November 23, 2010

TSA Abuses, Dental X-Rays, Children -- and How to Lie About Radiation

Greetings. Over on my PRIVACY Forum lately, I've been noting and discussing the barrage of nightmare revelations regarding Transportation Security Administration (TSA) abuses of airline passengers, both via their recently deployed body scanning x-ray units, and the literally obscene new "pat-down" procedures. I won't repeat those items here -- you've probably heard most of them by now, including stories of how passengers attempting to videotape these abuses have been detained and threatened with arrest, been ordered to delete their recordings -- and so on.

The level of disgust and anger related to the TSA situation has been rising rapidly.

I've discussed the issues associated with body scanners several times before in this blog, e.g. Fun With Body Scanner Images -- and Cutting Through the Body Scanner Bull. When I first began reporting on this technology years ago, I actually received email from persons who didn't believe that such systems either existed or that they'd ever actually be widely deployed.

But while trying to get to sleep last night, thinking about this horrendous TSA mess along its various vectors -- everything from the Bush DHS head who pushed body scanners and then went to work for the manufacturer, to the useless TSA groping, to the arguments about radiation levels -- I suddenly thought about a rather horrifying article in today's New York Times that I read last night: "The Radiation Boom": "Radiation Worries for Children in Dentists' Chairs."

The upshot of the article is that dental x-ray levels are now becoming a concern -- not only because so many dentists still use old, slow x-ray films despite faster films being available, but due to the rapid deployment of heavily promoted (and very expensive) "cone-beam CT scanner" x-ray devices being used both by dentists (and especially orthodontists) that result in far higher radiation exposures. (This device, as far as I know, is completely distinct from "single-shot" digital dental x-rays, which I believe result in far less radiation exposure than either film type dental x-ray.)

This topic should be of concern to everyone -- you should read the article. It's of special note if you have children, since they are particularly sensitive to radiation.

How does this all relate to the current TSA mess? It occurred to me that many of the claims regarding the purported safety of the x-ray body scanners compare the dosage to dental x-rays in one way or another. And yet it's clear that there's no real telling what the dosage from "a dental x-ray" per se really is in any generic sense. In fact, there are claims (you'll see in that article) that a manufacturer is grossly understating (by hundreds of times) the levels associated with their equipment -- and they apparently refused to discuss the matter with the Times.

So what do generic comparisons with dental x-ray levels really mean? Nothing. Nada. They're useless.

And this is all a symptom of the lax regulation of radiation related equipment in this country. You've probably heard the recent stories about massive radiation overdoses from both CT scans and radiation treatments at major U.S. hospitals, both of a sort that one would assume properly designed equipment would have made utterly impossible. Even when patients suffered burns and lost hair, it took ages for anyone to make the connection -- at least one patient suffered a horrible death as a result -- as these errors in some cases continued for months or years undetected.

This is in medical settings. Relatively clean environments, equipment operated by trained professionals of one degree or another.

The companies that manufacture such equipment have everyone by the proverbial balls -- including the government which seems to have a historically duplicitous attitude toward such systems -- just think of all the blatant "safety" lies told to the public in the name of national security related to nuclear weapons tests and manufacturing-related radiation contaminations of people and property historically.

And to make matters worse, typically it's impossible to prove whether any given radiation exposure directly related to cancers down the line. It can take years or decades for these to develop, and nobody is really keeping track of radiation dosage levels for anyone who isn't a medical or nuclear worker -- and even for them it's only tracked to some degree within their work environments.

Put this all together, and think about all of those backscatter x-ray units in airport terminals, being operated as if they were popcorn machines by -- frankly -- unskilled personnel.

TSA is begging people not to refuse to go through the x-ray units. Their argument lately appears to be more about not disrupting air travel than about catching terrorists (TSA now apparently considers the information about whether their x-ray units and groping procedures have ever actually stopped a terrorist to be a state secret!)

Here's my bottom line opinion on all this. You may not like it.

Given the current state of information, research, and "validation," if you voluntarily go through those x-ray backscatter units, you are approximating the behavior of a fool. It's your choice, of course. But if you allow your young children to go through the units, you are, I believe, worse than a fool.

Sorry to be so direct about this. I'm sure this will upset some people -- perhaps some of my long-time readers. But you know that I always try to shoot straight regarding all of the matters that I address in these missives.

Ethically, I couldn't discuss this issue any less strongly.

Take care, all.


Posted by Lauren at November 23, 2010 10:26 AM | Permalink
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