The Transportation Security Administration and a recent study assure passengers that full-body scanners used for security screening at the nation's airports are safe.
Many travelers at Southwest Florida International Airport say they would rather get screened and be safe.
"I don't have a problem going through them because I like the fact they search for items that may not show up on a scanner," said Julie Panzera, 43, recently while waiting for her flight back home to Columbus, Ohio, at the Fort Myers airport.
"It's a good safety precaution."
Panzera walked through the so-called backscatter scanners once at the Tampa International Airport. It took seconds for her to walk through the backscatter, which appears like two different sides of dark color boxes and uses low levels of radiation to create an image that resembles a chalk etching to detect concealed objects.
At the Fort Myers airport, travelers walk through a millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), which looks like a large, metallic-colored phone booth and uses radio frequency waves to detect concealed objects. A generic image is generated with yellow boxes indicating areas that require further inspection.
"TSA's job is to keep the traveling public safe and the use of advanced imaging technology is critical to mitigate known and evolving threats," TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said in an email.
Millimeter wave technology screening is safe for all passengers, Koshetz said. The technology meets all known national and international health and safety standards.
"Millimeter wave uses harmless electromagnetic waves to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body," she said.
Full-body scanners used for security screening at the nation's airports don't expose passengers to dangerous levels of radiation, according to a study by the Marquette University College of Engineering, which was published in the June issue of "Medical Physics," an international journal of medical physics research and practice.
It concluded that radiation from so-called backscatter scanners passes beyond a passenger's skin to reach 29 organs — including the heart and brain. But the radiation levels are considerably lower than those of other X-ray procedures such as mammograms, the study said.
One congresswoman was skeptical, saying the study was based on data provided by the TSA.
"We do not truly know the risk of this radiation exposure over multiple screenings, for frequent fliers, those in vulnerable groups, or TSA's own employees operating the machines," U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement.
Some travelers refuse to use them, while others don't mind.
"I'm shocked when people seem inconvenienced because it's an added security to make sure we are safe," Panzera said.
Koshetz said if a passenger chooses to not go through an AIT, the passenger will receive alternative screening, which will include a pat-down.
The new software in the millimeter wave AIT used at Southwest Florida International Airport and Charlotte County Airport features a computer monitor attached to the advanced imaging technology machine.
When the new software automatically detects potential threat items, including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing on a passenger during screening, a generic outline of a person appears on a monitor. The monitor is attached to the AIT unit highlighting any areas on the passenger that require additional screening, Koshetz explained.
The generic outline is identical for all passengers. If no anomalies are detected, the text "OK" appears on the monitor with no outline.
As is currently the procedure with imaging technology screening, Koshetz said, officers will work with the passenger to resolve any anomalies detected, such as patting down a passenger on areas of the body highlighted on the screen.
Cherie Scarvelis, who recently was waiting for her flight back home to Detroit at Southwest Florida International, said she has gone through the backscatter scanner at the Orlando and Detroit airports.
"I don't like it, but I have to get on the plane," said Scarvelis.
Scarvelis said she prefers the backscatter scanner, rather than a pat-down.
However, the 47-year-old said she does worry about excessive exposure to radiation.
Backscatter technology was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Results confirmed the radiation doses for the individuals being screened, operators, and bystanders were well below the dose limits specified by the American National Standards Institute, Koshetz said.
Other airports, such as Orlando International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, use the backscatter imaging technology.
"I'm for it, if it keeps you safe in the air," said Bill Hosp, 64, of Punta Gorda who was picking up his granddaughter at Southwest Florida International.
"It's kind of intrusive, but in today's world it's the way it is."