The promotion of new technologies in the field of aviation security is certainly good news. Body scanners and explosive trace detection portals will increase the levels of security and the comfort of passengers and aviation employees. However, ECA is very concerned about the negative effects of those technologies based on X-rays.
The studies on X-ray based body scanners have successfully demonstrated that the ionization of the body that they provoke remains below 1 millisivert (mSv). Under this threshold it is generally considered that the risks on health are negligible. A regular passenger who flies only occasionally should in principle not be afraid of going through such scanners.
However, those studies do not take into account that the ionisation absorbed by the body is cumulative over time. Intensive or very frequent exposures to even small doses of x-ray ionisation can result in unacceptable cumulative levels of radiation.
This is exactly what our experts think could happen to air crew. Air crew are already exposed to cosmic radiation because they fly at high altitudes and because of other natural phenomena related to sun activity. Therefore, just with their ordinary work, air crews accumulate between 3 and 6 mSv per year. Experts are highly concerned about the negative effects of increasing even further air crews' annual exposure to radiation from X-ray based body scanners.
The effects of radiation on human health must be taken seriously. High levels of exposure can provoke illnesses such as cancer, chromosomal (genetic) damage or cataract. Fortunately, there are alternatives to x-ray based scanners such as millimetre wave imaging which are less harmful to human bodies.
This problem does not only affect crews; frequent flyers and other persons already heavily exposed or sensitive to radiation are also concerned. ECA has written to the European Commission requesting the abandonment of x-ray based body scanners as a primary screening tool for crews due to their adverse effects on health and the promotion of other non-aggressive and non-intrusive methods of screening. In that way, aviation security can be enhanced without hindering the crews' and frequent flyers' health.