Backscatter Safety Questions Persist

By Joseph Straw

Concern stems in part from a 2003-2004 investigation of TSA baggage screening machines conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC found that maintenance failures—such as missing curtain flaps at the openings of the machines—allowed the escape of x-ray radiation two to three times greater than workplace limits.
The TSA maintains that exposures for travelers and screeners are well within safe parameters.
Flight crews have also voiced concerns about exposure. Crew screening varies by airport due to limited implementation of the Cockpit Access Security System (CASS) for pilots, and the similar Crew Personnel Advanced Screening System, or CrewPASS, for both cockpit crew and flight attendants. Under both programs, program-issued crew photo IDs are checked against databases before they enter secure airport areas, eliminating the need for physical screening. 
Late last year, crew members who departed from non-CASS and non-CrewPASS airports were given the same choice as the public when applicable: undergo a scan or get pat-down by a TSA screener.
Unions balked, and the TSA agreed to modify screening procedures for flight crews. Now crew members have a choice between scans or less invasive pat-downs in which screeners use only the backs of their hands—as they did prior to the introduction of enhanced pat-downs, says Corry Caldwell , spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA). TSA still reserves the option to conduct added scanning on a random basis.
Radiation, Caldwell says, “is a significant concern to the extent that there is not supporting evidence of the long-term effects of exposure for flight attendants who might be flying multiple times a week.” The union is working with TSA to get more information about it, she adds.
Steve Sevier, national security chairman of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, which represents U.S. Airways pilots, says he continues to hear complaints from member pilots about subjection to the scans, which the union argues is simply poor risk management.
“The issue is that we are trusted agents, and we feel that the TSA is wasting their efforts,” Sevier says, adding that union physicians have told members that the scanners expose pilots to added radiation absent a demonstrated reduction in security risk.
Further, Sevier says that scanning of uniformed cockpit crew in front of passengers “erodes the authority of the flight crew in the eyes of the public.”



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