Wednesday December 19, 2012 | 02:05 PM

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration plans to study the potential health impacts of full-body x-ray machines used at airports, an issue that Maine Sen. Susan Collins has pressing with the TSA since last year.

The TSA is contracting with the National Academy of Sciences to review how much radiation travelers are subjected to when they go through backscatter x-ray advanced imaging technology at the airport security checkpoint.

There are two common types of full-body x-ray machines used at U.S. airports. Backscatter machines form a full-body image using x-ray waves that reflect back from the person in the scan. The other type, known as millimeter wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves rather than x-rays. The machines at Portland International Airport are millimeter wave scanners.

The TSA has defended the safety of the radiation levels emitted by the backscatter x-ray machines, although the agency has begun swapping out some backscatter machines with the wave energy machines. Collins introduced a bill in Congress earlier this year to require an independent study of health risks after a pledged TSA study never materialized.

Collins said Americans are willing to endure additional security measures as long as they “appear reasonable and related to the real risks.”

“While TSA has told the public that the amount of radiation emitted from these machines is small, passengers and some scientific experts have raised questions about the impact of repeated exposure to this radiation,” Collins said in a statement. “Pregnant women, children, the elderly -- and as much as five percent of the adult population -- are more sensitive to radiation exposure.  This independent study should help us to finally answer those questions.”

The study will not address the privacy or legal arguments around full-body scans, however.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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