Select Page

Health Risks of Airport Security Full-body X-ray Screening Systems

Jul 5, 2017


Airport Security Full-Body X-ray & Millimeter Wave Screening Systems

Health Risks and Doctors Letters on Radiation Risks

The two types of scanners used in airports are full body millimeter radiation scanners  and backscatter X ray scanners.When full-body X-ray Screening Systems were introduced for airport security, many doctors raised health concerns about the radiation exposure. After years of debate, these x-ray screening systems are now being replaced with millimeter wave systems. Please see below the letters and health concerns raised in regards to the  screening systems.

 Note: Due to these health issues, many  newer millimeter wave systems use non-ionizing radiation. However safety is NOT assured with these systems. Millimeter waves are the same frequencies to be used in 5G technology.  Millimeter waves are used in military weapons. Learn more here. 


In April 2010, when screening using X- ray technology was in use, scientists at the University of California – San Francisco wrote to President Obama, calling for an independent review of the full body scanners’ radiation risks. The experts noted that children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially at risk “from the mutagenic effects of the [body scanners’] X-rays.”

2010 letter of concern airport body scanners

A Pat Down Search

According to the EPA on it’s webpage  Radiation and Airport Security Scanning “if you are worried about x-ray or millimeter wave screening, ask for a pat-down search instead.” A pat down search is the safe solution: it will get you through security without  radiation exposure. 

Safety is Not Assured

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sought the release of documents regarding radiation risks posed by airport full body scanners via FOIAs and FOIA appeals. EPIC obtained documents  indicating that federal agencies have mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and that a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.” Read more at EPIC here.

FDA’s Response to University of California – San Francisco Regarding Their Letter of Concern, October 12, 2010

In this 2010  letter the FDA states that the amount of ionizing radiation would be a justified “miniscule amount.” It is notable that that the FDA admits that it is ionizing radiation, which is known to be carcinogenic. The FDA bases their evaluation on industry friendly  NCRP’s  allowable dose.


In response to concerns that  independent safety data “do not exist”the FDA responded that  “independent measurements have been made on various versions of this product and all results are consistent with the dose specified by the manufacturer.”

In 2011, Doctors responded to the with a letter “There is still no rigorous hard data for the safety of Xray Airport passenger scanners” stating:

“The problem remains that the safety of the X-ray airport scanners has not been independently verified… the Johns Hopkins report, which is the more detailed and significant because it refers to the widely deployed Single Pose system, does not hold to critical principles of scientific reporting… There is no way to repeat any of these measurements… The tests were performed by the manufacturer using the manufacturer’s questionable test procedures… The independent testing of the safety of these specific scanners has not been rigorous nor has it been held to the standards usually associated with new devices”.

…It is still unclear how much damage to cells occur with low dose x-rays. One of the most important points in the ‘Red Flags’ section of our letter of April 2010 was that potential x-ray damage, primarily to skin cells and adjacent tissues, would lead to a ‘damage response’ by the cells.

A Safer Alternative

Many people choose to opt out of these machines and get a pat down instead. Be aware that you need to go to the airport much earlier as this can take extra time and sometimes you might need to go to a back room for a more intensive screening.

Read More

PBS NewsHour 2011: Behind the Backscatter: The Health, Security Implications of Body Scanners


CNN: Airport body-scan radiation under scrutiny, 2010


EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security – Full Body Scanner Radiation Risk:

ProPublica Letter to John Holdren “There is still no rigorous hard data for the safety of Xray Airport passenger scanners, April 2011  


FDA’s Response to University of California – San Francisco Regarding Their Letter of Concern, October 12, 2010


New York Times: Showdown at the Airport Body Scanner, BY NATHANIEL RICH MAY 25, 201


Scientific American: Airport Scanner Flags Common Cyst as a Security Threat

Machines that use radio frequencies to detect suspicious items may create new challenges


TSA Admits Bungling of Airport Body-Scanner Radiation Tests, David Kravets, Wired, Mar. 15, 2011.


Airport body scanners ‘could give you cancer’, warns expert, Daily Mail (UK), June 30, 2010.

Radiation exposure and privacy concerns surrounding full-body scanners in airports, 2014