Could these X-Ray vans give New Yorkers cancer? Judge orders NYPD to release info on secret program.

The Z Backscatter Van can scan while driving alongside a line of vehicles or while parked as they pass by. (American Science and Engineering Inc.)

The Z Backscatter Van can scan while driving alongside a line of vehicles or while parked. (American Science and Engineering Inc.)

Could these vehicles give NYC residents cancer? The New York Police Department has a secretive program that uses unmarked vans with X-ray machines designed to detect bombs. The machines emit ionizing radiation, which could increase the risk of cancer in people nearby. ProPublica tried to find out more about the vans, but the NYPD refused to answer for three years.

ProPublica's Michael Grabell reports that a judge has finally ordered the NYPD to release records related to the secret program.

The ruling follows a nearly three-year legal battle by ProPublica, which had requested police reports, training materials, contracts and any health and safety tests on the vans under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

ProPublica filed the request as part of its investigation into the proliferation of security equipment, including airport body scanners, that expose people to ionizing radiation, which can mutate DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

Richard Daddario, then the NYPD's deputy commissioner of counterterrorism, told the court in 2013 that releasing the documents would hamper the department's ability to conduct operations and endanger the lives of New Yorkers.

Disclosing them, he said, would "permit those seeking to evade detection to conform their conduct to the times, places and methods that avoid NYPD presence and are thus most likely to yield a successful attack."

But Supreme Court Judge Doris Ling-Cohan called the NYPD's argument "mere speculation" and "patently insufficient" to outweigh the public's right to know.

"Judge Orders NYPD to Release Records on X-ray Vans" [propublica]