Mobile phone radiation and health

Two interntional bodies have concluded that electromagnetic radiation does not pose a risk to health - but are they right?

In the United States, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has developed a proposal which aims to relax their standard and allow people to be exposed to significantly higher levels of radiation.

The IEEE standard, one of the major international standards for RF exposure, already allows higher exposures than do the rival guidelines of the International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The new draft would further widen the gap.

The SCC-28 Committee of the IEEE, under the Chairmanship of Motorola’s Dr C K Chou, is working on a draft document that would permit a single level of exposure to both workers and members of the public. The new draft allows members of the public to be exposed to more than 12 times as much radiation as at present. Like other international standards, the IEEE draft is based on the assumption that health problems from EMR can only occur as a result of heating.

The draft:

  • averages exposures over 10g of tissue instead of 1g;
  • raises the allowable SAR from 1.6 to 10 W/kg;
  • allows whole body exposure to 0.4 W/kg instead of 0.8 W/kg for the public;
  • increases exposure limits (100-300 MHz) from 200 µW/cm2 to 1000 µW/cm2.

The move to relax exposure standards has raised considerable concern. Unnamed scientists working for the US government have stated that the new draft ignores health issues raised in various government departments in recent years. The EMR Network, a group representing the interests of consumers across the nation, has argued that the national guidelines need to be tightened, not relaxed, and that the current draft does not take into account recent peer-reviewed research which has found a link between radiofrequency radiation and health problems.

Ironically, news about its relaxation of the existing standards comes at the same time as the IEEE is facing litigation on the mobile phone-health issue. It has recently been named as a defendant in a suit for $1.5 billion filed on behalf of brain tumour victim Michael Murray (see page 11).

The document is due for public release in June next year.

The second report to cast doubt on the link between mobile phone radiation and health problems hails from the European Union. The Scientific Committee on Toxicology, Eco-toxicology and the Environment prepared a report on the “Possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), RadioFrequency Fields (RF) and Microwave Radiation on human health” at the behest of the EU, which was released on October 30 this year.

The committee found no evidence to warrant revising ICNIRP’s exposure limits. It found no evidence of carcinogenicity among adults or children from epidemiological (population) studies “although the period of observations was not long enough for a definitive statement”. Neither did it find evidence of genotoxicity from laboratory studies. “Subjective symptoms affecting some individuals possibly exists but not enough information is available” to justify “the implementation of measures aimed at the identification and protection of a highly sensitive sub-group of the population.”

The report continued that “Combined analyses of the epidemiological studies on the association between exposure to ELF and childhood leukaemia have strengthened the evidence of an association”, particularly above 4 mG. However, it did not find a causal link and commented that the incidence of childhood leukemia was extremely low. Finally, it concluded that there was no evidence of carcinogenic effects among adults exposed to ELF.

For industry, the report is a welcome breath of fresh air. For the community, it is another disappointment. It has failed to accommodate the fact that so much research on mobile phone safety has been conducted by industry, that cancers take many years to develop, that many problems other than cancer and leukemia are associated with EMR/RF exposure, that sensitive people may not be a just subset of the population but early-warning canaries of our collective social coal mine. Finally, it is a disappointment that, given the abundant and growing evidence of risk, a precautionary approach has been ignored.

EMRAA News Dec 2001, Vol 6 No 4