Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), a senior member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and a bipartisan group of his colleagues today introduced legislation to require an independent study of backscatter x-ray scanners and to require signs to alert travelers they have screening alternatives other than the backscatter machines.
Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced the bill, and Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) - all members of the Committee -- joined Senator Akaka as cosponsors of the legislation.
The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, in consultation with the National Science Foundation, to commission an independent study on the possible health effects of the x-ray radiation emitted by some of the scanning machines in airports. Second, it would give airline passengers, especially those passengers in sensitive groups, such as pregnant women, clear notice of their ability to choose another screening option in lieu of exposure to ionizing radiation.
In a November hearing of the Committee, TSA Administrator John Pistole agreed to initiate an independent study on the health effects of backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines. But about a week later, however, the Administrator told the Senate Commerce Committee that a forthcoming report by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General would likely be a sufficient substitute.
Senator Akaka said, "I have repeatedly expressed concerns about the potential health effects of backscatter x-ray whole body scanners at airport checkpoints. An independent study of the radiation risk for airport workers and the flying public in Hawaii and on the mainland is long overdue. This legislation will finally give peace of mind to the millions of people who pass through and operate these machines. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to enact this important legislation."
"I have urged TSA to move toward only radiation-free screening technology," said Senator Collins in remarks on the Senate floor. "In the meantime, an independent study is needed to protect the public and to determine what technology is worthy of taxpayer dollars. Surely passengers should be well informed of their screening options. Signs should be placed in such a way that passengers understand and can decide if they want to go through the machines or request alternative screening."
"Protecting public health and safety means we must provide safe and secure air travel and also make sure that the public has confidence that our security efforts don't have unintended consequences," Senator Levin said. "This bill will help reassure Congress and the public that we are making security decisions based on sound science."
"While body scanners are an integral part of TSA's multilayered airport security efforts, we must be sure that the technology we are using is not inadvertently harming passengers and airport employees. I'm pleased that this bill takes the steps needed to address those safety concerns," said Senator Brown.