The health effect of x-ray scanners being proposed for airport security has raised calls for a European standard. These scanners are used to see through clothing and identify unusual objects. They are being considered as a measure to prevent terrorist attacks like the failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a US airliner.
European Commissioner in charge of Transport Antonio Tajani said: “It’s better to have an EU regulation, rather than letting member states each decide if they’ll use the body scanners or not.”
While UK and Dutch airports have said they plan to use them, Germany and France remain non-committal, and Spain said it would wait for a common EU decision. The United States has had them in some of its airports since the 2001 Sept. 11 attacks.
Legality is a concern. Privacy advocate Olivier Proust of Hunton & Williams said: “Security steps are essential to ensure that the data and images from scanners will not be distributed illegally — that they remain confidential.”
Authorities say scanner radiation is well below any health risk threshold; medical imaging x-rays have to get through the body, but in airport machines they have such low energy that they literally bounce off the skin.
The Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control’s Karina De Beule said: “We suppose that when you pass 2,000 times a year before a body scan, a person gets about one millisievert in one year. Everyone gets about 4.5 millisieverts a year by all means of radiation, natural cosmic radiation, medical use and industrial use.”
Washington said one dose from a commonly used machine is the equivalent of flying two minutes on a plane. Brussels said there is no European rule against scanners, though the Parliament a year ago raised ethical concerns.