Metal detectors — A health risk for the students

Nusrat Bibi

Pakistan is facing extremism since 2000 almost but it increased in 2006-2007 specifically in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the security personnel have been the main target of suicide bombing, followed by other minority sects and the office bearers of the ruling class in that time and then. Then the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in 2016 and in many other schools in Swat and other tribal areas in the province has forced the school administration in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and all across Pakistan to adopt strict policies towards the security of the schools staff and the student’s community.

Security scanners or metal detectors were installed in offices and in academic institutions to check the passers for any threat of bomb. But unfortunately, these practices are applied on the innocent student’s community where its harmful effects on the health of students were ignored either to make their schools safer or to win the confidence of parents to increase their enrolment. Though these machines are used mainly to detect weapons and bombs but cannot stop the suicide bombers from attacks. No one has evaluated yet about the circumstances and the strategies of the suicide attackers, instead the school’s own children and staff is uselessly scanned against these things daily in schools.

In Pakistan no Act for its registration exists to regularize the frequencies of these machines and its safe use on whom and why??No study or research has been conducted so for about its harmful effects on the body of students because our nation always follows the developed countries and our own laws are weaker in policy and in enforcement.

Security scanners in schools are either metal detectors with non-ionizing radiations or millimeter wave machines with radio frequency radiations and both of them exert force to enter the body and take image of the metals in the internal tissues of the body. For this purpose we will need first to study its mode of work and its structure.
Metal detectors through using nonionizing radiations for product inspection use balanced coil and full loop system in which three coils are wrapped around the aperture or channel through which the product being checked passes. The transmitter coil is placed in the center of the enclosure, while two receiver coils are spaced equally distant from the transmitter. The transmitter coils continuously emit magnetic field and the magnetic field is reflected back to the machine if there are any metal object present even a watch or a belt buckle. The return signal is detected by the machine and a beeping noise is produced to alert the operating agents about the possible threat.

While millimeter wave machines use non-ionizing radiofrequency waves to detect threats. These machines bounce the waves off the body and back to the machine. If there are no weapons or other potential threat during scanning, the screen turns green and shows an OK sign. If an object is detected, it will appear on the screen along with a generic body outline to show the location.

Electromagnetic radiation is the proliferation/explosion of energy which consists of fluctuating electric and magnetic fields and both of these fields can exert a force. An electric field can affect an electric charge (for example, an electron) and a magnetic field can, in turn, affect a moving charge (current).

Non-ionizing radiations in metal detectors has enough intensity to move atoms in a molecule around or cause them to vibrate, but not enough to remove electrons from atoms unlike x-rays which are ionizing radiations but still pose a considerable health risk to potentially exposed persons on extremely low frequency for long time exposure to the source. In general, there are two primary hazards to non-ionizing radiations; tissue heating (thermal effects) and photochemical reactions to the skin and retina of the eye and can cause fetus death and abortions in female. The hazard is dependent on frequency though.

While radiofrequency energy in millimeter wave machines can produce heat in body tissues, resulting in skin burns, internal burns, and damage to organs and sometime damage the tissues depending on the intensity of its frequency especially the eye and reproductive organs in human beings. The eyes and reproductive organs are particularly vulnerable to heating by RF because blood circulation in these parts of the body is low and heat therefore, is not dissipated easily.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) have documented significant harmful effects from Electro Magnetic Field(EMF) exposure such as genetic damage, reproductive defects, cancer, neurological degeneration and nervous system dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, gene mutations and DNA fragmentation, which can cause cell mutation and cancer.

Children are particularly at greater risk from EMF exposure because a child’s body absorbs 60 % more electromagnetic field effects than adults and according to Stewart report the maximum signal strength of cell phones even penetrates an adult’s head up to one inch while it passes completely through a child’s head completely.

Dr. Martin Pall’s research on Electromagnetic Field reveals, its impacts on our bodies are as following: Nervous system and brain: widespread neurological/neuropsychiatric effects like sleep disturbance/insomnia; fatigue/tiredness; headache; depression/depressive symptoms; lack of concentration/attention/cognitive dysfunction; dizziness/vertigo; memory changes; restlessness/tension/anxiety/stress/agitation; irritability.

Endocrine/hormonal systems: The steroid hormone levels drop with EMF exposure, whereas other hormone levels increase with initial exposure. The neuroendocrine hormones and insulin levels often drop with prolonged EMF exposure.

Oxidative stress and free radical damage: central roles in essentially all chronic diseases, as well as other body effects.

Cellular DNA attacks: These are related to cancer causation and produce the most important mutational changes in humans and diverse animals, as well as in future generations.

Apoptosis (programmed cell death): This can cause both neurodegenerative diseases and infertility.

Fertility Problems: This can lead to lower sex hormones, lower libido and increased levels of spontaneous abortion and, as already stated, attack the DNA in sperm cells.
Produce excessive intracellular calcium [Ca2+]i and excessive calcium signaling.
Cancer: 15 different mechanisms of EMF radiation’s effect on the cell can cause cancer. Brain cancer, salivary cancer, acoustic neuromas and two other types of cancer go up with the exposure of electromagnetic radiations and people living near such source of radiations have increased cancer rates.

These effects can create many symptoms in our bodies, some which can be felt, and some which we might not know about. In addition to the harmful impacts of metal scanners, it also adds financial and social impacts are as following: It has increased the sense of insecurity among the student’s community at large and has snatched their freedom of mind and creative independent thinking. Our schools became more prison like and it will has drastic impacts on the juvenile personality make up, though more research is needed in this regard on students.

Moreover, Metal detectors required regular attention in terms of its maintenance and in operation during scanning. Its cost is higher both in its purchasing as well as in its maintenance and operation. It has increased our dependence on these devices for security. They do not solve the root issue of defense.

Furthermore, Discourage the use of security scanners on the students and staff, rather use pat down methods and enlarge the size of the student’s photo on ID card. Strong and supportive leadership is required to combat the possible threats in time.
Positive alternatives must be adopted to stop un necessary checkup of the students and staff members. The Students voice in the school rules must be incorporated. The school should promote the culture of trust and respect. Place the institute transparency and accountability in school safety practices.

Trained the students to avoid strangers and not to take anything from them. Trained the vehicles drivers for entrance and exit and register every single driver with the school and check their vehicles. Give proper parking to the school vehicles and prevent their parking on road near the school premises in morning and pack up time.