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The European Union, on Monday, banned the use of X-ray body scanners, which use ionized radiation technology based on backscatter imaging. Instead, the 27 members of the EU chose to utilize millimeter wave scanners instead for their security needs in their airports.They cited Health and Safety Concerns. Millimeter wave scanners are considered much safer for human use and is not suspected of causing cancer. The opposite is true of the X-ray scanners.
The Union is allowing one nation in its group to continue with the X-ray based technology. The United Kingdom will be allowed to continue its use temporarily, on a trial basis. But, once that trial ends, use of the machines will discontinue.
This is a departure from the stance that the United States government has taken on the use of the controversial X-ray body scanner. Currently, throughout the country, the TSA currently uses 250 X-ray body scanners. TSA also uses the less controversial millimeter wave as well with 264 of those units in use. The TSA is on track to install 1,800 new units of both technologies within three years. They intend to cover virtually every domestic airport security lane.
The X-ray technology for human scanning purposes has been controversial since its first uses outside of the medical field in 1998. By then it was being utilized for prison security purposes. When a panel of radiation safety experts pointed out that it violated the long standing principle of use only when the is a medical benefit, the panel was assured by the machine’s inventor, Steven W Smith that the technology’s use would be limited to high security instances. He assured them then that the use wouldn’t be wide-spread, and said he would be surprised if any of the units would be sold to any venues such as court houses, power-plants or airports. There were only 20 in operation in the entire country at that time.
The technology was known to cause cancer, But, the scanner lay outside the oversight of the FDA, the agency responsible for drugs and medical devices. This meant that the technology was not tested and evaluated rigorously like X-ray devices under FDA’s mandate.
Post 911, the TSA quickly pushed through the use of the X-ray machines for security. They completely side-stepped the required public comment period. Little research has been done in the field of body scanners and the research put out by TSA was and remains unpublished.
Rapidscan gained its place in the airport security lanes through a very sophisticated lobbying campaign in Washington D.C. during 2008. They increased contributions to key Homeland Security committee members and Senate Appropriations committee members. They even went so far as to open a new plant in Representative David Price’s District in North Carolina,the head of the Homeland Security appropriations sub-committee, and expanded their plant in Trent Lott’s district in Missippi, as well as placed their headquarters in Torrence, California, Jane Harmon’s district, another member.
By 2009, and the Stimulus package, TSA tapped Rapidscan for a multiyear $173 million contract for the backscatter units. It came with an initial $27 million order for 150 units to be made in Mississippi.
The lawmakers either declined to comment or said the contributions made by the company to their campaign coffers had no influence in their decisions. Revenue in Rapidscan’s security department reached $300 million.
In response to Europe’s decision to ban the X-ray technology in favor of millimeter wave scanners, TSA said that since January 2010, more than 300 dangerous or illegal items have been found on passengers as a direct result of using X-ray body scanners.
Flying in the high altitude commercial airlines subjects fliers to much more radiation than the X-ray machines say experts.