Do TSA Scanners Cause Cancer?

As previously posted, scientists from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)—including a nationally-respected cancer expert and members of the National Academy of Scientists—are seriously concerned that they do, and now TSA union reps in Boston have cited a “cancer cluster” among TSA workers there.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing that TSA workers in Boston have reported elevated rates of cancer, and that TSA workers’ requests to wear radiation-detecting badges have been denied. According to this account, TSA workers in Portland and Puerto Rico have also reported higher incidences of cancer.

Given the federal government’s abysmal role in posing serious health dangers in the past (e.g., from the 1940s’ Tuskegee and Guatemalan syphilis tests, to the CDC’s injection of L.A.-area babies with an experimental measles vaccine in the 1990s, and more), reasonable people should demand that the government be held to the same standards for exposing travelers to medical devices (x-ray machines) as the FDA requires for private manufacturers.

In a letter to Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, the concerned UCSF scientists last year warned:

Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed.

An important consideration is that a large fraction of the population will be subject to the new X-ray scanners and be at potential risk, as discussed below. This raises a number of ‘red flags’. Can we have an urgent second independent evaluation?

As documented in the Independent Institute book, HAZARDOUS TO OUR HEALTH? FDA Regulation of Health Care Products, and extensively on our website, the federal government routinely deprives Americans of beneficial devices for years of tests. Yet millions of Americans can be exposed to potentially lethal technology on the say-so of unaccountable federal bureaucrats.

It’s time to loudly echo the calls of Independent Institute Fellow Art Carden and Rep. Ron Paul to abolish the TSA—which is unaccountable and immune from liability should it fail to protect travelers from either terrorist attacks or health hazards—and return airport security to private firms who can and would be held accountable, including for health dangers.

In the meantime, air travelers may wish to carry a copy of the warning letter from UCSF scientists, and copies of these articles (here and here) that cite increased cancer among TSA workers, to hand to the next TSA agent who tries to herd you through a machine only the government says is safe.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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