Radiation and the Transportation Safety Administration’s Use of Body Scanners

Radiation Warning Sign



Congressional lawmakers have called upon the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a new, independent study regarding the levels of radiation emitted by its airport body scanners or “backscatters”. This comes in light of evidence that the TSA had provided historical data rather than current figures in response to an earlier Congressional request. Upon reviewing the lastest assessment by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) entitled “Transportation Security Administration’s Use of Backscatter Units” which had been conducted at the request of members of Congress, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is reported to have stated to an on-line publication , “This report is not the report I requested […] An independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars.”
In its report of which some members of Congress are now sceptical, OIG evaluated the “manner in which TSA inspects, maintains, and operates general-use backscatter units, and how accidental overdose information is shared and coordinated with federal agencies, passengers, and employees.” Summaries of OIG’s determinations and recommendations are available below or in the OIG Spotlight .

Inspector General Determinations: “We found that TSA: complied with ANSI requirements for conducting radiation safety surveys during specific intervals and when circumstances dictate; and, communicates and coordinates its efforts with other federal agencies. We did not identify any situation where accidental radiation emissions had occurred; however, TSA’s, process did not include conducting a radiation survey in the event of any incident that may damage the system and cause unintended radiation emissions. In addition, we did not identify any improperly calibrated backscatter units that compromised operational safety; however, backscatter calibrations were not performed consistently at all airport locations as outlined in TSA policy. We also determined that not all Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) completed the required annual Radiation Safety Training.”

Inspector General Recommendations for TSA: “developing procedures that ensure radiation surveys are conducted
on general-use backscatter units that could cause unintended radiation emissions; establishing controls to ensure that backscatter unit calibrations are conducted consistently; developing procedures to ensure that TSOs satisfy ANSI requirements for radiation safety training and annual refresher training; reassessing the amount of on-the-job training TSOs require to
operate general-use backscatter units; and, developing procedures to ensure the Food and Drug Administration is notified of any instances of accidental radiation emissions or overdoses.”

Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/s_4483