Is it Safe to Put Your Film Through Carry-On Luggage Scanners At Airports?

Kodak single-use cameras

By Paul Riegler on 30 January 2020
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The shiny new CT scanners the Transportation Security Administration is deploying to screen carry-on luggage signal a return to a time when photographers had to be concerned that scanners would cause damage to unexposed film.

Back in the day, photographers would always ask to have exposed film hand searched.  Today, most but not all of the x-ray machines in place at security checkpoints used to screen carry-on bags should not, according to the TSA, damage undeveloped film that carries a rating of ASA/ISO 800 or lower. The TSA does have “a limited number of screening checkpoints that use x-ray machines that may damage undeveloped film” and it places warning signs at those locations.

Tests conducted by Kodak Alaris and published on January 27, 2020 reveal that the new CT scanners will exposed and unexposed film.

Leica 1(A), Ernst Leitz GmbhH, ca. 1926 from The Spira Collection

Kodak scientists ran rolls of Porta 400/135 film through the new scanners at John F. Kennedy International Airport with the assistance of TSA support.  The film was put through the scanners anywhere from one to ten times and then evaluated at Eastman Kodak Research labs.

“The initial results were not good,” Kodak Alaris said in a statement on Facebook.  “Just one scan shows significant film fogging, leading to smoky blacks and a loss of shadow detail.”

Kodak said that the damage would be greater for higher speed film and possibly less for ASA 100 film.

“We strongly recommend against putting any unexposed or exposed but unprocessed film through a CT Scanner,” Kodak said.

The TSA advises that photographers should place film in a clear plastic bag and ask for hand scanning.  Kodak is making available warning labels that “Do Not X-Ray” and “Do Not CT Scan,” with a yellow background of course.

The Transportation Security Administration announced the $96.8 million contract for 300 computed tomography systems and associated ancillary equipment and services over a five-year period in March 2019.

“These state-of-the-art 3-D scanners will enable our screening officers to detect explosives and other threats to commercial aviation with unprecedented precision,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske at the time.

The new CT scanning systems will be deployed at a total of 145 airports in the United States, according to the contract with the manufacturer.

Seventeen airports now have CT scanning systems installed at one or more security checkpoint.  The list includes Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Baltimore-Washington International, Chicago O’Hare International, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Houston Hobby, New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Boston’s Logan international, Los Angeles International, Miami International, Oakland International, Phoenix Sky Harbor International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, St. Louis Lambert International. Tampa International, and Washington-Dulles International airports.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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