Tag Archives: Transportation Security Administration

Are airports putting cancer patients lives at risk?

Anti-terrorism measures

set to impact on cancer patients


 MEP Syed Kamal is working to try and resolve problems for cancer patients.


Anyone who flies will know that anti-terrorism checks can take up more time than the flight itself.

No-one would grudge spending this time, if it is for our safety – BUT – the very equipment that is about to come into use could put cancer patients’ lives at risk.

Currently in Britain we are trialling new types of so-called X-ray backscatter machines.

In the States these machines have been trialled for over a year, and when introduced caused enormous concerns.

Research said  that they were safe

  • but how safe was the research?
  • and who had paid for this?

Don’t forget manufacturers of these machines stand to make billions world wide once they are adopted.  They are coy about price (saying it depends on individual airports) but one U.S. site gave an approx. figure around £110,000 per machine. Each airport security gate is going to need at least one machine, and probably more for heavy traffic.   Major airports could be made to install multiple machines per exit – you’ll need big envelope to work out cost of that!

Where America leads – we follow

In the States, concerns raised by Congress and others over full-body scanners used at airports have prompted the head of the Transportation Security Administration to order that  they undergo further testing to address a “perception” they are unsafe.

Regulating these machines falls under the TSA’s jurisdiction—and it doesn’t see what all the fuss is about. The TSA has repeatedly asserted that these machines are safe despite widely-held scientific opinion that even modest doses of ionizing radiation can increase one’s cancer risk;  research is suggesting that as many as 100 people a year could contract cancer on account of this exposure—although the amount of radiation emitted from each machine is small.

In its defense, the TSA has supplied research studies supporting this point, though none of them have been published in a peer-reviewed journal (normally mandatory for any research to be accepted).

And America’s Food and Drug Administration, the strict Government controlled body, has no jurisdiction over approving these machines, as it can only test medical equipment.

However, the great John is now admitting, “I am concerned that there’s a perception that they’re not as safe as they could be”.

Newark Liberty and Philadelphia International airports are equipped with millimeter wave scanners, which use radio waves, not X-rays, to peer through passengers’ clothes, and so far have not been linked to health risks.

Administrator has red face

Researchers have raised concerns that even the tiny dose of radiation emitted by the scanners could mean a small number of fliers contract cancer. But with the TSA saying the machines are safe, Pistole told senators one scan exposes fliers to 1/1000th of the amount of radiation they would get from a chest X-ray.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), a long-time critic of X-ray scanners, issued a statement in reaction to Pistole’s congressional testimony,

“I would hope that the TSA wants to deal with facts, not just perceptions,” said Holt, who in April co-sponsored a bill to ban all scanners until the National Academy of Sciences deemed them safe. “No one should be subjected to radiation unnecessarily.”

TSA Administrator John Pistole eventually had to apologise when these machines were introduced.  Operators made such a hash of the procedure that the great John was made to apologise – abjectly – to cancer patients who had been mortified by procedure.

This wouldn’t happen in UK;  in States cancer charities are all-powerful, made a huge media fuss and forced Pistole to go on TV and apologise in person.  Here, although cancer  charities have tried to raise concerns, these are arrogantly ignored by our Dept. for Transport (DfT), equivalent of the TSA.  Cancer patients aren’t seen as a threat – we are too polite.

MEP carrying out campaign

Whatever we think of Brussels and the EU, one very good thing is our representative MEPs;  very like MPs were in the old days.  They don’t have to do what they are told by the Party – normally they act according to what is wanted by their constituents.

So when I contacted my MEP, Syed Kamal, and told him of my concerns, immediately he came back to say he would be raising a question in the EU Parliament.  In the succeeding twelve months he has asked another question, been in constant touch with our major cancer charities, and even had a meeting with the BAA.

What would reassure cancer patients?

The Thalimodide disaster is still recent history.  Millions of women were reassured it was safe during pregnancy, and ended up with deformed children.  So the public’s fears should be listened to, as we don’t want similar disasters.

In the States, Passengers can opt out of scans in favor of a metal detector test and a pat-down.

This is what cancer charities in the UK are asking for – but the arrogant DfT has refused.

Last month a dentist, travelling through Manchester Airport, asked that instead of going through the machine, as his job exposes him to high levels of rays, could be have a pat-down instead?  Told no, he decided he couldn’t take the risk, and went home.

This is a really sad indication of the arrogance of airport authorities.


David Brenner, a Columbia University radiological researcher, has said X-ray scanners delivered a radiation dose 20 times higher than the figure reported by the TSA, when specifically gauging exposure to the scalp.

In October 2011, Pistole told the committee he would retest the X-ray machines, when senators raised the issue one day after publication of a story by ProPublica and PBS New Hour reporting that officials had downplayed concerns about the scanners.

