Answer to Question #9403 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Security Screening

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

Is the radiation dose in airport whole-body scanners adjusted for children? For example, in radiology, radiation doses are always reduced and adjusted for infants and children. Can the same be said of these whole-body scanners? How safe is the radiation dose for infants and children?
Thank you for your question. Radiation from a backscatter x-ray scan is safe for children.
I say that for three reasons:
  1. The amount of radiation received during a scan is about one one-thousandth (1/1,000) of the radiation received in a week from natural background radiation.
  2. Very few of the backscatter x rays penetrate past the skin (and all the way to the fetus). The idea of a backscatter unit is to use low-energy x rays so they "bounce" off the skin and on to detectors.
  3. The exposure currently emitted by these machines is based on what is safe for two critical exposure groups—children and pregnant women. The American National Standards Institute and the Health Physics Society generated a standard last year indicating the maximum radiation exposure these machines could emit while still being safe for children and pregnant women. Two primary companies make machines that actually expose a person to half of what the standard suggests is safe.
Whether infants or children (or adults), the radiation exposure received from a backscatter x-ray scan is safe.

Kelly Classic
Certified Medical Health Physicist

Answer posted on 5 May 2011. 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.