Washington, DC – The Department of Homeland Security must commission an independent study of the possible health effects of airport passenger scanning machines according to a requirement in the Homeland Security appropriations bill report approved Tuesday.

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Committee, and a bipartisan group of her colleagues, introduced legislation earlier this year to require an independent study of  backscatter x-ray scanners and to require signs to alert travelers they have screening alternatives other than the backscatter machines.

Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) – all members of the Homeland Security Committee — joined Senator Collins as cosponsors of the legislation.

The provision in the Homeland Security appropriations bill report also includes language from Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to expand the independent study to examine not only the machines that use x-ray backscatter technology, but also those that use millimeter wave technology.   

The language approved by the Appropriations Committee would require the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Science, the National Science Foundation, and the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department, to commission an independent study on the possible health effects of  Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanning machines used at airport security screening checkpoints.  It would also give airline passengers, especially those passengers in sensitive groups, such as pregnant women, clear notice of their ability to choose another screening option in lieu of exposure to ionizing radiation.

In a November 2011 hearing of the Homeland Security Committee, TSA Administrator John Pistole agreed to initiate an independent study on the health effects of backscatter AIT machines.  About a week later, however, the Administrator told the Senate Commerce Committee that a then-forthcoming report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General would likely be a sufficient substitute. 

“I have urged TSA to move toward only radiation-free screening technology,” said Senator Collins.  “In the meantime, an independent study is needed to respond to the repeated concerns and questions that have been raised about the safety of repeated exposure to ionizing radiation.  And, surely passengers should be well informed of their screening options.  Signs should be placed in such a way that passengers understand and can decide if they want to go through the machines or request alternative screening.”