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DHS X-ray Car Scanners Now At Border Crossings 295

OverTheGeicoE writes "CNET has a story on DHS' whole car X-ray scanners and their potential cancer risks. The story focuses on the Z Portal scanner, which appears to be a stationary version of the older Z Backscatter Vans. The story provides interesting pictures of the device and the images it produces, but it also raises important questions about the devices' cancer risks. The average energy of the X-ray beam used is three times that used in a CT scan, which could be big trouble for vehicle passengers and drivers should a vehicle stop in mid-scan. Some studies show the risk for cancer from CT scans can be quite high. Worse still, the DHS estimates of the Z Portal's radiation dosage are likely to be several orders of magnitude too low. 'Society will pay a huge price in cancer because of this,' according to one scientist."
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DHS X-ray Car Scanners Now At Border Crossings

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  • Here's a fix. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:16PM (#38708924)

    We should have a one-day travel strike, where nobody travels except on essential tasks. Repeat regularly until results are obtained.

    When the TSA starts costing businesses money, our bought-and-paid-for Congress will rein them in.

    (Heh, you probably thought a B&PFC wasn't good for anything.)

    • Re:Here's a fix. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:33PM (#38709046)
      The TSA should be abolished. This is getting ridiculous. I think their new plan is that if the "terrorists" have cancer they will be too weak to be a threat and the public will be too sick to be a nuisance as well. I'm slowly caring less and less about the TSA grunts, but why are they not required to wear radiation monitors for their own protection? The idiots in charge are not getting exposed to any of this, nor are they using know best practices for dealing with radiation.
      • by viperidaenz ( 2515578 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:43PM (#38709130)

        a) wouldn't terrorists with cancer be more likely to go on a suicide bombing mission?

        b) radiation monitors probably cost more than the value TSA puts on its front line staff

        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          The workers will get a pretty medal (designed in USA made in ... ) and expect to see a term like "national sacrifice zones" dusted off as a sound bite.
          • The workers will get a pretty medal (designed in USA made in ... ) and expect to see a term like "national sacrifice zones" dusted off as a sound bite.

            The workers who have to be around these souped up xray machines for a full shift five days a week will probably get bad simultaneous cases of several varieties of cancer much sooner than even the most frequent traveler going through it. Then the government will be on the hook for huge lawsuits and removing the machines. The trick is to avoid being said frequent traveler until then.

            • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )

              The trick is to avoid being said frequent traveler until then.

              Have been working on exactly that for about eleven years now. (With two lapses. Hey, you can figure out who I am!)

        • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

          Workplace-exposure radiation badges are actually reasonably inexpensive.

      • Re:Here's a fix. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:51PM (#38709190) Homepage Journal

        This is getting ridiculous.

        Getting? It was ridiculous eight years ago. At this point, they've crossed the line into gross criminal negligence, reckless endangerment, and willful malfeasance. They should not merely be abolished. They, along with everyone who voted to create them, should be sent to prison with very, very long terms to set an example for anyone who might contemplate usurping the Constitution of this great nation in the future.

        Throwing them out on the street with no jobs is way, way too good for these unAmerican traitors.

    • Re:Here's a fix. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NevarMore ( 248971 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:43PM (#38709118) Homepage Journal

      1. What is an 'essential task'? Travel for work? That vacation I planned and booked a year ago?
      2. Where have you been? People stopped travelling in droves after 9/11. You recall what happened? We bailed out the airlines.

      I share the sentiment, but its an oligolpoly at best. There are no alternatives to air travel.

    • It's too bad the airlines can't afford to buy congress. They're really the ones who are suffering by all this...
    • by Jiro ( 131519 )

      Strikes don't work well against government requirements--since their budget comes from taxes, going on strike isn't going to cause them any hardship whatsoever, like it would if you tried to boycott a store.

    • Here's a better fix. Prosecute the individuals operating the machines for assault with a deadly weapon. Keep doing it until no one is willing to work for the TSA anymore.
    • Re:Here's a fix. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by OhPlz ( 168413 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @11:57PM (#38710446)

      The states can get in on this too. New Hampshire has a proposal for a new state law to record abuses by the TSA. Here's a snippet of HB0628:

      "VII.(a) In order to assist in the accuracy of records created by law enforcement officers in paragraph III, all citizens being searched shall be afforded their rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution for the United States of America and under Part 1, Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution to record, or designated a person to record, using any type of audio and video recording device, or a device that records just audio or just video, all interactions with an agent described in paragraph I, even in the presence of a law enforcement officer, without exception."

      Paragraph I specifies the TSA by name.

      Followed by:

      "(c) If a law enforcement officer does not enforce the provisions of this chapter or makes it difficult for a citizen to exercise his or her rights as specified in this section, the law enforcement officer may be guilty of official oppression pursuant to RSA 643:1." []

      It passed in the house. Now it goes to the senate.

  • by game kid ( 805301 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:18PM (#38708938) Homepage

    This will definitely increase cancer risks. In particular, it allows the Department of Homeland Security to spread and thrive.

