Airport Body Scanners

Airport body scanner

Airport Body Scanners

 

Plans to roll out Manchester Airport’s ‘naked’ body scanner to other parts of Europe have been halted – until EU chiefs are convinced they do not pose a risk to health.

 

The European Commission has stopped all new trials of the controversial £80,000 device after scientists raised fears it could emit high levels of cancer-causing radiation.

 

They will make a final decision on whether the scanner can be rolled out across Britain and the Continent after a report on its safety is concluded next year.

 

In the meantime Manchester – currently the only airport in Europe to use the scanner – will be allowed to continue using it until November 2012 at least after the government sought special dispensation from the Commission.

 

The move comes after American academic Dr David Brenner warned last summer that he believed the scanner could deliver up to 20 times more radiation to the skin than previously thought – potentially increasing a person’s risk of skin cancer.

 

Other scientists – and the Health Protection Agency in England – say the scanner is safe for travellers to go through as many as 5,000 times a year.

 

The device, made by Congleton-based Rapiscan and widely used in America, uses X-rays to show up hidden explosives or weapons.

 

It is now compulsory for passengers at all three terminals selected by the airport’s security systems.

 

Only 14 out of three million passengers through Manchester have refused to use the scanner since it was introduced in October 2009.

 

Some of the refusals were on health grounds while other were for cultural reasons.

 

The scanner uses ionising radiation to penetrate beneath a user’s clothing and skin and give a ‘naked’ outline image of their body.

 

The more traditional type of scanner used at other airports has been given the green light by the Commission.

 

A Manchester Airport spokesman said: “We will carry on using the body scanner because it is safe.

 

“The UK and American governments say it is safe – the EU is taking its time to make its mind up but there’s nothing to suggest it won’t come to the same conclusion as the UK and America.”

 

A spokesman for the Department for Transport stood by the technology, saying: “The security of the travelling public is paramount and the government firmly believes the use of security scanners is both a legal and proportionate response to a very real terrorist threat.

 

“Advice from the Health Protection Agency is that any health risks from backscatter scanners are minimal.

 

“The machines involve a very low dose of x-rays equivalent to less than two minutes of flying at altitude.

 

“We await the Commission’s final decision on whether it will add backscatter type scanners to its approved technology list, which is expected in March 2012.”

 

The scanner has been beset by controversy since it was introduced, with concerns over privacy and health risks.

 

Earlier this year, the world’s biggest pilots’ union – the Allied Pilots Association – called on its members to boycott the device for health reasons.

 

And Dr Brenner, head of Columbia University’s centre for radiological research, raised fears the scanner could cause a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma- – with children being the most susceptible.

 

The EU Commission’s vice president Siim Kallas said: “Security scanners are not a panacea but they do offer a real possibility to reinforce passenger security.

 

“These new rules ensure that where this new technology is used it will be covered by EU wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights.”