This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.

New X-Ray Machines at Airports Pose Fog Danger

In recent years, conventional wisdom has been that all X-ray equipment used in airports in the USA and most such equipment around the world have been generally safe for film. However, there is a new generation of X-ray inspection units that are already deployed in undisclosed airports in the United States and at international airports in other countries for viewing checked luggage. And this equipment uses X-ray doses that can affect your film.

Why these new units? To protect the traveler better. These units can spot not only metal objects such as weapons or parts of an explosive device, but also plastic explosives, such as Semtex, that have been implicated in some aircraft in-flight explosions, such as the Pan Am flight that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, some years back.

More safety in the air? That's good.

But they add a new possibility of fogging film. For us photographers, that's bad. What to do? Industry experts advise that you carry all film in your carry-on luggage and pack no film in luggage you check. Request hand-inspection of your carry-on film, rather than put it through the X-ray devices used for carry-on luggage. Why? First, while the traditional X-ray devices that "looked into" your carry-on luggage did not fog low-speed film, some of these new high-powered X-ray devices are being used for carry-on luggage. Second, cumulative X-raying of film on a multiple segment flight can have an effect on your film - even low-speed film.

So we advise that from now on, you request hand-inspection of all your film and of any cameras that are loaded with film. It pays to be safe.

Why not take these new precautions just at airports that are using the new X-ray equipment? Good idea, but for obvious reasons airport officials refuse to identify which airports have this sophisticated equipment and which don't. No reason to tip the bad guys, right? Makes sense, and besides, more and more airports are installing the new generation of imaging devices.

While airport safety is not a laughing matter, we did hear one humorous sidelight to all this: Remember that plastic explosives are a very dense, squishy, organic material. The new X-ray machines can spot such materials. Well, it seems that last Christmas a number of passengers flying out of England were summarily hauled off their flights because their luggage had flunked the X-ray test. Squishy masses resembling "plastique" had been detected in their suitcases. Turns out, to the embarrassment of Security officials, it wasn't a wave of British mad-bomber disease. Rather, the culprit that fooled the new X-ray machines was that nearly inedible (to us Americans, anyway) holiday staple - a proper English pudding!

Since then, red-faced authorities have found a way to tell plastique from pudding.

Ah, progress!

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