UCSF scientists speak out against airport full-body scans

By Jennifer O'Brien

Four UCSF scientists sent a letter last April to the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, expressing concern about the health risks of full body scanners being implemented at U.S. airports. The co-signers were David Agard, PhD, John Sedat, PhD, (emeritus), and Robert Stroud, PhD, all professors of biochemistry and biophysics, and Marc Shuman, MD, professor of medicine (hematology/oncology).

As they stated in their letter:

“We are writing to call your attention to serious concerns about the potential health risks of the recently adopted whole body backscatter X-ray airport security scanners. This is an urgent situation as these X-ray scanners are rapidly being implemented as a primary screening step for all air travel passengers.

“Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed.

“An important consideration is that a large fraction of the population will be subject to the new X-ray scanners and be at potential risk, as discussed below. This raises a number of ‘red flags’. Can we have an urgent second independent evaluation?

The full letter can be found here: http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf

The scientists received a response from the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy earlier this week. They are still reviewing the details of the response and are considering the appropriate next step to advance the issue.

Attention from media and bloggers

The issue has received significant media coverage in recent months. Today, a high profile blogger “tweeted” the National Public Radio story that ran in May, and included the UCSF letter, which appears in the web version of the NPR story. The “tweet” has been re-tweeted multiple times today and prompted more media interest.

Earlier media coverage:

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