"Backscatter" X-ray machines, which bombard your body with radiation at the airport, are a subject of controversy in the US. Not in Europe, Mother Jones reports — the machines are now banned throughout the entire EU over cancer risks. Good.
The simple fact is that even a "low" X-ray exposure increases cancer risk, if only by a small amount. If you fly frequently, those small amounts add up. And that's not even including the government agency seeing me naked side of the issue. But the radiation risk is enough for EU regulators, who declared the following this week:
In order not to risk jeopardising citizens' health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports. All other technologies, such as that used for mobiles phones and others, can be used provided that they comply with EU security standards.
Backscatter machines are particularly risky because the radiation bursts are absorbed directly into the outer tissue of the body, not distributed evenly throughout. This concentrated absorption has made doctors and cancer experts around the world question the US government's Ah, c'mon guys, it's fine! attitude. Last year, NPR quoted one from Columbia University's centre for Radiological Research:
"There really is no other technology around where we're planning to X-ray such an enormous number of individuals. It's really unprecedented in the radiation world."
So the EU's done the smart thing and decided to remove from the world yet another thing that can maybe give you cancer someday. There's no need to use them. Radiowave scanners that pose no cancer threat work well, and there's always the old pat-down — I'll happily take a guy's hands on my crotch over X-rays on my crotch.