Senate Inquiry on EMR

The Senate Committee received submissions and heard oral presenations in three capitals. Here are the highlights.

Dr Peter French.

Dr Peter French and Dr David McKenzie advanced a new and compelling model which links mobile phone radiation to the development of cancer. “The support for this link is based firmly on the peer reviewed and published work of other scientists internationally, and supported by observations in our own laboratory.”

The first of a sequence of events occurs when the mobile phone deposits energy into the brain. “For a 915 MHz dipole antenna with a time-averaged power output of 0.25 W (equivalent to a typical mobile phone), an SAR of about 1.6 W/kg was calculated, with a maximum brain temperature rise of 0.11 ºC. (Van Leeuwen et al, 1999).

What are the effects of this energy deposition? In a paper published in Nature in May, De Pomerai et al exposed nematode worms to radiation from a mobile phone that was too low to cause heating, with SARs of 0.001 W/kg (up to 1000 times less than allowed by existing standards). They found that these low exposures caused the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs).

HSPs are a stress response of the cell induced by heat, heavy metals, drugs, chemicals and osmotic pressure. When a protein becomes misfolded, a cell produces HSPs which migrate to the affected area to repair the damage.

In October this year C Jolly and R Morimoto published a review of the scientific literature on HSPs. They reported that increasing the amount of HSPs in cells results in:

  • increased potential for developing tumours;
  • increased stimulation in the spread (metastasis) of some cancers;
  • direct development of cancer;
  • decreased effectiveness of anti-cancer drugs.

(Jolly, C and Morimoto, R I, National Cancer Institute 92: 1564-761, Oct 2000).

(Presentation 16.11.00)

(Dr French is principal scientific officer at St Vincent’s Hospital’s Centre for Immunology and represents the Biological Sciences as a Board Member of the Federation of Australian Science and Technology Societies. He is Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine at University of NSW and Research Associate in School of Physics at University of Sydney.)

Mr Les Dalton

Community involvement

Mr Dalton emphasised the need for transparent standards-setting processes that provide opportunities for community involvement.

“...there has to be a decision made about what is a socially acceptable level of the risk to health. ... This is where the community has a vital interest in what is decided. Experts are no more able to judge what risk we should be prepared to take than is the community itself. Practising a scientific speciality does not ... by itself, qualify a person to deal with broader issues associated with the quality of life.”

“We must keep it in mind that, whatever the health costs of radiation exposures, they will ultimately be borne by the public health system. Even the economic rationalists should take note of this. Over the last few years, millions of people have begun to irradiate their brain with microwaves. That is a fact. With millions of people involved, if we get it wrong, the consequence to public health could be very costly indeed - as it has proved to be with cigarette smoking. We need to do something about the inadequacy of public funding available for research in this area.”

Prudent avoidance

Mr Dalton called for a levy on mobile phone sales to fund research and a national prudent use campaign, given that “the full scope of the health consequences cannot possibly be known for decades. Surely for the sake of our children, it is better to play safe now than for them to be sorry later.”

Exposure standards

Mr Dalton’s submission dealt a death-blow to the position that health standards have been arrived at using credible, reliable scientific method. Regarding the exposure levels to ELF emissions from the power system, he said, “In Australia, the ICNIRP public exposure limit to magnetic fields is 1000 milligauss. It is a guideline of the ICNIRP that was adopted by the NHMRC here without any public input whatsoever, several years ago. It was then adopted in a number of state regulations. ... In Sweden, exposure is limited to two milligauss - one 500th - in places where children gather. ... I might explain that the 1000 milligauss is a convenience for the industry, because that is the ultimate that could ever be radiated out from power lines.”

On the development of the RF standard, he said, “We had a CSIRO representative on the standard setting committee. As a matter of fact, he was the one who initiated the idea of having a standard. He argued for 40 microwatts per square centimetre. The industry eventually insisted that it be 100. But then they learned that some of the broadcasting antennas, and particularly one in Adelaide, were well above that. So what happened was that they made that 200. That is the reason we have 200, today, for public exposure. It has nothing to do with science.”

Mr Dalton is the retired chief scientist of CSIRO.

(Hansard 22.9.00)

Dr Bruce Hocking

Dr Hocking spoke about his own research which has shown a strong link between exposure to EMR and health problems. Survival rate near TV towers

In a follow-up to a study which found increased leukemia rates near the TV towers in North Sydney, Hocking investigated survival rates of cancer sufferers. “There was something like a 174 per cent increased risk of dying from leukemia if you actually got it and you lived close to the towers rather than further away.”

Neurological effects from mobile phones

In a survey conducted in 1996, Dr Hocking received many calls from mobile phone users reporting uncomfortable feelings in their head after phone use. He conjectured that there may have been “some disturbance of nerve function”.