In August, Pistole responded to privacy concerns by announcing that scanners would be reprogrammed to produce generic imagery, rather than anatomically detailed outlines of individual fliers’ bodies.  But when cancer charities were surveyed, most respondents replied that they weren’t too concerned about the image of their bodies appearing on a screen.

What you can do

Ask the airline you fly by what is procedure – then if their airport is using these machines, express concern and threaten to take the car, go by Eurostar, or cancel your flight.  When airlines see profits being hit – they will put pressure on DfT to offer cancer patients a sensible alternative.

The only reason why DfT won’t agree is that it will take more time to train the lowly-paid airport ‘security’ staff in how to give acceptable pat-downs (there have been some memorable incidents when they didn’t heed passengers’ warnings over stoma bags).  So it boils down to a question of cost, whilst cancer patients’ genuine fears are ignored.

And your call could be what tips the scales.  Currently the DfT’s Press Office is very jittery – a sure sign they know they are being wrong-footed of policy.  Supposedly no-one was in office until 1000 (there is supposed to be a press officer in from 0800 – so if they are not available ….) then when I asked a normal question about what is cost of each machine, suddenly they say they don’t have to answer that.  So ask the Airport Security Desk who makes the machines?  and get a very suspicious answer, “I’ll come back to you on that”.

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Gatwick introduces Body Scanners

X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to...
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Will Dept. Transport learn from USA – or will cancer patients have to make concerns known?

No-one in their right minds wants to aid terrorism, and most of us feel more secure when we look at newer measures put in place at airports etc.to counter threats.

One such measure is overall body scanners, which produce an X-ray picture of our body (without clothes).  Most passengers will go along with this, when they realise it helps their security.

However, there are concerns with the amount of radiation produced;  one respected US University (UCLA) produced one report from top scientists saying they were safe;  next day published another survey saying they were not.

However, this doesn’t excuse security authorities for insensitive treatment of passengers, and in the States the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) seems to have built up a chorus of condemnation in their handling of cancer and other patients, when they introduced body scanners.

In the States most airports will employ body scanners.

First, the airline pilots sued – they objected to being subjected to potential harmful build-up of X-rays (although the authorities denied this).  TSA caved in, and now they aren’t subject to scans.  Some patients may belong to RAGE, and understand their concerns.

But, in the States, if you don’t want to go through this process you have the option of a pat-down.  A patdown is when the security agent uses their hands to feel over your body to check you aren’t carrying fire-arms, knives, anything illegal, etc.

As a woman, being examined by another woman using the patdown method, I have sometimes been made to feel distinctly uneasy by the intrusiveness and potentially sexual element shown to me by some agents – but one tends to shrug this off.  You are fully dressed, although it can leave you feeling ‘violated’.  However, I stress that the majority of patdowns I have had have been carried out in an exemplary and professional manner.

Now, Adrienne Durso, an American breast-cancer survivor passenger, has said she is going to sue the TSA for what she says was an intrusive patdown. Her lawsuit is being handled by the same solicitors that sued the TSA on behalf of two pilots; outcome of that case making TSA decide pilots will not be subjected to patdowns.

UPI (the respected news agency United Press International), says “solicitors Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP, which is representing Durso and several other challengers of the security procedures pro bono, says their constitutional right to protection from unreasonable searches was violated. The law firm wants the TSA to drop the use of whole body scans and enhanced patdowns”.

Adrienne Durso, from California, says she went through a metal detector at Albuquerque airport, but then was selected to have a patdown.  She says the agent “heavily concentrated on my breast area where I told her I’d had a mastectomy the year previous and it just seemed to go on and on.”  But said her teenage son was told he was not subjected to a patdown because he does not have “boobs.”

Could this happen in Britain?

At the moment the Dept. Transport are in charge of our security at ports and airports, and they haven’t been very forthcoming.  As usual, they hide behind a fog of  ‘officialese’, and won’t give definite answers when asked about procedures.

However, they have introced Body Scanners at Gatwick Airport.  Currently passengers are selected at random for a scan, and if you refuse to have this your ONLY option is to go home.  Luck of the draw – and you can’t travel.

When I have taken this up with BAA, Dept. Transport etc. arrogant officials refuse to see implications, and won’t offer cancer patients option of a pat down.  If anyone knows Philip Hammond, currently Transport Minister – ask him why.

Surely it is time for the Department to be pro-active, and consult with the various patients’ organisations, charities, etc about the best way to handle passengers with prosthesises, ports, colostomy bags, etc?   These organisations have raised questions, but from what one is told they are being fobbed off.  I was on two cancer charity focus committees discussing this.  We were promised we would be consulted before body scanning became the law – but NOTHING.

This needs to be addressed, and swiftly, before the new scanners are in place.  After all, pilots could be potential terrorists, so if they are to be excused from searches,  this won’t make me feel any more secure.  But our concerns re concentrations of X-rays need to be addressed.

