Perhaps, you are one of the people who is concerned about the potential danger of radiation when flying, especially when passing through the airport scanner. This is even more concerning if you go out of the country more often, making yourself vulnerable to full-body scans every time. Now, how do airport scanners really work, and are they safe or not?
What Is An Airport Scanner?
The best way to answer whether or not these scanning machines are safe is to understand how they work. Before anything else, it is essential to know that there are two types of airport scanners: Backscatter X-Ray Scanners and Millimeter-Wave Scanner. Generally, a full-body scanner is designed to detect objects inside or on an individual’s body for safety purposes without removing their clothes or making any physical contact.
According to the European Union, they banned the use of backscatter x-ray scanners from every European airport due to health and safety concerns. This machine uses backscatter ionized radiation technology that emits radiation that can cause cancer. Although it only produces deficient radiation levels, it can be dangerous when accumulated over time. Not only should passengers be concerned about the dangers of radiation when flying but those that work at the airport.
In the United States, backscatter x-ray scanners are not banned but are in limited use. Most scanners in airports today are the so-called millimeter-wave scanners. Let’s talk about these two main types of scanners below.
Backscatter X-Ray Scanner
A backscatter x-ray machine utilizes x-ray technology for taking images, therefore they emit ionizing radiation in small amounts. This machine comes with more risks than backscatter, but they are more accurate. Generally, ionizing radiation is regarded as dangerous and carcinogenic in higher amounts.
Experts say that dental x-ray radiation is equal to more than 50 scans from airport scanners. To most people, this corresponds to an unsafe level of radiation that can cause serious health problems. Because of that, backscatter x-ray scanners received a massive public backlash. The public’s outcry led to the European Union’s decision to ban these scanners in 2011.
The banning of backscatter x-ray scanners is proof that millimeter-wave x-ray machines can also be phased out once a safer option is available. However, the government can deem any machine safe to use despite the lack of research to back up claims. What is deemed safe today can be regarded as dangerous tomorrow.
Millimeter-wave machines are the size of a phone booth, they produce millimeter waves that fall within the range of 30 to 300 GHz. These waves are the same as high band 5G, exactly why they may sound familiar to you. Moreover, millimeter waves also help in mapping out the human body, hence these scanners are called full-body scanning machines.
The image produced by a millimeter-wave scanner is created by tons of discs that release millimeter waves. The discs on the rotating bar allow the machine to create a full-body image of every person passing through the scanner in airports. Therefore, security personnel can detect hidden drugs, weapons, and other dangerous or illegal objects through the image.
Since millimeter waves are considered in the RF range, then they are non-ionizing radiation. This means they are generally safe due to the lack of energy needed to change an atom’s structure. So, are millimeter-wave scanners really safe for humans? According to the government, non-ionizing radiation is considered safe.
However, it is only safe at minimum doses or with less exposure to radiation. Some evidence claims that they may be dangerous regardless of the rate of exposure. Let’s delve deeper into the matter.
Risks of RF-EMF Radiation
Millimeter-wave scanners produce RF-EMF radiation, which has been studied to cause tumors in the brains, adrenal glands, and hearts of rats. Therefore, people were alarmed that RF-emitting devices including cell phones may cause cancer. Based on the study, the International Association for Research on Cancer regarded RF-EMF radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
Some of the negative health effects of RF radiation include Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, decreased male fertility, and miscarriages. Exposure to millimeter waves can cause physiological responses including heating of tissues. A group of researchers analyzed 94 studies by comparing two types of study namely: in vivo and in vitro methods.
In vivo means the subject in the study has taken place in a human, rat, or living organism. On the other hand, in vitro refers to a test subject that was conducted using a test tube. According to the results, 80% of the test subjects in the in vivo studies experienced a biological response after exposing them to millimeter waves. Meanwhile, only 58% of the in vitro studies had a biological response.
Millimeter wave exposure, therefore, triggers a response from a living organism’s body. However, it’s likely harmless to be exposed to lower levels of non-ionizing radiation. But due to the cumulative nature of exposure, you could develop health problems after being exposed to millimeter-wave scanners over time.
In addition to the potential danger of radiation when flying and airport scanners, you also expose yourself to this type of radiation every time you use your fitness tracker, smart meters, and cell phones. In reality, you are surrounded by a lot of things that expose you to radiation such as WiFi and Bluetooth devices. If you’re constantly and significantly exposed, it could lead to serious problems in the future.
Effectiveness of Millimeter-Wave Scanners
There does seem to be some concerns with radiation when flying but how effective are millimeter-wave scanners, do the pros outweigh the cons? We know this type of airport scanner is potentially dangerous, especially for people who frequently fly, therefore regularly exposing themselves to millimeter waves. Now, if they put people at risk of certain health problems with frequent exposure, are they really effective?
Well, maybe millimeter-wave scanners are more effective to use than other scanners as they are also the least problematic when it comes to radiation exposure. They are designed to detect knives and other dangerous items that can be sensed by the metal detector. However, it’s not yet clear if they can provide any protection aside from the metal detector.
One report says that these machines have a 54% false-positive rate possibly due to sweat or any presence of moisture that can trick them into incorrectly identifying danger. Apparently, all machines have some drawbacks that we need to consider in all aspects.
How Alarming Are These Airport Scanners
If you’re wondering whether or not you need to be concerned about airport scanner radiation, it depends on the frequency of exposure. In general, it may not be a problem if you rarely fly overseas. However, it’s a different case if you frequently travel and get exposed to airport scanner radiation every time.
Quick Tips for Protection
There are some important things you can do to protect yourself every time you need to go to the airport for a business trip or vacation. The best way is to choose a physical pat-down instead of going through the millimeter-wave scanner. While this may come with privacy concerns, it’s the most effective way to avoid exposure.
The problem is that the pat-down option is only available in the United States and not in European countries. In this case, you can take some supplements to counteract the symptoms or effects brought by radiation exposure. One of the most common supplements that people take to reduce the effects of exposure is Reishi, a mushroom supplement that can repair cell damage due to radiation.
Some claims about this supplement include it can shrink tumors and fight off cancers. So if you’re headed to the airport and want to protect your body from radiation, make sure to take a premium quality Reishi.
Wrapping It Up
Preventing terrorist attacks is the primary goal of using airport scanners. However, you don’t have to jeopardize your own health in order to make this happen. More studies should be done to back up claims that millimeter-wave scanners are truly safe. If not, we need better technology to protect our nations and at the same time protect ourselves from radiation exposure.