[ RadSafe ] Airport x-ray exposure

Robert Barish robbarish at verizon.net
Thu Dec 21 00:18:23 CST 2006

As a footnote to the story about the infant who received medical scrutiny following passage through the airport x-ray unit, it may be of interest to note that in 2002 Jesse Drucker, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, flew around the world with radiation measuring instruments that I suggested to him for an article he wrote on in-flight radiation exposure. 

He was able to measure both the low-LET components and neutrons with his instrument package. What makes this footnote relevant is that the Journal printed a graph of the measured dose rate as a function of time, showing the smooth rise as the plane reached cruising altitude and the decline as it descended in its approach to landing. 

What makes this germain to the present incident is the fact that Jesse had the equipment turned on as it passed through the screening x-ray unit before he boarded. It is easy to see from the graph that the measured dose rate was higher while at the airlines cruising altitude than it was inside the screening x-ray unit at the security checkpoint. As the transit through the screening machine takes seconds, and the flight duration could be hours, it's pretty clear where the "risky" exposure takes place! 

Maybe we should set up medical facilities at airports to check arriving passengers for the possible harm they suffered from their in-flight radiation exposure. I'd set the fee low enough so that everyone could afford it, and high enough to allow me to buy a condo in the recently renovated Plaza Hotel. 

The Journal article is available online but, unfortunately, it costs money to read it, as seems to be the practice with many newspaper stories reprinted online that are more than a week or two old.

Best wishes for the holidays.

Robert Barish, Ph.D., CHP

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