Citing human health risks and safety concerns as factors in making the decision, the European Commission announced earlier this week that it will no longer allow the use of X-ray body scanners at security stations in any of Europe’s 27 member countries’ airports.
First used in the late 1990s and heavily employed throughout the U.S. and airports around the world after 9-11 and more so after the failed ‘underwear bomber’ attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day 2009, X-ray body scanners have been a controversial topic because of their use of ionizing radiation that has been shown to damage cellular DNA and cause some forms of cancer, as reported by a number of scientific studies on the subject. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to cancer, radiation exposure may also cause birth defects and mental retardation in children exposed while in utero.
Despite the low levels of radiation exposure acquired from an X-ray scanner booth, scientists warn that because of the hundreds of millions of passengers that pass through the scanners each year, there’s a notable risk just by the sheer volume of people exposed.
The X-ray scanner is used at some of the most heavily trafficked U.S. airports including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago’s O’Hare.
The move away from the scanners will affect the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which currently employs hundreds of scanners throughout the EU. Alternative body scanners that use radio frequency waves, which have not been linked to cancer, will be used instead.
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