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How safe are airport body scanners?

How safe are airport body scanners? Pin It
Stocksy / Lumina

Every time you go through security at the airport, one thing probably enters your mind: Are the body scanners you’re walking through really that safe? It turns out that with today’s technology, there’s not much to worry about.

Going through security at the airport is a lot different in 2017 than it even was a few years ago. In 2010, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) updated its equipment so they’d be able to detect metal, but it didn’t take long for the new full-body scanners to cause some controversy.

“Scientists can never say that something is 100 percent safe, but I would say there’s no plausible evidence by which millimeter waves could damage DNA.”

Aside from being intrusive with its full-body images of passengers, experts were also worried that the “backscatter” x-ray exposed those who used them to dangerous amounts of radiation, Time reports. However, they were banned by the TSA in 2013. And the “millimeter-wave” scanner in use today uses a low dose of radio waves that experts say aren’t a concern.

“There was probably some very small cancer risks associated with those x-ray machines,” David Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, told Time. “We know there are biological mechanisms by which x-ray exposure can cause cancer…it seemed likely that those backscatter scanners would carry some small risks.”

Unfortunately, the fear that came about from the “backscatter” X-ray scanners have made travelers fear every scanner. That shouldn’t be the case, though, and experts want travelers to know that there’s nothing to worry about with the machines used today.

“Scientists can never say that something is 100 percent safe, but I would say there’s no plausible evidence by which millimeter waves could damage DNA,” Brenner told Time. “If the risks are there, they’re extremely small.”

So, what does this mean for you? The risks from today’s millimeter-wave scanners are very low—even if you travel on a regular basis. But if you’d rather not use body scanners at all, you always have the option to opt out: Just let the TSA agent know and you’ll get a pat-down instead.

Expect to find these healthy airport options the next time you travel. And if you get stuck with a delay, look for a wellness pop-up that will make the wait totally worth it.