What you need to know:
- There is widespread use of handheld metal detectors, walk-through metal detectors, and luggage scanners by private security personnel at airports, seaports, train stations, malls, buildings, hotels, public spaces and various checkpoints nationwide.
- Prolonged exposure to X-ray radiation is a conceivable health and safety risk for the general public as they interact with the equipment.
Kenyans may have been exposed to dangerous radiations for the longest time, given the widespread use of handheld metal detectors, walk-through metal detectors, and luggage scanners by private security personnel at airports, seaports, train stations, malls, buildings, hotels, public spaces and various checkpoints nationwide.
Metal detectors apply electromagnetic stimulation to detect any kind of metal. But most thorough metal detectors use low-radiation X-rays to achieve their tenacity. The use of detectors became prevalent in Kenya as a result of rising instances of terror attacks.
All along, however, there have never been regulations regarding the use of these gadgets. And now, the government is moving to regulate the largely unregulated field.
In a letter drafted by the Kenya Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (KNRA) director general James Keter to Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) boss, Fazul Mahamed on November 27, 2023, the KNRA chief said: “the widespread use of metal detectors and baggage scanners by private security personnel at airports, train stations and various checkpoints nationwide, KNRA acknowledges the need to proactively address potential radiation risks. This is particularly crucial for operators employed in private roles.”
“In light of a comprehensive radiation risk matrix and our ongoing consideration of additional regulatory approaches to mitigate the associated risks, the authority has affirmed that the provision of appropriate training as a first step is paramount. This strategic measure is crucial and is anticipated to significantly contribute to the enhancement of radiation safety aspects for the personnel involved,” he added.
Following this communication, PSRA, charged with the responsibility of regulating the Private Security Industry, noted that the walk-through metal detectors and luggage scanners employ X-ray technology to generate detailed images of the contents in the bag, providing a transparent view of the same.
The authority is concerned that “most of the deployed security equipment operating on x-ray technology have never been subjected to testing, calibration and/or routine service.”
“This presents the potential of prolonged exposure to x-ray radiation and conceivable health and safety risk for the general public as they interact with the equipment,” PSRA noted.
Further, the authority said the risk is magnified by private security officers who mostly work on 12-hour shifts, operating the x-ray powered security equipment.
To rectify this situation, PSRA has recommended measures to regulate the use of these metal detectors which have proliferated the country in the aftermath of the incessant terror attacks and security threats to the country and Kenyans.
The measures include an assessment of the effectiveness and timeliness of detectors and monitors to measure their sensitivity in transmission and notification of suspicious items or goods under surveillance.
The equipment shall be assessed for adequate electromagnetic imaging, data storage and backup.
The authority further wants each security personnel operating the equipment to have the requisite training and authorisation to operate the equipment as it shall determine.
As a requirement, all walk-through metal detectors and luggage scanners shall be required to undergo mandatory calibration and inspection every six months by personnel licensed by the Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority (KNRA) and the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA).
After successful calibration and inspection by the two government agencies the equipment “shall be issued with a safety compliance certificate, which shall be displayed prominently on the equipment in use at the time”.
The PSRA proposes to verify that radiation protection measures are in place such that each security personnel operating the equipment are not exposed to more than the internationally accepted dose limits for occupational workers (not more than 1.67 milli-seiverts in one given month or a maximum of 20 milli-sieverts in a year).
According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the advisable occupational dose limit for radiation exposure should be 100 milli-sieverts over five years, with a maximum of 50 milli-sieverts in any single year.
“The X-rays are therefore a variant of ionizing radiation with carcinogenic characteristics, recognised for their ability to potentially damage living tissue and cause cancer. Even minimal x-ray radiation exposure, if consistent, can have health implications over time,” says PSRA Director General Fazul Mahamed. “the authority acknowledges the need to proactively address potential radiation risks, safety and health of the public, as well as that of personnel operating the machines and gadgets.”
However, the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) deputy secretary general Dennis Miskellah rubbished these proposed measures as “nonsensical” as the detectors are used globally.
“Even if there’s production of radiation it is very, very minimal. It is just a way of making money,” he said, adding that X-rays are not radioactive.
Dr Catherine Naliaka Nyongesa a Consultant Clinical/Radiation Oncologist at Texas Cancer Centre Nairobi argues that the concern regarding X-rays being deemed carcinogenic is valid.
“Prolonged or repeated exposure to ionizing radiation, including X-rays, has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. Therefore, periodic inspections and calibration ensure the devices' effectiveness and help monitor and control radiation levels to safeguard public health.”
She says collaboration with Health Authorities; The regulatory authorities (Kenya Nuclear Regulatory Authority and Private Security Regulatory Authority) and health authorities can help continuously assess and adjust safety measures based on evolving scientific knowledge.
“Implementing dose monitoring systems can help track radiation exposure levels and ensure they stay within acceptable limits for security personnel and the general public also, exploring and investing in alternative technologies that minimize or eliminate the use of ionizing radiation, where feasible, could be considered,’ the doctor said.
She also stated that the potential risk posed by these devices needs to be balanced against the security benefits they provide.