A recent study (see EMRAA News Sept 2000) investigated the symptoms of a single mobile phone user. “We did tests on nerves which are immediately behind the ear and those which are immediately in front of the ear as these come from different nerve distributions, and we found marked differences between the two sides [of the head].

“This is the first time that I am aware of that there has been a clear demonstration of a health effect in humans attributable to a mobile phone.” Combined with the data from his earlier study, “there is considerable likelihood that mobile phones, at the low levels of radiofrequency which they are operating on, are causing disturbances of neural function.

“It is also considerable evidence of an athermal effect.”

Phone tower studies

Dr Hocking recommended that there be research into the effects of mobile phone towers and advised that “time to do that is slipping by” as rapid proliferation of towers means that opportunity for control groups is disappearing.

Dr Hocking is an independent consultant and former chief medical officer at Telstra.

(Hansard 22.9.00)

Dr Theodore Litovitz

Genetic vulnerability

Litovitz became interested in the issue of consistency of results during a series of studies on the effects of magnetic fields on chick embryos. Similar studies in six laboratories, using identical equipment, found conflicting results. Some studies showed effects, some showed no effects and others showed possible effects. In his own studies Litovitz initially found a twofold increase in abnormalities among exposed chicks but later found no effect whatsoever. What varied in these experiments was the strain of hens used. “We found an enormous genetic compound in the response of chick embryos to electromagnetic fields.”

According to Litovitz genetic susceptibility is a key factor in the responsiveness of an organism to EMR. A number of studies have investigated whether exposure to EMR inhibits the effectiveness of the drug Tamoxifen in reducing the proliferation of breast cancer cells. Initially studies in three laboratories, which purchased breast cancer cells from different sources, found different results. When the laboratories used cells from a common source, they achieved consistent evidence of effects.

Importance of exposure time

Litovitz reported his research indicating that cells require exposure to a constant signal for ten seconds for the process of signal transduction to occur. (This is a chain of events in which receptors on a cell’s surface detect information about the environment and relay a message to its nucleus which initiates appropriate biochemical activity.) If a signal is not constant for that time, the cell will not respond. “This is biologically enormously sensible because the cell has to be an efficient producer; it does not want to be turned on by every little hormone molecule that comes wandering by. It wants to respond to the average properties of its environment.”

It is also enormously significant, as it means that studies that do not maintain a constant exposure for this vital period are fated not to show an effect.

Since this discovery, Litovitz has conducted numerous studies confirming the effect. He has repeatedly shown that EMR elicits an effect only if exposure is consistent for 10 seconds and not if it is flashed on and off every few seconds. Further, he has found that cells respond in a similar fashion whether they are exposed to ELF from powerlines or radiofrequency from mobile phones and towers. “The cell’s characteristic response to a mobile phone is the same as that to a powerline.”

From this research Litovitz theorised that it may be possible to inhibit the effects of EMR on a cell by ensuring that it does not receive a constant signal for more than 10 seconds. “The way to keep a cell from responding to any kind of electromagnetic fields is to let the signal fluctuate.” This he achieved by superimposing another signal on the existing signal, creating “noise”.

According to Litovitz, a number of researchers are currently finding that a superimposed signal blocks the effects of EMR. Dr Henry Lai is finding that rats exposed to RF and a superimposed fluctuating field do not show the memory problems he reported from exposure to RF alone. Dr James Burch has found that electricity workers exposed to constant fields had a “huge drop in melatonin” and that there was less effect on melatonin as the fields became less constant.

(Hansard 22.9.00)

Dr John Holt

Dr Holt emphasised the importance of ascertaining the conductivity of body tissue, especially cancer.

According to Dr Holt, we have known since 1776 (for 225 years) that cancer is electrically conductive. “A cancer cell is like the antenna on your TV set”, he told the Committee.

“Microwaves will increase the speed of growth of cancer. Any frequency will do that. It will increase the speed of growth by any factor up to 100 times. Between 430 MHz and 440 MHz there is a non-thermal effect which increases the killing power of ionising or X-rays by a factor up to 150 times. That is a proven non-thermal effect...”

Dr Holt reported that some frequencies interact with tissue in particular ways. At 434 MHz cancer will resonate and fluoresce. At 180, 200 and 300 MHz breast tissue is six times as conductive as normal tissue (a non-thermal effect). 27 MHz (a frequency used for amateur radio) “is one of the most potent stimulators of cancer I know”, he said.

Dr Holt also described the effects of television broadcasts on leukemia sufferers. Between 1951 and 1959 “95% of the patients survived for 35 months.” However, after TV was introduced in 1960, the survival time decreased.

Dr Holt is Medical Director of the Microwave Therapy Centre in Perth.

(Hansard 8.9.00)

Dr Neil Cherry

Dr Cherry presented a lengthy submission which argued that EMR causes a range of health problems.

