Health questions about the body scanners at London Heathrow
I was randomly selected to go through a body scanner at Heathrow terminal 3 today. Speaking to the 2 staff operating the machine and then their supervisor, I got 3 different answers as to how the machine worked and their response as to whether it’s safe or not was "the govt said it was" coupled with "i wouldn’t stand here all day unless i thought it was". I should have asked what independent research they had done to verify the safety. If you opt out then you don’t fly. End of story. Apparently this has been the law for 3 years but I’ve travelled quite a bit, and now fly monthly in Europe, and this is the first time I’ve had to go through it.
The device is a Smiths Eqo millimetre wave scanner. You stand infront of the flat panel device, hold your arms up and turn yourself around 360 degrees whilst someone in another room sees your image and hits the red or green button. You don’t get to see your image, even when you ask.
Can someone with a a suitable technical background please offer some independent advice on how safe these machines are, whether frequent flyers are at risk and the potential risk for children (in case my family flies next time). My focus is health ‘n safety, not the privacy aspect (that’s another story).
Millimeter wave scanning works in the same way, except it uses millimeter waves instead of X-rays. The basic difference between the two technologies is that millimeter wave radiation — unlike high frequency X-rays — is not genotoxic and cannot cause cancer.
With millimeter wave scanners, passengers enter a round enclosure resembling a phone-booth and are scanned using low-energy radio waves that contain no radiation and therefore do not cause cancer.
And from a scientific resource:
At the frequencies used by these scanners, the energy per photon (quantum energy of GHz radiation) is not sufficient to break chemical bonds or to ionize atoms or molecules. Thus, the scanners use non-ionizing radiation, unlike traditional x-ray backscatter machines, which use ionizing radiation. ICNIRP STATEMENT
The main concern with non-ionizing radiation is tissue damage from heat generated while be exposed, but you won’t have that problem at the airport because your exposure time is very short.
Thanks Mike. I did read some blurb about these devices being safer but I guess it’s safe until we find it’s not. I just don’t trust official sources anymore. I read that pdf link and checked the source site (and some credentials of the group members). This helped.
So I guess it’s as safe as is currently thought.