Answer to Question #10812 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Security Screening — Airport Screening

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

I wear an insulin pump and the manufacturer is quite emphatic that neither the pump nor the blood-sugar meter (the meter is connected to the pump) go through the x-ray machine at the airport. It can go through a metal detector. Security is quite emphatic that it should, as well as the insulin that I carry. Who is correct? Is background exposure larger than the x ray emit and does x ray have no effect on working electronics?

A

Thank you for your question. The radiation dose received from going through the x-ray backscatter personnel scanners at the airport is less than 0.1 microsievert (microsievert is a unit of radiation dose). One day's worth of natural background radiation is about 8 microsievert.

I'm not in a position to tell you whether the manufacturer is right or wrong; I doubt, however, that going through one of these x-ray backscatter scanners would be an issue and certainly would not affect the insulin. Radiation fields at this low level don't affect electronics (case in point—a pacemaker patient getting a chest x ray where the dose is 100 microsievert).

Another thought, though. Some of these personnel scanners are "millimeter" scanners. They don't use x rays but, instead, use a radiofrequency (RF) signal. I could sooner see this type of scanner possibly interfering with the RF signal from your meter to your pump depending on the frequency of the scanner and the frequency of the pump/meter. More and more airports are using this type of scanner to get away from the adverse publicity associated with the x-ray scanners. This might actually be the concern of the manufacturer.

Kelly Classic
Certified Medical Health Physicist

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 30 October 2013. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.