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Cancer Cluster Possibly Found Among TSA Workers 487

OverTheGeicoE writes "TSA employees at Logan International Airport believe they have identified a cancer cluster in their ranks, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and released by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. They have requested dosimetry to counter 'TSA's improperly non-monitored radiation threat.' So far, at least, they have not received it. The documents also reveal a paper from Johns Hopkins that essentially questions whether it is even safe to stand near an operating scanner, let alone inside one. Also, the National Institute of Standards and Technology says that the Dept. of Homeland Security 'mischaracterized' their work by telling USA Today that NIST affirmed the safety of the scanners when in fact NIST does not do product safety testing and never tested a scanner for safety."
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Cancer Cluster Possibly Found Among TSA Workers

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  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:22PM (#36588502)

    This is a classic government mistake, trying to eliminate a threat in one area causes needless problems in another area. Ever since 9/11 the airport security people have gotten a blank check. TSA seems willing to buy any new scanner invented, safety tests will be done later if ever. It's been a long time since we've heard of an airplane disruption on a domestic flight... do we really need to up the specs on this technology?

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:23PM (#36588528)
    If you can't beat the system from without, beat it from within. We should throw as much support as possible behind this - get some lawyers in there, get some reporters over there, do whatever we can.
    • by Shikaku ( 1129753 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:40PM (#36588736)

      TSA Xray scanners cause more harm than terrorists.

      I like the ring to that headline.

      (And I've said this before. Can't be assed to look it up but I've said it on Slashdot even, if you care to search for it.)

    • Well I live just outside Boston, so I just forwarded this article to all the contacts I could find at the various local & national news organizations including: [] []


    • All that will do is require lead plates be purchased (from the scanner company) and the scanners relocated to a position where no stray waves will escape. It's all for your safety...

  • Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:24PM (#36588532)

    Not trolling but after what they did to this 95 year old woman I hope they all get cancer and die.

    Shame on you TSA and shame on you President Obama for letting this happen to AMERICA.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by g0bshiTe ( 596213 )
      Not to beat the Obama drum, but TSA was created during the Bush years.

      And rather than shame a President for letting it happen you should be shaming the US Citizenry that allowed this.
      • I guess it's time for the TSA to shout in unison that all this "protection" they're giving us, is for "the children?" It will be interesting when we start seeing TSA minions wearing lead protectors while patting 95 year olds for their diaper?
      • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by sirsnork ( 530512 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:57PM (#36588982)

        Yeah, cos obviously Obama hasn't had enough time in office to do anything about the TSA......

    • What was done to that woman was atrocious. However condamning the rank and file TSA employees does nothing; they're just trying to make ends meet like everybody else, and in general they too loath what they have to do as a part of their job. People at the top that are responsible for all these nonsense are utterly indifferent to what happens, and until they're held accountable, nothing changes.

      • by mr1911 ( 1942298 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @06:16PM (#36590114)
        Oh yeah, they "my superior told me to do it" defense.

        Yes, I condemn the rank and file TSA employees. Once you start doing the stupid shit people ask you to do, you are stupid too.
      • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @06:31PM (#36590310)

        in general they too loath what they have to do as a part of their job

        1. They signed up for the job, knowing that was what they were going to be told to do.
        2. They could refuse to grope people, out of moral convictions about inappropriately touching total strangers. Of course, anyone with those sorts of convictions would never have signed up to be a TSA agent.

        Sorry, but I feel no sympathy for them. The TSA officers who stand around groping people are not contributing anything of value to society, and deserve more scorn than they receive. We are talking about people who signed up to grope children, harass elderly women, and generally undermine whatever dignity America citizens had left.

  • Sounds like karma to me... no decent human being would be able to handle that job long-term. Only the most callous and sadistic stay.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Necroman ( 61604 )

      Someone posted about working as a TSA employee on here a few days ago. He said he worked there for a few months. Most of the TSA employees don't enjoy their jobs and get no pleasure out of screwing with passengers.

      A job is a job. It's unskilled work that will pay the bills, so people are going to take it if they can get it. If you understand that TSA employees probably hate their job as much as you hate them doing it, show them some respect and they'll be nice to you.

      • I'm pretty sure that respect is one of those things that you have to earn...
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          There is a basic level of respect you should show to everyone, until they do something to make you stop. At the most fundamental you should have respect for human rights, but I prefer to go a bit further try to at least assume people are somewhat rational beings capable of a basic level of understanding.

