Airport Body Scanner Risks - Get the Facts Here

Posted by Rachel Masey

Tue, Jun 4, 2013 @ 02:22 PM

So there you are standing, shoeless, in a line impatiently waiting to send your belongings through the baggage scanner when you realize that you yourself are required to be scanned and examined as well. How do you feel about that?

Security Measures

Most people would be uncomfortable with the thought of choosing to have radiation infiltrated throughout their body, while others would happily accept the scanning process in comparison to being manhandled by a security guard. Surprisingly, the airport scanning procedure lacks viable strength to do much damage, if any, to a human body. Read on to discover why you shouldn’t be so skeptical of the Airport Body Scanners:


There are two main types of scanners used by airports worldwide. Both scanners are used in order to detect unacceptable tools and liquids, potential weapons and dangerous objects as well as other items inappropriate to carry on a plane. They can also identify hidden objects underneath clothing and even items that have been taped onto the surface of the skin.

 scanning, radiation, airport scans

  1. MILLIMETER RADIO-WAVE SCANNER is a full body scanner that is commonly used to scan people at an airport. The shape is large and enclosed and usually within the scanner there are fake foot prints that indicate where a person should stand (approximately a foot apart) and then they are directed by a security guard to raise their arms about chest high. So basically, you look like you are doing a jumping jack. During the short amount of time it takes to capture the necessary data, the millimeter radio-waves, which are transmitted from two antennas, are collecting a 3-dimensional image of the person while being rotated around the body. This scanner does not use X-rays therefore there is no need to have concerns with radiation exposure.
  1. BACKSCATTER SCANNER is also a full body scanner. Unlike the Millimeter Radio-Wave Scanner, this machine includes two large rectangular boxes for people to stand in between. This scanner uses X-rays in order to collect its’ data. A person would reside in a similar stance that they would during a Millimeter scan (jumping jack style). Unlike traditional X-ray machines that rely on the transmission of X-rays through an object, the Backscatter uses reflected radiation from an object which then creates an image. The images formed by the low intensity X-rays are taken from both sides of the body and are 2-dimensional. The scanning process takes about 2-5 seconds. Because the X-ray intensity is so low, it is not strong enough to penetrate or transmit through the body. Instead, they just bounce off of the surface which is why any harm to the body would be minuscule. In fact, one scan from the Backscatter is equivalent to the amount of radiation all passengers receive when flying 2 to 3 minutes at a normal cruising altitude. An even better example comes from, and it is this: "A person would have to receive 1,000 to 2,000 Backscatter scans to get a dose equivalent to a single chest X-ray. This explains the reason why the radiation from a Backscatter scan is considered to be relatively low."


A Quick Overview of Radiation

1.  What is Radiation?

-Energy in the form of waves, rays and energetic particles that travel through space.

There are 3 types:

  • Alpha Particles-Made up of 2 protons and 2 neutrons and is usually regarded as a ray. These particles can be shielded by a piece of paper but if they are ingested, inhaled or get inside a cut of the skin, they can be harmful.
  • Beta Particles-High speed electrons produced by radioactive decaying substances. These particles need items of more substance than a sheet of paper to be stopped. An example would be human skin or a piece of wood. However, inhaling or ingesting them, can cause serious damage, especially if they are absorbed into your bones.
  • Gamma Rays-High-energy electromagnetic radiation which is produced by radioactive materials decaying. These rays have the ability to destroy living cells so they are very dangerous. However, they are also used to kill cancer cells. 

2.  In what ways are we exposed to Radiation?

-Everyone receives radiation in low doses from space, air, the sun and even rocks. There are small amounts of radioactive materials in the food we eat, the water we drink and from household appliances (such as microwaves and TV's).

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