EMR research - the issues

Why is it that, despite years of research, science has not yet resolved the issue of whether or not electromagnetic radiation is harmful to the body?

In a recent publication Dr Alan Frey has suggested that there are a number of reasons why “we don’t have a credible body of biological data involving electromagnetic fields on which to base public health decisions.”

Conflicts of interest

The first of these reasons is that research has been conducted or funded by groups with major interests in the technology under investigation being safe. Dr Frey quotes Nicholas Steneck who, with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Program for Ethics and Values in Science and Technology, wrote “The establishment that controls RF (emf) bioeffects research has misled the public and researchers. …. Key decisions on such research have been influenced by persons with vested interests.”

Unjustified implicit assumptions

Many of the assumptions underlying research are highly dubious. For example,

A sine wave induces biological effects.

Most of the research that has been conducted on 50/60 Hz fields, including the NIEHS National Toxicology Program, has exposed cells or animals to a pure sine wave. However, in reality, the public receives quite different exposures. According to the authors of the Toxicology Program, “residential and occupational exposures may include square waves, sawtooth waves, and other wave forms. Harmonics (120 Hz, 180 Hz, etc) may also be found. Further, as appliances are switched on and off, spikes or transients in fields may occur.” Thus, the fact that health effects have not been identified in some laboratory research does not mean that they do not exist for the general public.

EMF follows a toxicological model.

Researchers often assume that, as is the case for chemicals, that the higher the dose the greater the effect and many studies have been funded to find a dose-response relationship. However, according to Dr Frey, “Electromagnetic fields are not a foreign substance, a toxin to living beings, like lead or cyanide. Rather, living beings are themselves electrochemical systems that use electromagnetic fields in everything from protein folding through cellular communication to nervous system function. Toxicology is the wrong model as has been detailed in depth.”

Data do not conform to the “laws of physics”.

There are those who believe that if the data do not conform to the existing dogma, then the data must be wrong. “But one does not challenge data with the current dogma. That’s upside down it’s the dogma that is tested by data obtained with constantly increasing precision of measurement and observation.” Dr Frey cites the example of travelling from Washington to Los Angeles. In 1850 the trip, accompanied by mules, would have taken more than six months; today it takes hours. “If I went back to 1850 and stated the above, I’m sure that there would be some physicists who would flatly say that the laws of physics show this is impossible — and then “prove” it with elegant calculations on the muscle energy output of mules and wagon axle friction. They would have been right in their calculations but wrong in their implicit assumption that they knew everything that will ever be known.”

Inappropriate Research

According to Dr Frey, the conducting of numerous epidemiological studies on the relationship between proximity to powerlines and cancer is fruitless because we do not have data for the years before the onset of cancer, nor do we know what are the relevant parameters to measure.

Because of the inadequacies of research in this area, policy makers are constrained and “a hundred million cellular phone users, who have not given informed consent, are unwitting guinea pigs in a grand biological experiment.”

(The Scientist, 14[23]:47, Nov 27, 2000)

EMRAA News June 2001, Vol 6 No 2