          One thing I have noticed is that in Japanese culture the default position is to assume the other person is genuine and well-intentioned, where as in the UK and US it is to assume they are not to be trusted u

      • What I have been wondering about ever since the first stories about TSA employees giving children pat-downs is this: how many TSA employees are actually pedophiles, who have found a legal and sanctioned method of inappropriately touching children? Or more broadly, a legal and sanctioned method of inappropriately touching anyone? The TSA is allowing and ordering its employees to touch people in ways that would get an ordinary person arrested for sexual misconduct.

        I have no doubt that the TSA gives some
      • Re:no tears shed. (Score:5, Informative)

        by locallyunscene ( 1000523 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:45PM (#36588796)
        It's predictable though that no one likes the goons. The tragedy is they won't have any hate left over for former DHS head Michael Chertoff [] who got them into the mess by lobbying for this scanner boondoggle. Of course the fact he made millions off them is completely irrelevant.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          The difference is that the TSA employees who are performing the pat-downs signed up for the job knowing that they would be inappropriately touching people. A corrupt politician making millions of dollars violating our rights is bad, sure; but it is much worse to be the person who knowingly signs up for a job that entails something that can only be described as legally sanctioned sexual misconduct, which includes otherwise illegal contact with children. The TSA employees are just as responsible for this lu
  • Not regulated... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by black soap ( 2201626 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:24PM (#36588542)
    But you see, security devices aren't regulated. Medical devices are regulated, but security devices aren't medical devices. Says so right on the label. Just take our word for it that this is safe.
  • There is no safe level of radiation - there are simply levels that don't significantly increase risk. It may well be discovered that hanging out by XRay sources isn't as un-bad for your health as previously assumed (perhaps due to not actually testing..) I'm so glad my tax dollars paid for all this tech and will now pay all the large sums that will get awarded in the inevitable law suits.. Yay.

  • in assuming it's the scanners before having properly ruled out Voodoo.
  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:27PM (#36588574)
    I suppose it's time to get comfortable with the idea of intimate relations with TSA screeners. It wouldn't be so bad but for the lack of choice in who does the screening, the lack of cuddling afterwards and total absence of a commitment. It just makes the whole ordeal seem so tawdry.
  • Well, Duh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:27PM (#36588578)

    Even if you bought into the bullshit about the scanners being safe (despite little or no testing), doesn't it seem a little obvious that something was up when they wouldn't let TSA employees were those little radiation badges that change color to indicate when you've had too much exposure?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by grub ( 11606 )

      These are TSA people you're talking about.

      If they were given radiation dose badges, the retards would get loaded on malt liquor and have races to see who's badge changes first in the scanners.
    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:41PM (#36588752) Journal
      It is a well known fact that applying skeptical empiricism sharply increases the risk of terrorist attacks.

      Only through obedience and faith can we hope to preserve our way of life against authoritarian fanaticism.
    • That's a bit of a worry. I used to have to wear a dosimeter just because I worked in the same building as an industrial x-ray machine. The operators had a wear a dosimeter even though the machine was behind two brick walls with a foot of sand filling the space between the walls. You don't just throw the monitoring gear away because you think the sheilding is good enough, you keep it to confirm it is good enough. There were real time sensors with alarms as well but the role of the dosimeter badges was to
  • Can we make corrupt politicians, and anyone who voted for the Patriot Act work these machines for a few months every year?
    • Re:Politicians (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sunshinerat ( 1114191 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:37PM (#36588694)

      We need random TSA screenings in and out of congress and senate.
      No exceptions, everyone could be a danger to the legislative branch, the best we can do is a fast line for senators and congressmen but the shoes have to come off.

      • Precisely. If every senator and congressthing and DHS/TSA employee (right up to the department heads) were required to undergo full "enhanced screening" including grope and scan every single time they entered or exited their offices, I think they might sing a different tune. Hell, we should make a cable TV channel: all politician pat-downs, all the time, where the viewers on an Internet site vote for who gets a strip search and who gets a scan and who has to go back and do it all again. As it is, the privil

    • Why, that would be like demanding that the children of politicians enlist in the army when we are at war!
  • But NIST does test for accuracy, and the other labs that test for safety would rely on that accuracy.

  • Counting on the manufacturer for safety testing. What could go wrong?

    • Counting on the manufacturer to sell you a solution to a problem that actually exists, and care whether they work or not: what could go wrong?
  • I actually talked about this with a TSA agent recently (during a pat-down). The trouble is that the X-ray "spot" in the scanners is actually fairly intense; the scanning machines are only safe if the spot in kept in motion., as it is supposed to be when in use. (The scanner is doing a raster scan, and looking for backscatter.) If there is any internal reflection, then someone outside the machine (i.e., a TSA agent) could get repeated exposures, which would not be good. The same might be true if people in th

    • Question: if the beam doesn't hit the dosimeter, will it read anything at all? As in, if the spot bounces off the inside of the machine and always hits the agent's calf because of where he's standing, and he gets skin cancer in his calf, would the dosimeter have detected that at all? Or is the reflection a wider beam than that?
    • Exactly. And is the main danger of the machines.

