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Homeland Security: Airport scanners are safe

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Homeland Security Department has completed a review of the Transportation Security Administration's new airport scanners and says they are safe enough, according to a report the agency's inspector general issued Tuesday.

After a review of independent studies, investigators said a traveler would need to go through 17,000 screenings in a year — equal to about 47 scans a day — in order to reach the limit of acceptable radiation dosing.

But the review did not satisfy Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who said she still wants to see an independent review by a non-government body.

"This report is not the report I requested," she said, adding that more study still needs to be done on specific populations such as pregnant women and TSA employees. "An independent study is needed to protect the public and determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars."

The report said there are 247 "backscatter units," as the new scanners are called, in operation at 39 airports around the U.S.

Homeland Security's investigators reviewed the results of five other studies, including government, industry and academic research, and said according to those findings the new scanners don't approach dangerous levels of radiation.

But the report found TSA officers have not all completed the required safety training.

TSA, in its reply, said all of the employees who work in screening at airports where the machines are in use have been trained, but the investigators disputed this, pointing to officers who told them they didn't have enough time to complete the training. Investigators said those workers' statements were backed up by training logs.

"This report demonstrates that the Transportation Security Administration should improve training for its employees in radiation safety and ensure that scanning machines are consistently calibrated," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, who said while the report cleared the machines, issues can still arise when the machines aren't properly serviced.

"TSA must do a better job in enforcing its safety training, developing refresher courses for employees and ensuring consistent and uniform calibration of these machines," Mr. Markey said.

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