Sunday, December 18, 2011

Some local nullification in Florida

Nice to see this:
The Broward Commission may request that the Transportation Security Administration go back to the old-school gropings pat-downs of passengers at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and ditch the use of body scanners.

The item -- which was delayed from the last meeting -- would be a direction to the aviation director to send the request to the TSA asking that it not use the body scanners "until further studies can be done that will demonstrate that they are safe to the traveling public."
Note that the Commission did indeed pass this.

But, back to the original article about the pending vote, I take serious issue with this statement:
In fact, the TSA's website hosts a boatload of documents proving the machines are safe.
This is not a fact, at all. There may be a boatload of documents on the TSA website, and they may portend to "prove" that the machines are safe. But every single agency that was contracted to study the scanners has specifically stated that they were never asked to - and never did - determine whether the machines were safe to use on the general population as primary screening. For an overview, read some of my own coverage and analysis of this topic.

The TSA's response to Broward's request is full of, if not lies, then intentional misrepresentations:
Our backscatter technology was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. All results confirmed that the extremely low radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders, including frequent flyers, aircrew, and operators, were well below the
limits specified by the American National Standards Institute/Health Physics Society.
JHU/APL, for example, issued a statement awhile back saying that their studies were not done on an actual scanner, but a prototype. They stated that they were not asked to address the safety of the scanners, but just measure the level of radiation. Furthermore, in their results, they noted a much higher level of radiation exposure in the areas surrounding the scanner than are consistent with the other claims being made, calling into question the actual radiation levels or functionality of the machines.

The FDA's role in scanner safety was summed up in the ProPublica exposé:
The FDA does not review or approve the safety of such products. However, manufacturers must provide a brief radiation safety report explaining the dose and notify the agency if any overexposure is discovered.
Also from ProPublica, we know that the ANSI/Health Physics Society claim is suspect:
...ANSI convened a committee of the Health Physics Society, a trade group of radiation safety specialists. It was made up of 15 people, including six representatives of manufacturers of X-ray body scanners and five from U.S. Customs and the California prison system. There were few government regulators and no independent scientists.