    • by Threni ( 635302 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:20PM (#38709360)

      But look at the health benefits if it stops people smoking weed. A car containing 10 kilos of weed contains nearly 8 kilos of weed, meaning that not only will someone go to jail for possessing 5 kilos of weed, but also the people the dealer would have supplied will be unable to obtain this dangerous drug and will perhaps instead turn to safe, legal drugs such as alcohol or tobacco.

      • A car containing 10 kilos of weed contains nearly 8 kilos of weed, meaning that not only will someone go to jail for possessing 5 kilos of weed,

        Wait, what? --ah, yes, the Policeman's Law of Illegal Drug Mass Equivalence. Perfectly sound science!

    • Not only that but regular medical X-rays already have a history of accidental radiation poisoning, poisoning several hundreds of patients over several weeks (until the cause was found because the radiation poisoning was a) localized and b) easily traced because everyone had access to decent health care and knew they were scanned at some point) because a single variable was off in a program or badly set by a technician.

      A single x-ray machine can do maybe 40 people a day given a 24 hour cycle. This thing will probably do 40 people every 15 minutes and has a much higher dosage by default. One or more of these things will not only kill people but it will also kill the workers and the cause won't be as easily found because cases will appear seemingly independently all over the world and in 3rd world countries (such as Mexico or people traveling internationally) so cases won't be as easily linked, people won't know they've been scanned by these things and many will die before the one is found out and then they'll only claim 1 faulty machine, implement some 'safeguards' and make empty promises but continue doing it until the next machine fails.

    • Definitely. It's over 300 Chest X-rays of radiation!

  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:18PM (#38708940)

    "One of the studies, which examined more than 1,000 adult patients at four hospitals, projected that the dose of radiation received in a single heart scan at age 40 would later result in cancer in 1 in 270 women and 1 in 600 men.

    Risks were lower for those who received a head CT scan: 1 in 8,100 women and 1 in 11,080 men would likely develop cancer from the radiation, the study said."

    These numbers don't have a direct translation for "Z Portal" cancer risk, but they're surprisingly high. Hopefully we get some very robust studies to examine the effects of the DHS scans in the near future. I guess it's too much to hope that the Department of Homeland Sarcoma would stop using the scanners until public and peer reviewed science exists to prove their safety.

    • by The Grim Reefer ( 1162755 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:26PM (#38708990)

      "One of the studies, which examined more than 1,000 adult patients at four hospitals, projected that the dose of radiation received in a single heart scan at age 40 would later result in cancer in 1 in 270 women and 1 in 600 men.

      To be fair, heart scans are the high mark for radiation dosage. Since you need to look at how the heart actually moves/cycles it take much longer to image compared to other parts of the body. There are also many different CT scanners. Some of the high slice scanners reduce the dosage considerably. The Toshiba and Philips 320/256 slice scanners can image the heart in a single rotation rather than continual helical rotations. There are also several new algorithms that use lower dosages with a worse s/n ratio then clean it up in post processing. Regardless, I don't expect DHS/TSA to concern themselves with proper radiation procedures, nor the same scrutiny towards calibration as medical devices.

      • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:48PM (#38709166) Homepage Journal

        At the same time, medical ethics permits that risk because the potential benefit is higher and accrues to the patient undergoing the risk. No such benefit exists for a DHS scan. We get all the risk but no benefit.

        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          I think this may turn into a racket actually. Look at the 'trusted traveller program' (or whatever it's called now). For $120/year (or whatever it is) you get a special pass and you don't have to submit yourself to either the body scans, the lines or the cavity search.

          Basically what will happen is first the TSA will screw up several times severely. The people will call for relief to the government who will make it become a privately owned entity and claim now "they'll have someone to hang". Then you'll be a

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        To be fair, none of it occurs in isolation. People don't go through life just having a a single xray. They have ct scans, numerous dental xrays, xrays for other fractures, exposed to radar from airports, own microwaves, exposed to emr from high voltage lines, fluorescent lights, background radiation and, radiation from the sun.

        So you asshats that like to point to your new additional radiation device as safe, as is in some fantasy world in operates on it's own and a person is not subject to other risks, w

    • And to further put it in context, CT scans are discouraged for children. The risk of cancer is something like 1 in 500 per scan.

  • Where is the truck sized one?

  • by JavaTHut ( 9877 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:40PM (#38709092) Homepage

    The average energy of the X-ray beam used is three times that used in a CT scan

    This assumes professional calibration! This should read "The average energy of the X-ray beam when calibrated by an apathetic TSA employee is a hell of a lot more than three times that used in a CT scan calibrated by a hospital technician"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward


      Who thinks these things will have some kind of "high power mode" for scanning lorries with thicker plates, or just because regular mode doesn't penetrate very well?

      Who thinks that "high power mode" will end up being turned on 90% of the time?

