Archive for July, 2012

Body Scanners, Fluoroscopes, and the TSA

From the 1920s through about 1960, shoe stores used an amazing device to sell shoes: the fluoroscope. Depending on the year, the reason behind the device changed; it helped you fit the shoe better, it revealed any issues in your foot, it was cool to see the bones in your foot move. The fluoroscope achieved this magic through x-rays. By the 1950s, people understood that being exposed to lots of x-rays was really bad for people. Overexposure to x-rays increases the odds you get various cancers. In 1957, Pennsylvania started a pattern of governments banning the devices(http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Heres_Looking_at_You_Kids.html). The fears were along the lines of the following:

  1. Growing people (kids) shouldn’t be exposed to this many x-rays.
  2. Lots of x-rays were taken of the salespeople.

Think about #2. According to http://www.orau.org/ptp/collection/shoefittingfluor/shoe.htm, people got radiation burns and cancers from lots of exposures.

Many shoe salespersons put their hands into the x-ray beam to squeeze the shoe during the fitting. As a result, one saleswoman who had operated a shoe fitting fluoroscope 10 to 20 times each day over a ten year period developed dermatitis of the hands. One of the more serious injuries linked to the operation of these machines involved a shoe model who received such a serious radiation burn that her leg had to be amputated (Bavley 1950).

Interestingly enough, the Transportation Security Administration has installed thousands of x-ray machines as full body scanners. Frequent travelers are getting x-rayed several times a week. TSA employees are getting nearby exposure scans hundreds of times per day. Because of concerns around the health effects, a case was brought and was decided against the TSA that they need to figure out if these machines are safe. Our executive branch needs to enforce this ruling, but so far have chosen not to enforce it.

If you have some time today, I recommend that you go to https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/require-transportation-security-administration-follow-law/tffCTwDd and sign the petition to get the executive branch to carry out the decision of the judicial branch.

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