Answer to Question #9469 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Security Screening

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

Q

I work at a courthouse and have to go through the scanners daily—usually three or four times a day. I've had many family members die from cancer and I travel a lot so I have to go through the airport screening. Am I getting too much radiation from the scanners? How do I tell if I'm getting too much?

A

Thank you for your questions. Despite all the hype about x-ray backscatter scanners at airports, most of the airport scanners are still of the magnetic field type with no ionizing radiation and so are the courthouse scanners.

If you do happen to go to an airport and also happen to get in the line leading to the x-ray backscatter scanner, you will receive a very small dose of radiation. If you do this 80 times, you will receive a total radiation dose that is equivalent to the radiation dose you get each day from natural background. If you go through an x-ray backscatter scanner 400 times, you will receive a total radiation dose that is equivalent to the radiation dose you get from one plane flight.

You would need to determine what "too much" means for you. The amount of radiation from a backscatter scanner is insignificant when compared to the radiation doses we receive every day from things around us and from our own bodies (our bodies contain radioactive potassium).

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 17 December 2010. 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.