Enhanced by ZemantaThe Dept. Transport needs to realise cancer patients have very real needs and should be offered an alternative to a body scan.

Dept. Transport should wake up and do something about issues around body scanners

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Breast Cancer Care’s response re Body Scanners

There has been a furore over introduction of Body Scanners in the States.  The crass mistakes made by U.S. security staff, meant John Pistole, America’s head of the TSA, had to go on TV to apologise.  So this makes Breast Cancer Care (BCC)’s  response to a survey on these scanners very timely.

Their members were asked to comment on the ‘Code of Practice for the acceptable use of advanced imaging technology (body scanners) in an aviation security environment.’

Research led to questions about how exactly the scanners work and what will be seen on screens.  Those who took part requested clarification from the Department for Transport, but when BCC asked for a response, “no definitive answer could be provided to us”.

Survey showed that just over half of women would not mind if an implant was detected (56%), but the fact that the Department is not able to provide a categorical answer is worryingbecause it signals a lack of in-depth knowledge as to how the scanners will work in practice. Passengers should have access to clear and straightforward information.

BCC urges the Department to do further investigations into the scanners to ascertain a more detailed picture of what they reveal.

Breast Cancer Care decided to respond to this consultation after surveying women who have been affected by breast cancer as to their views on how best this system should work. The response only covered the issues relevant to this group, particularly in terms of having had breast surgery following diagnosis, and how body scanners will impact on them.

Majority of respondents felt that this technology was the same as, or preferable to, a traditional ‘pat down’ search (64%) and safety was the most important consideration.

However, concerns were raised

  • about the training airport security staff would receive
  • the cumulative effects of radiation having already undergone radiotherapy
  • infringement of their privacy
  • how to declare a prosthesis in the most discrete manner.

There was a range of feelings amongst the group of survey respondents with regards to this security approach:

“I do not feel any safer because of the use of these scanners. Over-dependence on scanning all
passengers rather than making sensible judgements about who presents most risk leads to
intrusion for all passengers. The use of such scanners and the time taken to go through all these
procedures plus the indignity of almost stripping off (belts/shoes etc) at the entry points makes
me increasingly reluctant to travel by air.”

“Personally I think that passenger safety is of paramount importance – far more important than
being shy about an implant etc. If the scan is done with dignity and sensitivity I don’t see a
problem. I have had the “pat down” method at an airport (before having breast reconstruction)
and was treated disgracefully. So it’s all down to how you speak and treat people.”

BCC would not want to see people who have undergone treatment for breast cancer unduly penalised. Their various conditions should be fully understood by airport security staff so as not to need long and laboured
explanations by passengers.

Any kind of medical disclosure should be viewed in the context that it can be very difficult to do so for
some people, and that there may be psychological issues attached to such a disclosure in a non-clinical setting with non-clinical security staff.


Many survey respondents were worried about the additional radiation they would undergo with the backscatter scanner. While this will be expanded upon further in this response, the millimetre wave scanner was preferable among our respondents in light of the fact that no ionising raditaion is involved in its use.

However, this would be dependent on its efficacy, which was an issue raised by Ben Wallace MP, who was formerly involved in a project by a leading British defence research firm to develop the scanners for airport use. Trials were said to have shown that low-density materials went undetected, with the millimetre-wave scanners picking up shrapnel and heavy wax and metal, but missing plastic, chemicals and liquids. How will the new Government now proceed with these
scanners in light of this evidence?

Recently University of California and Los Angeles (UCLA) issued two reports in safety of radiation from these scanncrs.

First report said that there was NO safety risk

Next day another report was issued – saying, YES – there was a risk.

Did safeguards outlined in the interim code of practice address all potential privacy concerns?

If not, what else should be included?

Survey respondents said: Yes 54%   No 34%  Don’t know 12%

Most survey respondents agreed that this approach would be effective in safeguarding privacy, reiterating the importance of having the option of a female staff member as screen reader.  BCC hoped that a choice would also exist for a female airport security member to whom the prosthesis is disclosed.

A significant minority of women felt that having to disclose medical information to non-medics was an infringement of their rights.

With Department for Transport guidance (FAQ document) to disclose prosthetics or anything that may show up on the scanners to staff prior to entering the scanner, the thought of disclosing personal medical information to a female staff member was preferable to a male member of security staff.

While the majority (53%) of respondents felt that the possible embarrassment or uncomfortable nature of such a disclosure was worth it for safety’s sake, there was still a preference for having such conversations out of earshot of fellow passengers and even their own family. This is especially the case for women with children, who may not want them to overhear.

Those women who did not feel they could make such a disclosure to airport security staff, the idea of having some sort of card or letter from a GP that they could just hand over at the appropriate time was a better option.  Could the
Department for Transport endorse this in the Code of Practice to ensure that staff are aware that this is a viable alternative to verbal disclosure?

