While it is important to support our country’s national security, there has to be a voice of reason. In Christmas of 2009, a 23-year-old terrorist hid an explosive device in his underpants that went undetected because of its nonmetallic ingredients and the world was never the same again. The Department of Homeland Security shipped 385 full-body scanners to 68 U.S. airports this year with 1,000 more projected for 2011. Perhaps this decision was premature. At the center of the controversy is whether these scanners are safe, especially for pregnant women, the elderly and children despite claims to the contrary made by federal officials.
Physics professors and scientists from universities in California and Arizona have purported that the radiation of body-scanners is 10 times greater than what the TSA estimates and will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. At question is whether the airport scanners will dump large amounts of radiation into the skin and tissue resulting in undesired side effects. Although the scanners were FDA-approved, the machines passed a test developed by the very companies that manufactured them thereby suggesting a possible conflict of interest. And if the pictures of the scans are not clear, will the untrained TSA workers simply raise the dose, thus placing passengers at a greater risk for radiation exposure?
The Allied Pilots Union has rejected the use of body scanners thus making the issue as clear as mud. If the pilots don’t want to use the body scanner, why should pregnant women? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published helpful facts about radiation and pregnancy:
- Radiation exposure before birth can increase a person’s risk of getting cancer later in life
- Unborn babies are especially sensitive to the cancer-causing effects of radiation
- If the radiation dose to the fetus was roughly equivalent to 500 chest xrays, the increase in lifetime cancer risk would be less than 2% above the normal lifetime cancer risk of 40 to 50%
- During the first 2 weeks of pregnancy, the radiation-related health effect of greatest concern is the death of the baby. The fetus is made up of only a few cells during the first 2 weeks of pregnancy. Damage to one cell an cause the death of the embryo before the mother even knows she’s pregnant.
- Large radiation doses to the fetus during the more sensitive stages of development (between 2 and 15 weeks of pregnancy) can cause birth defects, especially to the brain
- Between the 16th week of pregnancy and birth, radiation-induced health effects are unlikely unless the fetus receives large doses of radiation
- After 26 weeks, the radiation sensitivity of the fetus is similar to that of a newborn. This means that birth defects are not likely to occur and only a slight increase in the risk of having cancer later in life is expected.
The bottom line? Pregnant women should NOT be subjected to body scans at airports. The risks far outweigh the perceived benefits. We need a voice of reason to protect pregnant women and their unborn. I hope the American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetrician-Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrician-Gynecologists are listening.