Full-Body Scanners Retested After Typos, Math Errors

TSA blames high radiation reading on math mistakes

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Travelers who've wondered about the safety of those controversial full-body scanners at the airport, may have new reason for worry. The TSA is in the process of retesting about 250 full-body scanners at Dulles International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and 36 other airports around the country.

    A certain type of machine showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected. But that reading was due to typos or math errors, not actual radiation, said Kawika Riley, of TSA. Reports found no machines showed high levels of radiation. The level of radiation the mistake showed was well below what someone would experience on a daily basis from background radiation.

    The machines in question use backscatter X-rays, which expose the traveler to very low levels of ionizing radiation. The TSA will retest every backscatter machine by the end of March.

    Even with the TSA assurance that travelers aren't at risk, there was cause for concern, some lawmakers said.

    "TSA has repeatedly assured me that the machines that emit radiation do not pose a health risk," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote. "Nonetheless, if TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?"

    The backscatter-type scanners were expected to be one focus on a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing Wednesday. Lawmakers were ready to tear into the TSA with questions, but the agency's representatives didn't show immediately, and Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, called the TSA's decision not to appear, "embarrassing and inexcusable."

    Other committee members defended the TSA, explaining that they only bowed out when they were placed on a witness panel with a group that has five ongoing lawsuits against TSA.

    "To sit at a table with the same group suing you is not appropriate," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

    Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., agreed, and the TSA was placed on a third panel and answered questions for almost hour after, Cummings's press secretary told NBC Washington.