      Overall body exposure is very, very low when operating correctly, but if the beam stops and/or the operator repeatedly rescans isolated areas / uses higher resolution, the radiation exposure can be far higher.

      A related issue is that much of the radiation energy is concentrated in the skin - that alone raises safety questions.

      And how do the minimally trained TSA employees, let alone passengers, know for sure the machines are operating correctly? They don't, and

  • Are you trying to claim the government will mischaracterize the truth in order to push a political agenda that is convenient?

    That seems highly unlikely.

    • ... government will mischaracterize the truth

      The same way the Catholic Church "mischaracterized" people as heretics... to death.

  • I found the following link: []

    On this page is offered a dosimetric badge service costing $160/year. At that level, the user return their badge each month, receiving a new badge. They are given a monthly result reading, which should be higher time resolution than needed for this application.

    If the TSA employees really care, maybe 16 of them could each pitch in $10 for one badge to be worn by the person who runs the machine...
  • Seriously, how likely is it that cancer would be completely uniformly distributed?
    • by esocid ( 946821 )

      Seriously, how likely is it that cancer would be completely uniformly distributed?

      When you get a geographic/profession based cluster, you can usually hypothesize that it's an environmental cause, a.k.a. the machines generating radiation that they stand next to. So yes, you are completely correct, but your logic is completely incorrect.

  • Given that most TSA staff appear to be ill-educated mouthbreathers whose primary diet consists of cigarettes, Coke and Funyuns, shouldn't they consider general lifestyle factors as well?

  • by kentrel ( 526003 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @04:45PM (#36588794) Journal
    While I have no doubt these machines are the bane of our personal freedom, and may even be dangerous its also possible that cancer clusters show up randomly. They do in areas near cellphone towers, unrelated to radiation, simply because clusters happen randomly too.
  • Hm, Hm, Hm... I thought all the Fukushima threads had established that low-dose radiation is far from harmful, and actually promoting your health? Where are the nuclear proponents now? All I see in this thread so far is decrying of the evil government raining down destruction by means of scanning machines. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?
  • How long have these scanners been in place? How many TSA employees are there?

    How many are smokers?* How many have been diagnosed with cancer? What sort of cancers are we talking about here?

    It seems very early on for any meaningful pattern to have become visible.


    *- consider this shorthand for every common risk factor that might be relevant.

  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Monday June 27, 2011 @06:59PM (#36590620) Homepage Journal

    Some decades ago, X-ray machines were common. So common that you could go into a department store and get an X-ray to see how well your new shoes fit. Doctors routinely used continuous X-ray scanners (fluoroscopes) with dosages much higher and for much longer durations.

    Once people started to suspect that X-rays could cause cancer, it was straightforward to find out. Not trivial, but straightforward. Follow a lot of people and look for a correlation between exposure and cancer. Lo and behold, there is an effect.

    Once the effects were measured we could compare risks. One of the results was that the risk due to undiagnosed dental problems is far greater than the risk of cancer from an X-ray, so dental X-rays are a good trade-off.

    Fast forward to modern times and we have scanners. There is no evidence to suggest that these devices are safe, or unsafe. The manufacturer has a *model* of what should happen with the dosages, and the consensus of opinion is that the devices are safe... except that the result is based on the model, not evidence. Pick different assumptions to get a different model and there may be a risk.

    Some assumptions about the new technology are: a) The manufacturer is correctly reporting dosage, b) The radiation is blocked by the skin (or in reverse, the effects will concentrate in the skin), c) Exposures below a certain threshold pose no risk (versus, any exposure causes proportional risk)

    To put this in perspective, it's instructional to look at the history of MRI machines. Despite the fact that there is no known mechanism for magnetic fields interacting with the body and causing problems (notwithstanding metal implants &c), the FDA cautiously required progressive testing of the machines before they were deployed for common use.

    I approve of this sort of thing. It's one thing to believe that magnetic fields have no effect, but it's important to test things out before you try them on, for example, pregnant women.

    In summary, there has been no testing of the TSA scanners whatsoever. Their entire claim to safety rests on their belief that they know how the radiation will affect living tissue, but they cannot back that up with evidence.

    They are not scientists, and they have side-stepped the normal medical safety certification process that we take for granted.

    Scientists make conclusions based on evidence, politicians make conclusions based on models.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger