By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun phasing out X-ray body scanners from a few major airports and replacing them with machines that use a faster -- and possibly safer -- technology.
The units were removed from LaGuardia earlier this summer and TSA is in the process of removing and reallocating the units at JFK (John F. Kennedy International). The X-ray scanners are also being swapped out at Boston Logan International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O'Hare and Orlando.
The new “millimeter” machines use radio waves instead of X-rays, which have been criticized by some radiation experts, and eliminate the need for TSA agents to screen countless graphic images of naked travelers. A generic outline of a body is produced instead.
TSA says safety has nothing to do with the phase-out. TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday that the move was made to “maximize the efficiency and deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) checkpoint scanners.”
The millimeter machines require less space and reduce checkpoint wait times, she said. The X-ray scanners will be moved to smaller airports.
“TSA is strategically moving smaller, faster AIT units to busier airports and moving the larger units to airports with less passenger volume,” Farbstein said. “This move will add additional units outfitted with automated target recognition (ATR) software, which enhances privacy even more by providing a generic body outline, and eliminates the need for a separate officer in another to room to participate in screening.”
Many travelers are relieved the X-ray machines are being removed. “I hate them. They’re very invasive,” Tatiana Puri, a frequent flyer, told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday. “They put you on display, like the people they’re trying to protect us against.” Puri, who flies roughly every three months, said she would feel better about flying when the new scanners are installed. “You still want to feel protected, but you don’t want to feel your rights were violated.”
Mark, from Sheepshead Bay, says he’s not concerned about which machine the TSA uses. “Please, you could get hit by a bus. The world’s a messed up place and you’ll find problems everywhere. Look at the level of contaminants in the food we eat and the water we drink.”
But the new scanners may encourage Brooklyn resident and mom April McClain to take to the skies for the first time. McClain, a cashier in the food business, told the Brooklyn Eagle that she has always been afraid to fly, and the possibility of X-ray radiation didn’t help. “My mother passed from cancer – that’s another reason,” she said. “They weren’t sure.” She’s thinking about flying next February, and the new scanners are encouraging her, she said. “It’s better for health, and it’s faster at the airport.”
The European Union prohibits the use of X-ray body scanners “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety."