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TSA: First Do No Harm

In October, 2009, news broke that CT scanners in several hospitals had been calibrated incorrectly and operated in the wrong mode for a year and a half, exposing hundreds of patients to 6 – 13 times the intended dose of radiation, putting many at risk for developing new cancer on top of their pre-existing conditions.  These CT scanners were located in top-flight hospitals such as Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles and operated by the best-trained technicians following the manufacturer’s guidelines and yet nobody – in eighteen months – spotted this gross error.  The lawsuits resulting from this egregious cock-up continue to wend their way through court.

How could this screw-up happen?  From a article quoting from a New York Times August, 2010 update:

“…the FDA has been unable to determine exactly what went wrong.  According to the Times, however, officials at Cedars Sinai have a theory:

‘GE offers a feature on its CT scanner that can automatically adjust the dose according to a patient’s size and body part.  It is, a GE manual says, a “technical innovation that significantly reduces radiation dose.”

At Cedars Sinai and Glendale Adventist, technicians used the automatic feature – rather than a fixed, predetermined radiation level – for their brain perfusion scans.

But a surprise awaited them: when used with certain machine settings that govern image clarity, the automatic feature did not reduce the dose – it raised it.’

…GE says the hospitals should have known how to safely use the automatic feature…GE also faulted hospital technologists for failing to notice dosing levels on their treatment screens…The hospitals counter that GE trainers never fully explained the automatic feature…Cedars Sinai said GE never mentioned the “counterintuitive” nature of the automatic feature during multiple training sessions there.

Experts interviewed by the Times also faulted the scanners, saying a better designed machine might have prevented the overdoses by alerting operators or shutting down when a dose got too high.

(emphasis mine)

American citizens are now being asked to enter unquestioningly and unflinchingly into Back-Scatter Radiation machines to Keep America Safe ™ and heaped with verbal abuse and threats of legal action by the highest level of our Government if we resist.  My questions for Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, John Pistole and Barack Obama:  . . .

* How much radiation is a citizen exposed to each time through?
* Is the radiation dose calibrated by size & weight of the individual, or is it “one dose fits all”?
* How often are the machines calibrated?
* How often are the machine programs checked to ensure they are set to the appropriate radiation level?
* Are there any alarms built into the system to alert technicians to a radiation error?
* Who is in charge of calibrating and servicing the machine?  Is this person an employee of the TSA or the Manufacturer?  If the TSA, how much training has the technician received?  If the Manufacturer, is there any outside oversight done by in independent, conflict-free entity over the Manufacturer’s work?  Or is this new technology considered propriety and no outside review allowed, a la the error-ridden electronic voting machines?
* Are there adequate numbers of fully trained, competent technicians to service and maintain the Back-Scatter Radiation machines currently installed, much less the ones slated for installation across the Country?
* Are TSA employees allowed to wear radiation badges to track the amount of radiation possibly escaping from the machines exposing the employees to an increased chance for developing cancers?
* Has the Government set aside a few more billion of our tax-payer money to fund the successful lawsuits that will inevitably occur when the answers to the above questions fall on the side of facts & science and not the Government’s faith-based fear mongering, political grandstanding and personal pocket lining?  Alternately, has the Government come up with its “get out of jail free” legislation yet to immunize Michael Chertoff’s client at the expense (in every sense of the word) of the American people, yet again?

When I get x-rays at the dentist my body is shielded by a lead cloak.  When I receive a mammogram the dose is calibrated to my specifications and the technicians leave the room while the radiation is discharged.  Yet the American people are expected to take “Trust Us” as all the proof necessary to expose our bodies to an unknown amount of radiation.  “Trust Us’ that the photos of our exposed bodies are deleted in a timely manner, if at all.  “Trust Us” that a government apparatus that has systematically stripped us of our rights one by one from 2001 on – every piece of our personal information dumped into a government contractor database, every phone call, e-mail, plane trip, medical record, bank record – and still the best our Government can do as of November, 2010 to Keep America Safe ™ is to treat each and every one of us as a terrorist until proven otherwise – that this Government has the ability to ensure their new fancy-pants Back-Scatter Radiation machines work, work well, and don’t ever get programmed incorrectly or malfunction?

Until the above questions are answered to We the People’s satisfaction, fucking spare us your “Do As We Say, Not As We Do” hypocritical bullshit.

And Claire “Keeping It Classy” McCaskill?  I have actually undergone one of the “enhanced pat downs” (I’ll let emptywheel express my thoughts on that abominable choice of language), and uh, there was no love there, only equal doses of rage and humiliation.

But hey, if the procedure is no biggie, by all means let you and your esteemed colleagues lead the way.  Have your buddy Mikey Chertoff bring one of the machines onto the floor of the Senate, grab a few TSA employees from Reagan National, and have each and every one of our vaunted leadership pass through the machine then get the full-frontal pat-down in full view of C-Span.  Remember: the required stance is legs wide, arms high (see your Abu Ghraib photos for guidance).  To make it truly representational, you will of course need to bring in your grandchildren (the younger the better!) to share the experience.  Sasha, Malia, we’re saving a place in line!  Only then can you open your mouth to opine on the relative appropriateness of this privacy-destroying, dignity stripping experience.

A few CT machines in a handful of hospitals exposed several hundred patients to an over-dose of radiation over the course of eighteen months.

One malfunctioning machine at one airport will over-dose thousands in the course of one week.

Feeling safe yet?

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