Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dr. Oz agrees

In one of my first blogs I mused over the radiation exposure from new airport screening devices, specifically backscatter scanners, which use x-rays to "see" under our clothing to determine if we are carrying anything dangerous.  My blog was written before the broad roll out of this technology, which resulted in waves of objections based on privacy concerns as well as concerns over the radiation exposure caused by the scans.  Privacy rights groups have sued to stop what they call excessive invasion of privacy caused by these scans.  Congress has begun hearings to address the issues of both privacy and health risks from radiation exposure.  From a technological standpoint, the privacy issue is the easier one to address.  Experts believe that software can be developed so that what the monitors show is not the individual's actual body but an avatar of a generic body with any problem points identified for further search.  Even once this is done the radiation exposure will still be an issue for many of us, especially as unlike medical devices that use radiation, the FDA does not monitor or test these devises for safety.

In the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster the amount of radiation involved in airport scanners seems miniscule.  And it is.  But that does not mean that it is totally harmless.  A variety of medical experts have questioned the safety of these devices, although it is safe to say the experts on not in agreement on this one.  Dr. Oz has chimed in with a position in line with the one I expressed in my previous blog.  Namely, Dr. Oz thinks:
[T]he health risk posed by these scanners is very minor, although populations that are more sensitive to radiation may want to opt for the pat-down instead. These include travelers over 65 (the body's cells are less able to repair DNA damage as you age), women with BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene mutations, cancer patients, pregnant women, and children. (emphasis added)
Radiation expert Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University made what I think is the most clear case for the risk:
"A good analogy ... is that it's like a lottery. You buy a ticket, and the chances of winning are minuscule -- but that doesn't mean no one will win the lottery."

"So we won't know who it is who gets these radiation-induced cancers, but it's going to be someone."
The risk that these scanners may cause cancer may be so low as to be unimportant to some people, like those making the decisions to use them. But if you are the one who gets cancer, the perspective is entirely different.

I don't want it to be me.

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