“Both through reducing melatonin and through enhancing free radical activity EMR is genotoxic, damaging the DNA and chromosomes, enhancing oncogene expression and transforming cells to neoplastic cells and causing cancer in exposed populations.”

“Radiofrequency fields are as dangerous as toxic chemicals and Ionizing Radiation.

This is backed by over 10 other studies showing that EMR across the spectrum increases breast cancer incidence and 15 studies showing reduced melatonin, including three with dose-response relationships. These are sufficient to classify a causal relationship between EMR and breast cancer, with melatonin reduction [as] the biological mechanism.”

“Ten epidemiological studies have found significant miscarriage from EMR exposure across the spectrum from ELF, SW to RF/MW.”

“Multiple independent studies, in 15 papers, show significant increases in chromosome aberrations from RF/MW exposure. Four studies show dose-response relationships. This is more than adequate to classify RF/MW radiation as genotoxic.”

“RF/MW radiation has been confirmed to enhance DNA damage under RF/MW exposure from radar-like and cell phone exposures, including an exposure level which is 0.22% of the ICNIRP guideline.”

“Four independent laboratories have ... published data on ELF induced DNA strand breaks confirming that ELF EMR damages DNA strands; Lai and Singh (1997a), Svedenstal et al. (1998), Phillips et al. (1998a) and Ahuja et al. (1997).”

“[S]even different laboratories have reported suppression of nighttime rise in pineal melatonin production in laboratory animals. ... Fifteen studies ... show that ELF and RF/MW exposure reduces melatonin and enhances serotonin in people. ... Fourteen studies have observed significant EMR associated melatonin reduction in humans.”

“There is more than sufficient evidence of chromosome aberrations, DNA strand breakage altered oncogene activity and neoplastic transformation of cells to conclude that EMR across the spectrum from ELF to RF/MW is genotoxic. This is independently confirmed by the established biological mechanisms of calcium ion efflux and melatonin reduction.”

Cherry discusses the studies used by ICNIRP which concludes that “Overall, the results of the small number of epidemiological studies published provide only limited information on cancer risk.”

He believes the ICNIRP conclusion “is mistakenly based on flawed previous assessments, WHO (1993), inappropriate inclusion of ... [studies], failure to review the data on effects ..., incorrect claims of no significant effects when such effects are reported ..., failure to analyse the data ..., inappropriate dismissal of significant well conducted studies ... and inappropriate devaluing of residential studies....”

“A systematic and independent analysis of the data in these papers reveals a consistent and significant increase in cancer with many dose response relationships in this set of studies. Also, many other studies exist which add considerable weight to the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between RF/MW and brain cancer, leukemia and cancer across many organs in the body. The no-effects threshold is zero exposure.”

“Because cellphone radiation is ... genotoxic, causes brain tumours, cardiac and neurological effects, including sleep disturbance and melatonin reduction, all of these effects will be associated with cell sites.”

“To date 53 studies have shown adverse biological or human health effects specifically from cell phone radiation.”

Since the threshold level for no-effects is zero exposure, and since buildings can shield RF/Microwaves by at least a factor of 10, if a maximum exposure level at the boundary of a property is set at 0.1 uW/cm2, then the indoor exposure will be less than 0.01 uW/cm2... This reduces the health risk to less from outside than using a computer or being in a kitchen with the microwave oven on. Hence I recommend an outdoor public exposure limit at the boundary of properties of 0.1 uW/cm2, the Salzburg cell site limit.”

(Presentation 8.9.00)

Mr Chris Zombolos

Radiation reducing devices

“[A] lot of devices are being sold on the market that claim to reduce radiation [from mobile phones] and hence reduce cancer and all those other effects. We have done a lot of testing for these same suppliers and, in our view, most devices do not work. Perhaps one or two have some basis but, in general, these devices will increase the exposure rather than do what they claim - that is, decrease it. Not only do they increase the exposure but they affect the performance of the phone, so you get drop-outs happening very often. The battery goes flat really quickly because it has to raise its power level.

“Using some of these radiation seals is analogous to putting your phone in a steel rubbish bin and putting the lid on it. That is exactly what a lot of these products do. If it is not sealed up completely, because of the adaptive system the phone will increase its power to compensate for the weak signal, hence the radiation can increase and often does. We at ECTA believe that those devices need some sort of control.”

Accredited testing

Mr Zombolos also recommended that measurements of SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) be made only by

organisations which are accredited to conduct SAR testing. Existing regulations enable industry to provide evidence that their phones comply with prescribed limits from unaccredited facilities, perhaps overseas.

Mr Zombolos is the Vice-President of the Electrical Compliance Testing Association [ECTA]. (Hansard 22.9.00)

EMRAA News Dec 2000, Vol 5 No 4