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Most Commonly Asked Questions about Metal Detectors and X-ray Screening Machines

There is nothing for you to worry about. X-ray machines used by federal and state agencies to screen briefcases and packages give much lower doses than x-ray machines in hospitals and medical clinics almost immeasurable. They are designed this way because they do not have to see as much detail, are not designed for looking into very large objects, and are usually looking for things that really "stand out" on images (like metal).

Q: Will the radiation from the VA Police screening device, like those used in airports, affect the items that pass through them such as baby bottles, food items, plants, electronic devices (cell phone), or drug products (like injectable nitroglycerin for a heart condition)?

A: The radiation exposure from these devices is too low to affect any items passing through (other than certain types of camera film which can darken) even from repeated exposures. Additionally, in case you were wondering, there isn't any residual radiation in exposed materials after the exposure is complete either.

Q: Will the VA Police walk through metal detectors have any effect on service animals?

A: The radiation exposure from these devices is too low to affect approved service animals or other animals that need to be security-screened. If it is just the pet carrier that needs to be screened, you can put the carrier on the conveyor belt and walk or carry the service animal through the metal detector portal instead of having the animal go through the x-ray unit.

Q: Does radiation from a security screening device, that will be used by the VA Police like those affect clothing if it passes through the screening a lot?

A: The amount of radiation to which the clothing is exposed is too small to degrade the materials. The manufacturers of these scanners indicate the radiation exposure to an item from one scan is about one-tenth the exposure we receive every day from naturally occurring radiation (commonly called background radiation).

Q: Can I put my hand inside a screening x-ray machine to get an x ray to look for injury?

A: No, absolutely not. These systems are not designed for medical diagnosis and will not provide appropriate image detail or contrast. X -rays of people should only be done with a doctor's order to do so and by professionally trained x-ray technician.

Q: If the VA Police security screener stops the conveyor to observe the x-ray image for a longer time, does that mean the item on the conveyer gets more radiation?

A: The scanners used for hand luggage at most airports take short single-shot images of items. The radiation is turned on for the same fixed amount of time for each item. The images are digital and held on the screen until the next coat, purse, or other item is processed. Thus, if the screeners choose to look at the images for an extended visual analysis, no additional radiation is used. If the item is removed from the scanner and put back onto the belt for a second time, however, it will then receive additional irradiation. In other words, these x-ray scanners are not "fluoroscopic" in nature like the old machines from the mid-20th century which were used to fit shoes, nor are they like angiographic or surgical x-ray machines. They are more similar to simple chest x rays, only performed using less radiation.

Q: Will the walk through metal detector damage my pace maker?

A: The effects of metal detectors on pacemakers have been minimal to non-existent for the majority of individuals who use them at airports, federal and State buildings. Rare effects that may occur include inhibiting the pacemaker from stimulating the heart for one to two beats. However, individuals will not notice any symptoms when this does when exposed to radiation from a metal detector. The most common effect of a metal detector to a pacemaker is having the device set up the alarm if the pacemaker is constructed from metal.

Q: Women who are pregnant-

A: Women who are pregnant often have a concern about the effects of radiation from a metal detector. There are no health risks to pregnant women from going through a walk through metal detector or from operating the device that are currently known. These devices are well shielded and emit a low level of radiation that is safe and poses no health risks to a pregnant woman.