Every year millions of people pass through whole-body millimeter wave and x-ray scanners in US airports with the trust that our government agencies have throughly investigated the health effects of such devices. And even though the EU & UK have banned such technologies, the public is continuously assured that these technologies are perfectly safe.
The common arguments for ensuring their safety usually revolve around:
- The logical fallacy that because the radiation dose is below arbitrary ANSI standards for annual radiation risk, then they are perfectly safe for use by passengers.
- The logical fallacy that because one receives more radiation from the act of flying itself, the scanners are perfectly safe for use.
The Science of X-ray & Millimeter Wave Technology
Backscatter machines produce low-energy X-rays, which have a wavelength on the order of 1×10-10 meters. The evidence of negative health effects of x-rays is pretty well accepted at this point, as evidenced by the EU’s ban on all airport x-ray scanners.
Health effects of millimeter wave scanners, however, still seem to be debated. These devices produce microwaves with wavelengths that fall exactly between 10-4 meters (1 millimeter) and 10-3 meters (10 millimeters). Notice where that lands in the image above. Yep…right around the microwave spectrum. Interesting that they decided to call them millimeter wave scanners as opposed to microwave scanners. Might the name “Microwave Scanners” immediately raised concern? Amazing what the power of a little terminology can do.
The thought is that such long wavelengths don’t affect proteins and DNA in eukaryotes (like us humans) and only have a thermal effect on tissue since it is in the “non-ionizing” class of radiation.
But what if they do impact DNA?
The power density of millimeter wave scanners fall between 10-8 and 10-7 W/cm2, which seems pretty insignificant until you read this paper which shows that millimeter waves at power densities as low as 10-11 W/cm2 have an effect on DNA, RNA, & proteins.
Research Study Results
“It should be emphasized that the millimeter wave effects at the power density involved can not be explained by trivial heating. Statistically significant changes in CCS (chromatin conformational state aka DNA, RNA, and proteins) were induced by millimeter waves at 10-9 W/cm2.”
“Experimental evidence for the resonance effect of millimeter wave at very low intensity is another important result of this work. The power density dependence has a section of logarithmic growth from 10-11 to 10-7 W/cm2.“
“We also emphasize that, as in the case of E. coli cells, the CCS changes of rat thymocytes are determined, at a molecular level, by the changes in the cooperative binding of a number of structural and functional proteins to chromosomal DNA.”
In light of this clear evidence out of the Russian research literature, it would be very wise to “opt out” of the scanning devices until our government health organizations recognize the negative health impacts and remove such devices from US airports.
And if the documented alteration of eukaryote DNA wasn’t enough, the millimeter wave scanners are also wildly ineffective, bolstering a 54% rate of false positives.