TSA To Retest Radiation Recorded From Full-Body Scanners

tsa full-body scanner

Photo, L-3 Communications

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blaming math mistakes for elevated radiation levels recorded on some full-body scanners during routine maintenance at airports around the country.

Still, the controversial full-body scanners will be retested out of "an abundance of caution to reassure the public," TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball said. The tests will be finished by the end of the month, and the results will be released "as they are completed," according to the agency's website.

The move comes as the TSA – under pressure from lawmakers – released the results from required testing that happens on a regular basis for all its X-ray equipment. The TSA insisted the elevated levels were due to math errors and that the machines, used for screening passengers at airport security, were safe.

The TSA released more than 300 reports, and approximately one-third had errors of some type, also including missing information.

As a result, the agency is requiring retesting, retraining of contractors, more internal oversight and has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to take another look at the data.

The TSA said in the future it will be posting reports online for all 4,550 X-ray machines – body scanners and those used for both checked and carry-on baggage – nationwide, which Kimball called a "significant step toward transparency."

Back in 2008, a report by the CDC found that the TSA had bungled the detection of radiation emitted from baggage X-ray machines and in fact the machines had radiation levels well beyond what regulations allowed. The review also found that the TSA's machines did not have all of the required safety features in place.

Lawmakers have been calling on the TSA to ensure the safety of full-body scanners to travelers' health. Scientists have also questioned whether the scanners pose a cancer risk.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) released a statement yesterday saying that the TSA's latest findings are "unacceptable."

The agency, Collins wrote, "has repeatedly assured me that the machines that emit radiation do not pose a health risk. Nonetheless, if TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?"

She said the records released Friday "included gross errors about radiation emissions. That is completely unacceptable when it comes to monitoring radiation."

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz told USA Today that he was as troubled by the information posted by the TSA. Chaffetz (R-Utah) chairs a House oversight subcommittee on national security and has sponsored legislation to limit the use of full-body scans.

Chaffetz called the TSA's record-keeping haphazard and the agency's oversight paltry, telling the newspaper, "It is totally unacceptable to be bumbling such critical tasks."

He added, "These people are supposed to be protecting us against terrorists."

(Fran Golden contributed to this report.)

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