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Full Body Scanners: Do You Walk Through?

During my pregnancy, I’ll take more than 30 flights, mostly for work. When I first became pregnant, I did a lot of research about whether flying was safe during the first and second trimesters. After all, flying inherently exposes you to radiation, which can impact a growing baby.

However, you have to fly very frequently, at high altitudes (like on transcontinental or international flights), or during solar flare events to get dosed with a potentially harmful amount of radiation. People who fly very regularly, like busy flight attendants, may have a slightly increased risk of miscarriage during the first trimester as a result (Source). But most of us – even semi-regular business travelers – don’t need to worry about in-flight risks to our unborn children.

One thing that has continued to stress me out, however, is going through the security line. I’m especially concerned about the new full body scanning technology that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented.

Click to read more about whether experts believe full body scanners should be a concern.

There are two types of full body scanners in use:  one uses radio frequency energy,  and another that uses X-rays (this one is known as the backscatter machine). The radio frequency technology apparently “deliver(s) 10,000 times less energy than your cell phone.” The backscatter machines use a very low level of radiation to bounce radiation off the skin (if it was stronger, you’d be able to see bones and organs!) (Source).

According to the TSA, “Backscatter technology was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).  All results confirmed that the radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders were well below the dose limits specified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).” (Source)  To put it in perspective, TSA says that “each scan emits less than 1/1,000 of the radiation given off in a standard chest X-ray, or the equivalent of two minutes of high-altitude flight.” (Source)

Many experts agree that the level of radiation emitted by the backscatter machines is so low that even pregnant women don’t need to be concerned.

But my concern isn’t when the machines work the way they’re intended – I’m concerned about what happens if the machine malfunctions. I’m also concerned that there isn’t enough impartial research to back-up the TSA’s findings. And there’s been so many times that our government and science said something was perfectly safe… until they finally decided – twenty years too late – that it wasn’t so safe after all. I understand and completely support the need for increased airport security measures, but I’m just not willing to blindly put my baby’s health in the hands of a government agency.

So what do I do?  Regardless of whether I get funneled to the backscatter line or the metal detector line, I ask for a manual pat-down. A female TSA agent comes over and uses her hands to check that I’m not carrying anything on me. While the pat-down takes about two minutes, the wait for an agent usually takes five. It definitely means more time in the security line, but to me – it’s worth it.

Do you go through the full body scanner at the airport?

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