New RF standard increases exposure

Doubts emerge about the new ARPANSA RF standard.

In mid October the RF Working Group completed the latest Radiation Protection Standard. No vote was taken on the document before it was forwarded to the next rung of the bureaucratic ladder.

If approved and adopted, the document will allow Australians to be exposed to more radiation—in some cases four times more—than at present. At the frequencies at which mobile phones and base stations operate, the public will be exposed to twice as much radiation as currently allowed.

Not only does this increase run counter to the world-wide trend towards a “precautionary approach” to RF exposure, but it is contrary to the wishes expressed by 56% of the submissions sent to ARPANSA in the public comment period. This includes the submission by the NSW Cancer Council which urged “precaution”.

Even worse than being a regulatory slap in the face for the public, the new standard may be seriously flawed. As pointed out in previous editions of EMRAA News, the standard is predicated on the basis that adverse health effects occur at frequencies used by mobile telephony primarily when the body is significantly heated. However, there is evidence that adverse health effects can occur at very much lower levels. Not only have scientific studies identified problems such as cancer, leukaemia and breaches of the blood-brain barrier at levels just a fraction of those presently allowable, but the community is experiencing adverse symptoms from the radiation from mobile phones, even though it complies with existing exposure levels.

Moreover, there are serious concerns about the underlying claim that the body can be safely exposed to 4 Watts per kg before there is a whole-body rise in temperature above 1°C (upon which adverse health effects are known to occur.) Firstly, this assumption is based primarily on studies with animals that we do not believe reflect the situation for humans. Secondly, a recent study by Adair casts doubt upon the claim. Adair subjected fit volunteers to a partial-body exposure of 7.7 Watts/kg peak exposure (equivalent to a whole-body peak exposure of 0.9 Watts/kg) for 45 minutes. At the end of the experiment, body sweat rates were still rising, and may have allowed the body temperature to rise beyond 1°C had the experiment continued. Thus, while this standard claims that exposures of 4 Watts/kg are safe, the Adair research suggests that exposure of less than 0.9 Watts/kg may be dangerous!

Given that these—and other—issues were not adequately addressed by the Committee, there is considerable doubt about whether this standard can possibly claim to protect public health.

Moreover, the influences at work throughout the process, do little to increase public confidence. Why, for example, was the starting point for the Committee, the failed Standards Australia (TE7) draft that was based on the higher international exposures of ICNIRP? Why were there a number of non-voting “observers” with industry links who participated in the standards-setting process with precisely the same opportunities as working group members? Why was there no formal vote on the standard? How can the document be claimed to be a “consensus” document when there was no vote and no opportunity for attendees to express their views on the final cut? How can ARPANSA decide whether to endorse the standard when it does not know how much support the document had in the working group?

Only one explanation will suffice. Industry has admitted that it needs the higher exposures for the operation of its third generation mobile telephony. This standard has not been designed to protect public health—but to accommodate industry: to facilitate new technology and to generate revenue for industry and the federal government.

However, this is not yet a fait accompli. If it is to be endorsed by ARPANSA, the new draft standard needs to be approved by the Radiation and Health Committee, the Health and Safety Committee and ARPANSA’s CEO, Dr John Loy. At the end of that process it is then forwarded to Parliament, where it remains for 21 days, during which time it can be raised as an issue by members of Parliament.

Will the draft standard survive the process? Can it withstand the scrutiny of political debate and attendant media interest? Can ARPANSA justify ignoring pubic clamour for precaution and allowing people to be exposed to even more radiation, when there is already so much evidence of risk? How long can the government be seen to be getting in to bed with industry?

Finally, what is the government’s legal liability in the event that this radiation, as is already indicated, does cause health problems?

EMRAA News Dec 2001, Vol 6 No 4