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Letter to The Honorable Janet Napolitano Secretary of Homeland Security and The Honorable John S. Pistole Administrator Transportation Security Administration

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and to John Pistole, the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, noting public concerns regarding the use of new, whole-body scanning machines at airports.

The letter, also signed by Senators Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., highlights questions about the health effects of the radiation emitted by this technology.

"To address the continuing concerns surrounding the use of these machines, we request that you have the Department's Chief Medical Officer, working with independent experts, conduct a review of the health effects of their use for travelers, TSA employees, and airport and airline personnel," the letter said.

"Given that these concerns have been brought to the Department's attention on several occasions," the letter added, "it is troubling that TSA announced in May it would purchase an additional 100 backscatter x-ray AIT machines. Please explain why the Department continues to purchase this technology when legitimate concerns about its safety appear to remain unanswered."

The full text of the letter, sent Thursday, Aug. 5, follows:

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable John S. Pistole
Administrator
Transportation Security Administration
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Napolitano and Administrator Pistole:

As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues the deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines at airport passenger screening checkpoints, we urge the Department to better address an issue with the new technology that remains a persistent question with the American people. The issue of radiation associated with the backscatter x-ray AIT machines has not been adequately addressed by TSA. The attached article, published in The New York Times last week, is only the most recent in a number of media reports on concerns over the radiation emitted by backscatter x-ray AIT machines.

TSA's privacy assessment on AIT does little to assuage fears over the level of radiation that individuals are exposed to at airports. TSA's privacy assessment does note that the level of radiation absorbed from a single scan is "equivalent to the radiation received in two minutes of airplane flight at altitude." This is intended apparently to answer passengers who have real and legitimate concerns with exposure to even low doses of radiation. Frequent flyers, however, would receive heightened exposures from multiple AIT scans, and other travelers have expressed the belief that "there is no safe level of radiation exposure." Please provide all government-commissioned evaluations of the health effects of the radiation emitted by this technology.

Furthermore, we have not seen TSA address the issue of airport and airline personnel who work at the airport and therefore could receive multiple doses of radiation every work day. It also may be possible for TSA personnel to receive collateral doses of radiation while working in the vicinity of backscatter x-ray AIT machines. Please explain whether or not DHS has evaluated the health effects of repeated exposure to the radiation of backscatter x-ray AIT machines for these personnel. Included in this evaluation, has DHS considered the use of dosimeters to determine the amount of radiation exposure TSA employees have been exposed to over periods of time?

To address the continuing concerns surrounding the use of these machines, we request that you have the Department's Chief Medical Officer, working with independent experts, conduct a review of the health effects of their use for travelers, TSA employees, and airport and airline personnel.

Given that these concerns have been brought to the Department's attention on several occasions, including a letter that Senators Collins, Kyl, and Chambliss sent you in April, it is troubling that TSA announced in May it would purchase an additional 100 backscatter x-ray AIT machines. Please explain why the Department continues to purchase this technology when legitimate concerns about its safety appear to remain unanswered.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Susan M. Collins
Richard Burr
Tom Coburn


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