“Due to the continued threat of terrorism it is vital that these scanners are used. Life is very precious. It would be a good idea to obtain a letter from the breast oncologist to verify breast cancer surgery for those women who have fear/concerns of using body scanners.”

“If I could carry an official card stating that I had had breast surgery due to breast cancer, I know I
would feel a lot more comfortable about going through a body scanner.”

People mentioned their worries about staff, despite the assurance of employing vetted and trained personnel in the Interim Code of Practice. For reassurances sake, a robust and accessible complaints procedure should be in


  • Option to have a female security officer as the non-screener as well as screener
  • Disclosure and discussion to take place out of earshot of other passengers
  • Option of (prosthesis) disclosure to be done in written form, not verbally
  • Robust and easily accessible complaints procedure in place

Data Protection
Although images should be deleted, in the USA, the Transportation Security Agency TSA)
acknowledged that images on body scanner machines would be recorded for
“testing, training, and evaluation purposes.”

As Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, said in January this year: “Safeguards
must also be put in place to prevent staff members from copying or putting on the
internet pictures of children, celebrities or those with strange body shapes. These
assurances should be enshrined in a statutory code, rather than a mere code of

Questions will need to be answered as to how data protection will be policed and
what procedures are in place if this is breached.

  • Data protection assurances should be enshrined in a statutory code rather than a code of practice.
  • Questions around saving capability of scanners should be answered by the Government, as well as how data protection will be policed and what procedures are in place if this is breached.

3 http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/TSA_Reply_House.pdf
4 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/jan/06/body-scanners-airportsterrorism

Health and safety

Worries were expressed about effects of the radiation.  For people who have had a cancer diagnosis their subsequent treatment, which often includes radiotherapy, can leave them with a heightened awareness of the effects of radiation on their bodies, and anxious about exposing themselves to more ‘unnecessary’ radiation.

“Why should I have to go through extra radiation and NOT being given the choice??  I really do not need extra radiation and are happy to strip down instead. I feel this is very wrong that we do not have the choice to refuse, and terror is winning over civil rights.”

“Would be worried about the exposure to any more X-rays as I have had maximum radiation
allowable on some areas, so therefore would prefer the millimeter wave scanner.”

“I would like to know if there is the option to ask for a full body search rather than be exposed to

“As cancer occurs as a result of multiple events the cumulative doses within the breast area might be important here
compared to general population.

There needs to be the information on the dose for people previously exposed to radiotherapy or pregnant
ladies clearly identifiable at the scanners so they can make choices.”

BCC say this fear is not unfounded, despite the reassurances of safety from the government. Ionising radiation is an established risk factor for breast cancer.


  • Option to have a thorough pat-down search instead of going through a body scanner
  • Use of scanner that does not use ionising radiation (i.e. millimetre wave although this is subject to efficacy)
  • Appropriate staff training to include information about peoples’ medical conditions so intrusive questioning is not required


So many respondents had sensible queries about training, that it begs the question, ‘how good is today’s current training?’

Not very good, according to respondents.

BCC believes that best results can be practically achieved by having patients involved.  A large proportion of respondents believe that either patients or cancer charities should deliver some of the training.

“I don’t want to be questioned in the airport queue and made to announce to all and sundry that I
have a breast implant in order to proceed through security.”

On a personal note, when asked to take off shoes, I look around to see where elderly passengers can sit, especially if they have lace-up shoes.  I have NEVER  seen a chair placed for passengers’ convenience. Instead you see people wobbling on one leg, clearly an accident waiting to happen.  So much for Dept. Transport’s reassurance “we take disabled passengers’ needs into consideration”.


America’s TSA was caught on the hop, and made to make humiliating apologies on TV, to world’s press, and to passengers involved. Before this happens here, Ministers need to make sure they address the public’s concerns.

Pompous security officials at Airports, Ports and Stations must be made to undergo training in courtesy and understanding of disabled issues.  Most do a good job on minimal wages, but there are some who need to be taken aside and told that alienating passengers builds up resentment.

I have written the book on ‘Working in Aviation’, with a large proportion on working in Security;  I have worked at Airports, and when a passenger, my training helped me identify a slip that enabled Customs and Excise to apprehend a very wanted person.  But I am not happy that the Dept.Transport understand or has addressed the issues surrounding screening of those with disabilities, prosthesises, etc.

After the first worries about the way they were treated, concern in America has shifted to doubts about the scanners – were they thrust on the public by lobbyists employed by security companies?  The first two contracts to supply scanners have netted two companies $160 million each.

We need to get passengers on the side of law enforcement – not indignant at their treatment.

For more info from BCC – contact Ms. Kiran Dhami, Policy Officer, Breast Cancer Care

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