    • by rHBa ( 976986 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:40PM (#38709820)

      For its part, Homeland Security says the dose is safe and based on commonly accepted government standards (PDF) established by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement, which would permit 2,500 scans a year for each person. CBP's specifications also require the manufacturer to "perform an evaluation of the potential effect of radiation exposure on public safety on the proposed system." In addition, a CBP representative told CNET that the machines are currently only used in secondary inspections (most people go through just the primary inspection).

      I think, as a good will gesture, the Director/CEO of the TSA and his family should undergo 2,500 scans a year.

      Then I'd think about believing it's safe.

  • again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @07:50PM (#38709180) Homepage Journal

    So, in addition to the pile of civil liberties and massive mounds of cash, we also get to have cancer and miscarriages inflicted on innocents in the name of the failing war on drugs.

  • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:19PM (#38709336)
    No need for other terrorist attacks: the US govt (TSA) terrorizes and, possible, kills their own citizens. What's more surreal: the citizens pay for it!!
  • Since these are fixed emplacements, how can I be sure that the device isn't blasting me with X-Rays when I cross back from Canada?

  • by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:20PM (#38709352)

    The average energy of the X-ray beam used is three times that used in a CT scan

    This may or may not be a misleading statement. There's inadequate context and specificity in the article. "Energy" here could refer to the total amount of ionizing radiation energy delivered to a person in the scanner, in which case these portal scanners could be considered extremely dangerous, since a typical CT is already a substantial and potentially dangerous radiation dose. Alternatively, the word "energy" may refer to the energy of the individual x-ray photons. In other words, if a typical CT uses 100keV x-rays and these scanners use 300keV. That is probably what was meant. It's clinically meaningless. Within reasonable ranges of several tens of keV to several MeV, only the total absorbed dose really matters health-wise, not the energies of the individual particles.

    With that said, I still don't condone this type of intrusive inspection - even at the border.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First, I haven't read TFA but, I live 5 min form a us Canada border crossing. They have been doing this for months now. When they scan the vehicles they have the occupants exit the vehicle and stand in a "safe area" over 100 ft away from the truck doing the scanning.

  • by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:22PM (#38709374)

    I'm wondering what if you don't consent to the x-ray. Will they throw your ass in jail for not willing to cooperate? If you are a tourist from Canada, are you allowed to turn-around and not go to the states? (this will obviously complicate any future returns)

    It seems people have already had problems when they turn around at the airport or refuse the other xray equipment.

    I'd like to see a waiver form. Do you consent to an xray? Are you aware that these pose a cancer risk? Are you aware that these machines may not be sufficiently or professionally calibrated which may increase your risk of cancer?

    I'm a Canadian. So long as these scanners are in place, I'm going to reconsider any traveling to the US.

    This policy is in place to catch money/drug/weapon smugglers and presumably terrorists. None of this will halt.

    • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:40PM (#38709824) Homepage Journal
      Based on my experience with DHS checkpoints (at this time, things will undoubtedly get worse as time progresses), as long as you do not raise your voice or object, they will search your vehicle and all of your persons, including warrant checks for all. If they find anything like a gun or a small bag of drugs, they will run all of the checks and contact the local highway patrol to do the actual booking. This "keeps America safe" while generating plenty of revenue for the states.

      If you do raise your voice or object, they will charge you with a blanket offense like "insulting a federal officer" or "terrorist threats." Don't laugh - an unarmed transgender [] with both arms in the air was tazed in the crotch by the BLM pigs. S/he was later charged with "terrorist threats."

      Anyway, if you're clean, you will be released eventually, put on a watch-list, and harassed everywhere you go. God bless America.
  • Safety? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrquagmire ( 2326560 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:28PM (#38709410)
    The problem here is that these machines (and the ones like them at the airports) were never about public nor personal safety. They were always about creating the appearance that we are safer and making a few people with ties to the TSA quite wealthy. Until we actually fix the military-industrial-complex-like problems that plague our government at almost every level, we will increasingly have to deal with these stupid issues.
    • by hackus ( 159037 )

      You begin by fixing problems like that with a rather cheap device called a guillotine.


  • by Anonymous Coward

    ... one cancer at a time. The terrorists will thank you the favour. :P

  • by grimsnaggle ( 1320777 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @08:44PM (#38709518)

    Given how things are going in America, the next time I leave I may just not bother with the return.

  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Sunday January 15, 2012 @09:08PM (#38709654)

    I don't understand why the government officials that are funding/sponsoring this crap aren't forced to go through all the scanners and such.

    Why do they get to fly on private jets and such without having to go through the same invasive searches as the rest of us.

    Someone should make all of congress and the executive branch go through this crap before they board their own "all first class", caviar and champagne filled jets.

    How much fuel and money could we save if instead of putting congress/executive branch in first class chairs, we stuffed them into cattle car like the rest of us that fly?

    To quote Animal Farm, "All animals are created equal, yet some animals are more equal than others."

  • Can someone here please whip up a design for a magnatron projection van? You know, for entertainment purposes.

What is research but a blind date with knowledge? -- Will Harvey