Nearly all modern airports nowadays are kitted out with metal detectors and scanners to keep us safe, but there has been some speculation on whether or not these detectors emit radiation when we pass through.
Metal detectors at the airport nowadays only give off a tiny amount of radiation exposure, however, there was a time when backscatter x-ray scanners detectors did give off harmful radiation which is why they are no longer used.
To give you all the important info you need about travelling through airports and radiation we’ve put together an extensive guide below which will cover what type of radiation airport scanners give off, which type of metal detectors have risks of radiation, how these metal detectors work and whether or not you can avoid radiation at the airport.
What Type Of Radiation Can Be Found In Airport Metal Detectors?
- 1 What Type Of Radiation Can Be Found In Airport Metal Detectors?
- 2 Which Types Of Metal Detector Emits Harmful Radiation?
- 3 What Items Can Airport Metal Detectors Pick Up?
- 4 Do Millimetre Wave Machines Emit Radiation?
- 5 How Much Radiation Am I Exposed To In An Airport Metal Detector?
- 6 How Do Airport Metal Detectors Work?
- 7 Can I Opt Out Of An Airport Metal Detector?
- 8 Frequently Asked Questions About Metal Detectors & Radiation
- 9 Last Words
Airport metal detectors have two kinds of radiation that can be found in their metal detectors, non-ionizing radiation and harmful ionizing radiation.
We will discuss what both of these forms of radiation mean below for your health.
Ionizing radiation is a form of radiation that has a very high radiation risk due to the amount of energy it carries, the radiation is so strong in this form that it pushes the electrons out of the atoms which is what’s called ionization.
This has been reported to be used on airport body scans and airport x-ray machines for baggage.
Non-ionizing radiation is not harmful to airline passengers since the levels of radiation are low and not ionizing, the electro-magnetic field creative by the non-ionizing radiation spectrum has simply enough power to vibrate the atoms in electrons rather than remove them, even your phone emits non-ionizing radiation.
Which Types Of Metal Detector Emits Harmful Radiation?
Now we know the two types of radiation and which one is damaging radiation we can discuss which metal detectors at the airport could have high does of radiation.
Backscatter Passenger Scanners
Backscatter passenger scanners have no longer been used in airports since 2003 for several passenger privacy reasons, they used to give off low energy x-ray radiation when performing scans from either side of the wall once the passenger is inside.
Although they still gave off low doses of radiation, they were speculated to be unsafe plus showed more or less a nude body of the passenger which violated the privacy rights of the passenger passing through.
To know if you are passing through a backscatter scanner you should check to see if you are passing through two large blue boxes which indicate it’s as backscatter, they also ask you to raise your arms in these boxes when passing through and stand in a sideways position.
Luggage X-Ray Scanners
Luggage x-ray scanners also give off pretty high doses of radiation, hence why the scan is done inside a black box to protect the security officer from radiation exposure.
The radiation given off in these Baggage x-ray machines are much higher than what’s used to scan your carry on luggage and can even wipe any film off clean in your checked luggage.
What Items Can Airport Metal Detectors Pick Up?
Security scanners can get flagged up to metal and non-metal objects on a passenger, these show as different colours on the image of the passenger so the security official knows where to search.
We’ve listed just some of the items that could set off an airport scanner below.
- Body piercings.
- Hair extensions.
- Underwire bras.
- Bobby pins.
Do Millimetre Wave Machines Emit Radiation?
Millimetre-wave machines are what is most commonly used inside of airports nowadays, they emit non-ionising radiation which is fine in low levels from the millimetre waves.
The magnetic fields in these security devices are what picks up metal objects and weapons, they are not so clear however so a pat-down can sometimes be required after to confirm identification.
Most of these security machines look like a circular phone booth, you typically have to raise your arms and the machine will do a circular scan around your body.
How Much Radiation Am I Exposed To In An Airport Metal Detector?
The amount of non-ionising radiation you are exposed to from a body scanner is only 0.1 microsieverts of radiation per scan, you are exposed to much more radiation on the plane itself, in comparison, having a standard chest x-ray at the hospital could expose you to 100 microsieverts of radiation.
You are exposed to more radiation from day to day life such as being on your phone than the minor amount from a metal detector.
Can Pregnant Women Pass-Through An Airport Metal Detector?
Pregnant women are fine to pass through an airport metal detector without any risks and effects of radiation, you can always ask for a pat-down from the security officer instead too if you feel more comfortable.
How Do Airport Metal Detectors Work?
So as you can understand what your exposing yourself to when you pass through an airport metal detector we’ve discussed in further depth exactly how these detectors work below.
Millimetre-wave security systems work with a pulse induction system inside, there is a coil of wire on one side of the machine which acts as a transmitter and receiver, this then sends out an electrical current in waves which then turns into a magnetic field, when the pulses end and the field collapses the machine then makes a reflected pulse, around 100 pulses are reflected per second.
When a metal item passes through the airport detector the reflected pulse hold and repeats acting as almost an echo to alert the security officer something metal has been detected. Newer airport security has multiple coils to speed up detection all over the body.
Can I Opt Out Of An Airport Metal Detector?
If you would rather not go through an airport metal detector due to airport security health concerns you can happily ask for a pat-down from security personnel instead, going through the screening is a personal choice.
Frequently Asked Questions About Metal Detectors & Radiation
What are the effects of radiation on our health?
Long term health effects such as radiation sickness and skin issues can occur from being exposed to a high radiation source over long periods.
Does a metal detection wand give off radiation?
Yes, a metal detector wand can give off radiation but in small non-harmful amounts.
Can metal detectors see lead-based materials?
There was a time when people assumed that airport metal detectors could not detect lead but nowadays they can detect small amounts.
Is there a method of security screening without radiation?
Yes, you can simply opt for a security pat-down rather than stepping through a scanner.
Why were backscatter x-ray scanners stopped?
Backscatter x-rays were stopped due to fear of radiation dose plus the image they show of passengers which are nude images.
Can an airport metal detector see electronic devices?
Yes, since these devices contain electromagnetic fields and pieces of metal they will trigger the alarm on these metal detectors.
What is the radiation limit for a human?
A report on radiation protection states that the average human being should not exceed more than 500 millirems per year of radiation, any more could lead to an issue of radiation safety on their health.
Why is airport passenger screening done with metal detectors?
Most harmful items such as guns and other weapons are made out of metal, hence why metal detectors were the best solution for finding threats before passengers could board a plane.
Does luggage carry residual radiation?
No, the effects of the x-ray scanner on your items cannot cause them to carry radiation, the only effect they could have is ruining any film you have packed inside of the luggage.
How harmful is the radiation from an airport metal detector?
From a backscatter machine, the radiation has more risk to your health than a millimeter device, a millimeter device (most commonly used nowadays) emits only .01 µSv of radiation while eating a banana exposes you to 0.098 µSv, so radiation emitted through these devices is near to nothing.
To conclude, metal detectors do have radiation, but most of them emit non-ionising radiation which is not harmful to our health, the only metal detector which can emit dangerous radiation is a backscatter x-ray machine which is now no longer used in airports, the x-ray machine used to scan your luggage also releases radiation in high amounts.
If you are worried about the effects of radiation from metal detectors you can always opt-out of passing through the devices and have a hand pat-down instead to pass through security.