on a daily basis, so we tend to lump them all together and ignore the lot. It doesn't help that the favorite argument made, when it comes to exposing people to yet another source of radiation, is usually akin to "it's less than you get from an hour out in the sun" - but, as you point out, that completely sidesteps facing the fact that radiation exposure is cumulative.

  • Why is it (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sjames (1099) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:20PM (#35466850) Homepage

    If I get sick and need a scan, my government pleads poverty and leaves me on my own. If I try to fly somewhere, suddenly they're so overstuffed with money that they demand that I take a scan.

    Best of both worlds, have certified radiologists operate the airport scanners and pat-downs. They can not only get you where you're going but give you a free scan and manual breast or testicular cancer screening.

  • by hort_wort (1401963) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @05:29PM (#35466924)

    One thing people rarely consider is the amount of cosmic rays you get with the high altitude during a flight. A visiting physics professor coming to our university wore a geiger counter watch during the flight. After he explained to nearby passengers why it was sounding alarms, he was detained when they landed. :( The talk he was coming for was cancelled because he was held for several hours at an airport for detecting cosmic rays in this age of paranoia.

    Anyway, here's an article about the dosage you get during flight compared to the scanners:
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/politifact-radiation-of-airport-scans-less-than-the-dose-in-flight/1135857 [tampabay.com]

    • This has been known for decades. The more time at altitude the LESS you should be exposed to other forms of radiation. That's why they ask you questions about flying before any medical procedure involving radiation.
      I'll bet the pilots are incredibly pissed about all these scans because for one thing it can reduce their legal flight time.


      To make things worse these things are not just your normal transmission x-ray where you just want to see what photons make it to the sensor and the dark spots tell you w
      • To make things worse these things are not just your normal transmission x-ray where you just want to see what photons make it to the sensor and the dark spots tell you where the dense stuff is. What these scanners are doing is providing far more radiation with the aim of getting atoms to absorb and re-emit photons - effectively making you radioactive while the scanner is on.

        The units discussed in the article are rems. Those are more telling than rads in that they measure the *biological reaction* rather than the flux of the bombardment. So 1 rem of cosmic rays is just as bad for you as 1 rem of a directed x-ray source.

        I don't think that 3 minutes of additional flight time is worth mentioning. Planes spend a tremendous amount of time just circling airports for the traffic pattern sometimes, no one whines about radiation in that situation. I'll grant you that the pilots bein

        • by dbIII (701233)

          Planes spend a tremendous amount of time just circling airports for the traffic pattern sometimes, no one whines about radiation in that situation

          OK, it may may a little more sense once you understand why there is increased exposure. It's due to very high altitude and there being a lot less air above you absorbing the incoming radiation. Thus nobody gives a shit in this context about planes circling at low altitude because in terms of radiation risk they are for all practical purposes on the ground on a h

      • by Imabug (2259)

        This has been known for decades. The more time at altitude the LESS you should be exposed to other forms of radiation. That's why they ask you questions about flying before any medical procedure involving radiation.
        I'll bet the pilots are incredibly pissed about all these scans because for one thing it can reduce their legal flight time.

        In the US, medical exposures are not counted against occupational exposure.

        To make things worse these things are not just your normal transmission x-ray where you just want to see what photons make it to the sensor and the dark spots tell you where the dense stuff is. What these scanners are doing is providing far more radiation with the aim of getting atoms to absorb and re-emit photons - effectively making you radioactive while the scanner is on. The idea behind that is the wavelengths of the re-emitted photons can be used to determine what elements are present, find metal and perhaps find explosives. Because that really adds up to a shitload of radiation if it's going to scan all the way through you the dose is cut back and you just end up with the skin being exposed to quite a lot and no ability to sense internally hidden explosives.

        No. The x-rays being detected are those that scatter off the person being scanned. They are *not* making anybody radioactive in any way. There is no way scattered x-rays are going to tell you the elemental composition of anything. Density, but not composition.

        It is also not a "shitload of radiation". If these machines were detecting transmitted radiation instead, that would actually require *more* radiation exposure and would operat

        • No. The x-rays being detected are those that scatter off the person being scanned. They are *not* making anybody radioactive in any way. There is no way scattered x-rays are going to tell you the elemental composition of anything. Density, but not composition.

          Sorry, but you've got it backwards inside out and completely wrong - please look it up instead of going by "gut feeling".
          Maybe start with descriptions of electron microscopes and how you can determine what elements are present in the visual field by us

  • But what does the amount of background radiation people experience every day have to do with this anyway... because people experience that every day, so am I wrong in thinking that any additional ionizing radiation is on -top- of the background radiation?

    Isn't this an additive thing?

  • How about they test to see if they actually prevent terrorism more than my magic rock?

  • Back in Nov I wrote my rep about the TSA's scanners. Here is a copy of his letter to the TSA. http://markey.house.gov/docs/homeland_security/markey_letter_to_fda_11.23.10.pdf [house.gov]
  • ... until it becomes the home of the brave.

    Who the hell is okay with naked pictures of little kids? If you are I can refer you to the Pope job placement.

  • Therac-25 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chitlenz (184283) <{moc.zneltihc} {ta} {zneltihc}> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @09:27PM (#35468286) Homepage

    I make radiology stations for a living. The 3 companies that make the "backscatter" x-ray machines aren't people like "GE' or "Siemens", they're defense contractors. There's many radiologiests who won't fly commercial because of these things. All it takes is ONE screw up in configuration and maintenance and you get Therac-25... except these things are everywhere now...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25 [wikipedia.org]

  • We lack a sensible exit strategy, now that we got a lot of bad press for those scanners, from privacy intrusion to child porn allegations. The best move is probably to say that they're emitting too much radiation (thanks to Japan, that's currently an issue), and so we can phase them out without losing face, we'll do it for your safety and health.

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