Communion Of Dreams

A quick follow-up…
November 28, 2010, 10:11 am
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, Politics, Privacy, Science, tech, Terrorism

…to yesterday’s post, in which I focused primarily on the civil liberties aspect of the latest TSA security procedures.

I am not competent to evaluate the technical or engineering safety of the equipment being used for full-body scanning. But this guy is:

I am a biochemist working in the field of biophysics. Specifically, the lab I work in (as well as many others) has spent the better part of the last decade working on the molecular mechanism of how mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, result in cancer. The result of that work is that we now better understand that people who have a deficient BRCA2 gene are hypersensitive to DNA damage, which can be caused by a number of factors including: UV exposure, oxidative stress, improper chromosomal replication and segregation, and radiation exposure.

That’s the into to a post of his about the safety of one type of the new scanners. You should read the whole thing – it is well written for an intelligent lay person, though some of the technical stuff might be beyond your ken. It isn’t hyperbolic, but it is *very* sobering. Here’s the key paragraph which leapt out at me:

Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues. Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant’s testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!

This isn’t the only serious assessment of this technology which has been critical – in fact, he is largely writing in reaction to the government’s effort to discredit a letter of concern about the technology from a group of scientists and doctors at the University of California at San Francisco. I think the procedures should be changed based purely on civil liberties concerns, as I have written previously. But when you add in the technical concerns, I think the need to stop the use of these procedures becomes even more apparent.

Jim Downey

Via BB – which prompted me to take the time and go read the whole post, though I had seen references to it elsewhere previously.

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