Caixin
Oct 13, 2016 06:37 PM

Ban on Passenger X-ray Scans at Chengdu Airport After Outcry

(Beijing) — Environmental protection authorities have ordered Chengdu's international airport to stop using X-ray scanners to screen travelers during security checks amid rising public concern over radiation exposure.

An official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection's (MEP) National Nuclear Safety Administration told Caixin on Wednesday that the ministry has advised its provincial branch to take action against the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport authority in the southwestern province for violating national radiation-safety rules.

The Sichuan Environmental Protection Department, a local branch of the MEP, issued a notice on Wednesday ordering Chengdu airport to immediately remove its X-ray body scanners as it continued its investigation.

The moves came after internet users began to express concern last month over potential health hazards linked to radiation exposure after the airport installed full-body X-ray scanners at security checks and amid reports that railway authorities in the city were also said to be adopting the technology.

Both the airport and railway authorities in Chengdu appeared unfazed by the public backlash to the move, saying in separate statements released earlier this month that they would press on with the installation of X-ray machines, which they described as necessary counterterrorism measures.

In a statement on Oct. 1, the scanner's manufacturer, Anhui Qiluda Optical Electronic Sci-tech Ltd. Co., said that the screening equipment used only tiny doses of radiation, which met national standards for X-ray exposure.

However, the MEP said in a document released on Monday that under a 2002 national standard on radiation safety, such equipment should not be used in large public venues.

Instead, it said, institutions that intend to adopt the technology must be able to justify and strictly limit the scope of its use in terms of locations and groups of people affected.

An MEP official quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said a passenger would receive roughly a 0.77-sievert dose of radiation in each X-ray scan, according to ministry-commissioned tests, and its impact on the health of an individual would remain minimal.

However, the issue remained that the mass use of such screening facilities at airports, railway stations and ports across China could not be justified, the official told Xinhua.

Professor Wang Zuoyuan at National Institute for Radiological Protection, under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Beijing News that exposure to X-rays, a form of ionizing radiation, could increase the chance of developing cancer.

"A rule of thumb for protection is to not get exposed to it unless people have to," Wang said.

Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com); editor Calum Gordon (calum@caixin.com)

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