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Radiation and the backscatter machine

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You are set to return home after that enjoyable vacation or after attending your son’s graduation. You check in with the airline. You are issued a boarding pass. If you check at the bottom right hand corner of your boarding pass and see the letters SSSS then you are a candidate for the backscatter.{{more}} You must have a security check before you are allowed to go on to the gates for boarding. When you enter the line you must show this boarding pass to security personnel who would then highlight the SSSS and point you to the backscatter line at the far end of the security area and you have to be ready because every part of your body and all items that you carry with you would be subjected to radiation. This is the price you have to pay for a safe ride in the “friendly skies’. Don’t blame the authorities, for they want you to arrive safely and you know that there are persons out there who would go to any end to carry out their dangerous or prohibited act. Be ready for a bare foot walk on the cold concrete to the backscatter machine. If you are wearing socks, then you might be spared the agony of walking on cold concrete.

Selecting passengers

The method of picking passengers for the backscatter machine remains vague and appears to vary from agent to agent. The reason for your selection might be simply because you have purchased your ticket with cash. What seems to be constant is that once you are picked, you would receive a dose of radiation every time you leave the country through that airport.

After the terrorist act of the 11th September, 2001, in the USA, many countries saw the need to step up the security at airports. Passenger surveillance for concealed weapons, dangerous substances and explosives has become a regular procedure. The “pat down” was used extensively. This is where security personnel would pass his/her hands over the passenger’s body in search of prohibited items. It appears that the ‘pat down” is now been replaced by the backscatter machine, especially for international flights, and according to many commentators it does “a virtual body strip.

The backscatter Machine

The backscatter machine is made in the form of a booth in which the passenger stands to be scanned. The passenger must stand in the foot steps marked out in two different positions. A moving arm of the machine passes around the booth. An image of the nude body is constructed and is observed by security personnel some distance away.

A leading expert on the biological effects of X-ray radiation, Dr. John Gofman, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, who has done exhaustive research, concludes that there is no safe level of ionizing radiation. His studies indicate that radiation from medical diagnostic and treatment is a causal co-factor in 50 percent of America’s cancer and 60 percent of ischemic (blood flow blockage) heart disease. He stresses that the frequency with which Americans are medically X-rayed makes for a significant radiological impact..(Idaho Observer, 9-9-3).

The backscatter machine might prove dangerous in the long run, especially for frequent fliers.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]