'Tis the season to trek over the river and through the woods, which these days is usually done via the skies. That means navigating security checkpoints at airports, and there are a few things you might want to know about passenger screening technologies.
Typically, there are two kinds of scanners used in U.S. airports. Millimeter wave scanners electronically search passengers with radio waves while backscatter x-ray scanners use x-rays. It's the latter device that's now garnering attention. Several studies of the screening technology say that a small number of cancers will likely result from each year's worth of passenger scans.
It should be pointed out that the radiation we're exposed to when we walk through a screener at the airport is equal to the amount received in just a few minutes of flying, and the TSA says the machines meet its safety standards. But you should also know that these devices have just been officially banned in the European Union "in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety."
If you don't like the idea of being x-rayed or scanned at the airport, you have other options: Air passengers are legally allowed to forgo scanning and request a security pat-down instead.
Airports generally have signs in front of the scanners telling you which technology -- millimeter wave or backscatter x-ray -- is being used, but you can also tell from the look of the machines themselves. The millimeter wave device is generally a round glass booth that looks like a futuristic pay phone while the x-ray machines consist of two big blue boxes you walk between or a wall you're asked to stand against.
Choose the option that works best for you. Safe travels this season!