TSA 'ignored warnings' on cancer cluster

Posted by Kate Taylor

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says it's got evidence that the Department of Homeland Security has failed to properly evaluate the level of risk from airport body scanners.

In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DHS, EPIC says it's obtained documents concerning the scanners'  radiation risks, including agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs and the results of some radiation tests.

EPIC says that TSA staff have been concerned that a large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease. But the documents show that the TSA's response was simply to tell them: "Because TSA systems comply with federal regulations, the increased risk of developing radiation-induced cancer in later life is extremely small, no greater than other risks people routinely accept in their daily lives".

"One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters - safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure," says EPIC.

"Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST 'affirmed the safety' of full body scanners."

In fact, says EPIC, the documents show that NIST disputed this assertion and pointed out that the it had not actually tested the devices. Indeed, one NIST study actaully warns airport screeners to avoid standing next to full body scanners.

Further, says EPIC, the documents include a Johns Hopkins University study which revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the General Public Dose Limit.

EPIc has been fighting the use of body scanners in airports since July 2009, when it filed its suit calling for the program to be suspended.