The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) called on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Tuesday to immediately implement a nationwide program to monitor radiation output at airport security checkpoints.
AFGE is the largest federal employee union representing 625,000 workers in the federal government, including Transportation Security Officers.
"AFGE has long advocated for a comprehensive radiation safety program that includes monitoring employees for exposure over time as well as training and education," AFGE National President John Gage said. "In light of recent reports that TSA has ordered re-testing of radiation-emitting equipment due to errors found during an internal review, TSA can no longer rely on the previously-reported test data for employee exposure."
"It is imperative that monitoring of employee exposure be undertaken immediately," he added.
The TSA has held that there are no harmful radiation emissions from X-ray body imaging scanners used at security checkpoints at more than 450 airports across the nation.
The agency recently ordered a re-testing of the equipment after discovering inaccuracies in the initial test reports, such as calculation errors, failure to note reading of background radiation and other missing information. "While these inaccuracies didn’t impact the overall assessment that the technology is safe, they are still unacceptable," the TSA said in a blog post.
The union said it offered to conduct an independent study of radiation emissions and purchase dosimeters to measure TSA officers' exposure to radiation, but both offers were declined by the agency.
"AFGE has suggested that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a comprehensive study that we firmly believe is needed," Gage said. "We are encouraged to learn from press reports that TSA intends to ask NIOSH to update its 2008 study, in which it recommended a nationwide, mandatory radiation monitoring program. TSA did not act on that recommendation, and there has never been a better time to implement it."
In an article to be published in the April issue of Radiology, Dr. David J. Brenner claimed that the U.S. should be concerned about the long-term consequences of an extremely large number of people being exposed to a radiation. Dr. Brenner is the Director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
"The risks for any individual going through the X-ray backscatter scanners are exceedingly small," Dr. Brenner said. "However, if all air travelers are going to be screened this way, then we need to be concerned that some of these billion people may eventually develop cancer as a result of the radiation exposure from the X-ray scanners."
"As someone who travels just occasionally, I would have no hesitation in going through the X-ray backscatter scanner," he added. "Super frequent fliers or airline personnel, who might go through the machine several hundred times each year, might wish to opt for pat-downs. The more scans you have, the more your risks may go up—but the individual risks are always going to be very, very small."