By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was on the cutting edge of body-scanning technology when the Transportation Security Administration installed “backscatter” scanners at the airport in May 2010. The South Florida airport was just the 27th airport in the country to get the technology. Today, about 250 airports use backscatter scanners, including the airport in Orlando.
But just over a year later, the Broward County airport is now leading the opposition against use of the body scanners. Last week, Broward County commissioners voted 5-4 to demand the TSA show that the scanners do not increase the risk of cancer — or take them out of the airport.
The county and its airport are the first in the nation to take such a stand. It follows a November decision by the European Union to ban the machines until further studies show them to be harmless.
The actions are the result of an investigative series by ProPublica and PBS NewsHour that reported that TSA had glossed over negative studies about the scanners. According to ProPublica/PBS Newshour‘s reporting, anywhere from six to 100 airline passengers in the U.S. could get cancer as a result of the low-level radiation emitted by the machines. The TSA disputes that the technology poses any health hazards.
Broward County Mayor John Rodstrom isn’t buying it. He told the Sun Sentinel newspaper that he still isn’t convinced despite spending significant time speaking with TSA officials about the backscatter scanner.
“I’m already getting bombarded with all this radiation,” said Rodstrom, a frequent flier. “I don’t want any more.”
And Commissioner Ilene Lieberman pointed out that recent history is full of products that the federal government once considered safe, but now views as hazardous. Among them: saccharin, red dye No. 2 and asbestos.
Not helping the backscatter scanner’s case are continued concerns about privacy issues. While other scanners, such as “millimeter wave” scanners at airports in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, use software that simply shows a generic image on the screen, the backscatter has not yet developed that privacy safeguard.
Rodstrom said he may push to replace the backscatter scanners at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport with the millimeter-wave machines.