The mystery of the radioactive computer monitor

Newark Airport’s Terminal A was closed briefly today when a computer monitor set off whatever alarms are set off when something emitting radiation passes by.

That must have been some computer, because just about everything gives off radiation. By the end of the day, hopefully, somebody will ask why this computer monitor gave off more radiation than any of the other things we use on a daily basis. And after that, the next logical question is who on earth travels with a computer monitor? And who checks a computer monitor for baggage, then flies a different flight? Suspicious activity at the airport? That qualifies.

But back to radiation. Here’s a great little Web page from the American Nuclear Society which calculates how much radiation you’re exposed to on a daily basis. While Minnesota might be more protected because it’s not near the ocean or the plateaus of Colorado, it has its share of coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

Do you live in a stone or brick building? That’s 7 millirems (you’re allowed about 5,000 millirems a year before it gets serious).

Presumably, today’s incident involved a CRT monitor. That’s good for about 1 millirem, or an exposure equivalent to two hours of flight time in a jet. If you smoke half a pack of cigarettes a day, that’s 18 millirem.

What else has significant radiation in your home? CFL light bulbs, smoke detectors, and even granite countertops according to a fact sheet this year from the Health Physicians Society. Make a note of that. Next time you go to the airport, leave your granite countertop at home.

None of this, however, is particularly comforting. In fact, it serves to point out how insignificant a computer monitor’s radiation is. So why was this incident so significant?

  • JackU

    And who checks a computer monitor for baggage, then flies a different flight?

    Oh come on Bob. You’re an air travel guy, haven’t you ever traveled with equipment? If you get to the airport a little late then your checked bag gets “bumped” to the next flight to your destination. In this case the issue with setting off the detector probably kept the package “grounded” while the flight it was supposed to be on left. I’m basing this assumption on this quote from the CBS story:

    The monitor was being shipped to the same destination as its owner, who was already in flight, Travers said.

    As far as who travels with a computer monitor, I was responsible for a system setup in California once and in order to be certain that the equipment arrived with me so I’d have enough time to setup the system and train the staff at that office I was required to take the system with me. (1 computer, 1 Monitor, 2 external hard drive units and a tape drive unit. 3 flights the last on a turbo prop.)

    Sometimes even FedEx isn’t fast enough.

  • Bob Collins


    The guy is going to wow ’em with that Super VGA!