Airport body scanners pose increased cancer risk, warns scientist

By Calvin Palmer

A scientist has warned that body scanners at airports pose a potentially greater risk of cancer than previously thought because of the amount of radiation they emit.

Dr David Brenner, head of the centre for radiological research at Columbia University in New York, claims the scanners emit radiation up to 20 times more powerful than was originally thought.

Dr Brenner, from Liverpool in the United Kingdom, said that government scientists had not taken into account the concentration of the radiation on the skin.

He said children and passengers with genetic mutations — around one in 20 of the population — were most at risk because they are less able to repair X-ray damage to their cells.

Brenner conceded that the danger posed to individual passengers was “very low” but said more research was required to more accurately determine the risks.

He said: “If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The population risk has the potential to be significant.”

With all respect to Dr Brenner, in the absence of scientific data and research, his utterances on this issue are merely speculation.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK said: “The device has been approved for use within the UK by the Department for Transport and has been subjected to risk assessments from the Health Protection Agency.

“Under current regulations, up to 5,000 scans per person per year can be conducted safely.”

So we are asked to believe that Dr Brenner has got it absolutely right and government scientists have got it all wrong without a shred of evidence.

Where is the scientific paper to back up his claims? It may or may not exist but it certainly is not referenced.

The public is expected to believe Dr Brenner just because of who he is. I would be more inclined to take him seriously if he cited research that clearly showed the radiation emitted by airport body scanners was 20 times higher than that shown in a government report.

Why do scientists feel the need to scaremonger in this way? Is it a question that they are simply seeking their 15-minutes of fame?

Perhaps Brenner dislikes football and wants to divert some of the attention being focused on the World Cup by the media.

Or has he chosen to announce his claims at a time when many people are heading to airports to fly to their summer vacation and derives some perverse sort of pleasure at planting a seed in people’s minds to spoil their enjoyment?

I trust that when Brenner visits Britain or attends international conferences, he chooses to go by boat rather than fly, thus avoiding having to subject himself to the “dangerous levels” of radiation emitted by airport body scanners. If he really believes his convictions, he should decline any invitations to address meetings or conferences that involve air travel.

If there is indeed a danger then it is only right and proper that it be brought to the public’s attention but it needs to be supported by irrefutable evidence, not on the say so of some academic who is more than likely trying to boost publicity for a forthcoming book.

Empirical evidence is the foundation of science and yet increasingly these days scientists ask the public to take whatever they have to say as an act of faith. It seems to me that more scientist prefer to be regarded as shaman rather than objective seekers of scientific  truth.

Even more worrying is the way the media gets sucked in to these kinds of stories and carries out no research to establish whether a doom and gloom scientist’s views are shared by other respected members of the scientific community.

The Daily Mail in its coverage of the story speaks of experts and scientists in the plural and yet only makes reference to Dr Brenner.

The time for these kinds of utterances is when the further research Dr Brenner advocates has been carried out and supports his view. Until that moment, he should keep his mouth firmly shut, as he will no doubt do if the further research disproves his claim.

In that scenario, I doubt whether Dr Brenner or the university that employs him will contact any media organization and tell them that he was wrong.

[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]

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