I Don't Go Through the Airport Body Scanners (And Why You Might Not Want To Either..)

security scans are part of flying. But are they really necessary or safe?

We're all familiar with flying and the sometimes annoying scanning that comes with it. You have to strip down, comply with all these rules, and are herded through like super slow cattle. It's one thing that would stop me up frequently when I would travel for work, and I'm so glad I ended up getting TSA PreCheck. Have you ever stopped to wonder just how effective and safe those full-body scanners are anyways? I mean, you don't really have a choice whether or not to go through them, right? You might be surprised.

I don't remember the last time I went through one of those full-body scanners, otherwise known as advanced imaging technology (AIT). Now that I know the risks of them, I won't ever go through one again, either. This type of scanning was introduced in 2009 after 9/11 to prevent another terrorist attack. The two main types of AIT introduced were backscatter x-ray scanners and millimeter wave body scanners. Both of these scanners have been under scrutiny since they first came out, not only regarding the safety/efficacy of them, but also because of the lack of privacy with them. TSA actually discontinued their older scanners because of complaints about the scanners' graphic images produced. In a nutshell, the TSA agents could see wayyyy more than they should have been able to.

Backscatter scanners use ionizing radiation to detect explosives and other restricted items. The problem with ionizing radiation is that it's linked to DNA damage and causing cancer. The millimeter wave body scanners use non-ionizing radiation, which is claimed to be safer than ionizing radiation, but it can still have an effect on us. There's not a lot of research into what that effect is, but I'm sure we'll see more studies down the road when more people come forward with their own health stories due to traveling and more research is done. So basically, there's no proof of long-term health effects from the non-ionizing radiaton scanners, but there's also no absense of risk from them either. We just don't currently know. 

Moving onto efficacy of these scanners, do they actually do anything to keep us safe and protected? Not as much as you might think. Lots of sources claim that the scanners produce high false-positives, with as much as 54% measured in Germany. Some of these scanners detect body sweat as a potential weapon! Scientific American stated that "To date, there has not been a single report of aviation terrorism that was thwarted thanks to AIT." Of course the TSA is going to claim that these machines are necessary and safe, but if they're barely doing their jobs, then what's the point of them and the fuss that can come with using them on a day when stress can be high anyways with travel? 

Knowing that I'll continue to fly and multiple sources having confirmed that we're exposed to cosmic ionizing radiation from being higher in the air, I don't go through the scanners anymore. I have ways to protect myself during flying because it's that important to me to reduce that cancer risk and DNA damage. I don't even go through the metal detectors, which in theory should be safe with no radiation released. But I can't be sure. It's just one thing I can control when it comes to my health. I've yet to miss a flight from requesting a pat down, and it's not as scary as you might think :)
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