Bill would call for a new safety test of airport scanners

Concerned about the safety of airport scanners, a U.S. senator from Maine has introduced legislation that could force the Transportation Security Administration to commission an independent study of the machines.

The bill was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican senator who has long questioned the safety of the scanners that use so-called backscatter technology to detect objects hidden under passengers’ clothes.

Collins said she was motivated to introduce the bill by the daughter of a constituent who had a miscarriage after undergoing an airport security screening.

“We will never know for certain the cause of this family’s loss,” Collins said in a statement. “But they believe in their hearts the backscatter is to blame.”


TSA Chief John Pistole has repeatedly defended the safety of the agency’s screening machines, noting that they have been tested and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Army Public Health Command.

In statements to congressional panels over the last few months, Pistole has changed his position several times on whether further tests are needed. Most recently, he said he is open to another independent study.

The TSA employs two types of scanners at about 100 of the nation’s airports.

With the backscatter technology, the scanners emit low-levels of X-rays on the passenger. The machines collect the rebounding radiation to create an image of what is under the passenger’s clothing. The TSA also employs scanners that use non-ionizing radio frequency energy, known as millimeter waves, to create the image.

The European Union in November banned the machines that use the backscatter technology at European airports over concerns that they might be linked to cancer.

Collins’ bill was introduced on the Senate floor and will probably be sent to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Collins is the ranking member.


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