April Senate Inquiry on EMR

After a year of reviewing submissions and conducting public hearings, the Senate Inquiry on EMR is expected to hand down its report in early April.

At the recent RF Spectrum Conference in Sydney, Chairman of the Inquiry, Senator Lyn Allison, described some of the highlights of the hearings and difficulties the committee had faced during the Inquiry.

Though it has not resolved the debate about whether the radiation from mobile phone technology causes health problems, the Inquiry helped clarify the nature, at least, of some effects. “I think,” said Senator Allison, “we have moved beyond the question of whether or not non-thermal electromagnetic radiation causes biological effects – it does, and the remaining questions concern the effects on human beings.

One of the problems encountered by the committee was the telecommunication industry’s attempts to influence the proceedings. “I became aware that there has been pressure from industry on participating senators to discredit some witnesses. This has been evident in questioning focussed on replication, whether or not research was hands on, the witness’s qualifications etc, and has not always helped in examining the information that witnesses have to present. The Secretariat had industry personnel continually ringing to find out who the next witnesses were.

I had some difficulty convincing some of the committee members to hear the evidence of Dr Neil Cherry from New Zealand. Dr Cherry is one of the few scientists we have in the Southern Hemisphere who is, and always has been, totally independent of commercial enterprise, and who does not have to rely on funding grants. As at least half of our witnesses stood to gain financially from wireless technology, we regarded him as an important witness.”

… in his evidence, Dr Cherry explained how he has seen over 30 studies showing that radiofrequency microwave radiation damages the chromosome’s DNA and changes genes, and therefore is changing the basic cell behaviour, which makes it likely to be carcinogenic, teratogenic and neurologically damaging. This is far more than we have for benzine, which is a carcinogen. Dr Cherry said, and I quote: ‘Genotoxicity is about damaging genes, the genetic structure – the DNA and the chromosomes – and changing the gene activity. It tends to lead to cancer and reproductive effects because the basis of life is the DNA in our cells.” He also pointed out that the work of Drs Lai and Singh developed very sensitive techniques to show that microwave radiation caused damage to DNA in proportion to exposure, and that this was also shown in labs in Belgium and California, where Dr Jerry Phillips went to quite low levels – including those found around base-stations – where he found highly significant DNA damage in that study.”

Senator Allison described some of the important presentations at the public hearings. Professor Ted Litovitz discussed the importance of genetic variability and the duration of exposures for observing biological effects. Dr Bruce Hocking described symptoms experienced by mobile phone users, in particular a case study which showed changes in the responsiveness of nerves behind and just in front of a subject’s right ear on the same side of the head on which he used his mobile phone. According to Dr Hocking, “This is the first time that I am aware of that there has been a clear demonstration of a health effect in a human attributable to a mobile phone.”

Western Australian cancer therapist, Dr John Holt, described how cancer cells absorb three times more radiation than normal cells. “He told us that between 430 megahertz and 440 megahertz there is a non-thermal effect that increases the killing power of ionising radiation by a factor up to 150 times. He said that this is a proven non-thermal effect.” He also described a reduction in cancer survival rates after the installation of TV antennae in Queensland in 1951.

Senator Allison explained that the committee had been particularly impressed by the presentation of Drs Peter French and David McKenzie, whose discoveries of the role of heat-shock proteins as a trigger for malignancies “appeared to provide us with a mechanism that could explain the connection between non-thermal EMR and cancer.”

Senator Allison also commented on a report on academic freedom and the commercialisation of universities from the Australia Institute. It showed that 17% of academic researchers were forced to stop contentious research because of pressure from funding bodies and nearly 50% were reluctant to criticise companies that provided research grants.

“I must say I find these developments very disturbing. A lot turns on the quality of scientific research that is done today; indeed, I am horrified at the denial of any problem at all, and the selective amnesia that amounts to covering up research results that show effects.

There is always a fanfare about the results of negative studies, and then “spin”, or repression of the results of positive studies until the confusion in the mind of the public is complete.”

The Senator concluded with a cautionary note for the future. “The sale of spectrum around the world signals the ever-increasing use of higher and higher frequencies for the development of more and more sophisticated technology. This means more and more exposure to the public of frequencies that are untested with regard to their effects on human health.”

“It means that all of us here today have an enormous responsibility to remain vigilant and objective in the search for truth, and maintain the determination not to be intimidated by industry interests, wherever they appear.” (23.03.01)

EMRAA News June 2001, Vol 6 No 2