Senate inquiry on EMR

The results of the inquiry have now been released.

After 14 months, 149 submissions and six public hearings in three states, the Senate Inquiry into EMR concluded with the release of the Committee’s reports on 4 May. Three reports were tabled, one by the Chair, Democrat Senator Lyn Allison, and two dissenting reports by the Labor and Liberal parties respectively.

The Chair’s report contained a comprehensive and impartial review of the issues addressed by the Inquiry, together with sensible precautions that echoed calls from the community.

A brief and succinct report from the Government members of the Committee commented on the Chair’s recommendations and suggested additionally, the labelling of mobile phones.

The report of Labor Senators contained a vigorous critique of the Chair’s report. It concluded that “major, recent and extensive epidemiological studies have been unable to find an association between cancers and mobile telephone usage”, based on studies by Inskip, Johansen (critiqued in the March issue of “EMRAA News”) and Motorola’s employee study (which failed to provide exposure data). The report criticised the Chair for making recommendations about powerlines, commenting that “this kind of infrastructure falls outside the scope of this term of reference.”(p213) The report found no evidence of harm from EMR and generally supported the status quo.

The Government is required to respond to the recommendations of the Inquiry within three months of the tabling of the reports.

In presenting her report, Senator Allison said, “Our electromagnetic radiation exposure standards are based on heat exposure, the capacity of a mobile phone to heat the core temperature of the body by 1ºC - and yet a growing body of scientific evidence shows conclusively that even low level radiation with virtually no heat output, has the capacity to change and damage biological systems.

“Research around the world has shown that exposure to radiofrequency and microwave radiation can cause changes to cells including DNA breaks, protein shock response, changes in the movement of substances across cell membranes, changes in the blood brain barrier, oncogene change, melatonin reduction and altering of calcium ion signalling.

“Animal studies have demonstrated a doubling of the incidence of cancer and embryo deformities.

“Studies have reported consistent and alarming symptoms which consumers attribute to the use of their mobile phones and yet there is no process in place to deal with such complaints or systematically collect the medical data.

“Industry and government agencies have persistently tried to discount and discredit scientific research showing results which are unfavourable to industry but the time has come for an honest evaluation of the risks and for government to accept that there is at least a doubt that our standards safeguard us against cancer and other health risks.

“The report is a comprehensive, balanced presentation of the extensive evidence presented. No doubt attempts will be made to discredit it too.Scientists disagree about the long term implications for health of the biological effects that have been demonstrated. The many analyses and reviews of research studies come up with contradictory conclusions which are laid out in the report.

“There clearly needs to be more research and it should be completely independent of industry influence. The current system of deciding who gets grants for research has not been demonstrated to be so.

“The standard setting process has been a sham wherein members of the Standards Australia committee, including the CSIRO, said they were not satisfied that there was the need or the scientific justification to relax the standards, yet the Government stepped in and changed the process to get the outcome industry wanted.

“The telecommunications industry has shown no interest in developing safer mobile phone or transmitter technology. It has shown no interest in allowing people to make a choice which might minimise the health risk and it continues to promote mobile phones to children who are likely to be more vulnerable than the rest of the population.”

Excerpts from the Chair's report

The Committee has found that while adverse health effects are not agreed upon, the existence of biological effects associated with radiofrequency radiation is now recognised.

For these reasons the Committee recommends a rigorous precautionary approach in all areas of the deployment of wireless technology, that RF emissions be kept As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA), and that the current interim exposure Standard not be adapted to the International Commission of Nonionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines. (Summary)

Biological and health effects of EMR
  • Overall, while there have been numerous studies showing a range of biological effects, and while further research is required to satisfy the need to replicate positive results and to establish their implications for human health, the Committee Chair is persuaded that there is cause for concern. (2.104)
  • The Committee Chair considers that there is sufficient doubt as to the association between radiofrequency and cancer to warrant further research before the public can be confident that any risks are adequately safeguarded against through current exposure standards. (2.140)
  • Given the evidence put before it, the Committee considers that it would be unwise to be complacent about the potential adverse health effects of mobile phone use, particularly effects that may manifest themselves after long-term exposure. (2.221)
Minimising exposure
  • There are a number of ways in which potential health effects may be minimised, particularly given community concerns about the placement of mobile phone towers and base stations near schools, hospitals, shopping centres, churches and people’s homes:
  1. adopting a precautionary approach in the setting of emission/exposure safety standards;
  2. ensuring that the mobile phone tower/base station emission beams of greatest intensity are sited away from sensitive areas like schools and hospitals;
  3. encouraging limits to the use of mobile phones, particularly by children;
  4. using devices which shield or otherwise minimise the level of emissions from mobile phones; and
  5. labelling mobile phones to inform consumers about emission levels, with the additional objective of allowing market forces to encourage companies to develop phones that can be efficiently used with the lowest levels of emissions possible. (2.191)
  • The incorporation of a precautionary approach for acceptable emission levels could be adopted as part of the new standard. This is probably of most importance with respect to occupational use of mobile phones or other telecommunications technologies, where a personal approach to limiting use may not be practical. The requirement to attach meaningful labels to phones, in manuals and at point of sale, could also be incorporated into industry codes of practice. (2.193)
  • Individual phone users could limit the time spent on a mobile phone, an approach particularly recommended for children. The Committee supports the Stewart Report’s statement that: “If there are currently unrecognised adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones, children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head …, and a longer lifetime of exposure … we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children.” (2.194)
  • ...the Committee considers that government has a responsibility to the community to provide clear, objective and detailed information about the potential risks, to enable individuals to make an informed choice about the extent to which they are prepared to expose themselves to electromagnetic radiation. (2.195)
  • The Committee Chair was disturbed at the lack of industry and government attention to developing or promoting lower-emission mobile phone technology or consumer advice about minimising exposure. The Committee found that the effectiveness of shielding devices and hands-free kits was at best unclear, that no standards or other regulations existed for these devices and that whatever guarantees there were of mobile phone compliance with current standards, these became null and void with the use of such devices. (2.200)
Mobile Phones
  • The Committee Chair recommends the following points to convey to purchasers of mobile phones:
  1. because there is a growing body of evidence indicating biological effects from mobile phones that, as a precautionary measure, it would be advisable to make fewer and shorter calls and to avoid operating mobile phones in situations where they need to use maximum power;
  2. a graphic illustration of the absorption into the head of radiofrequency radiation;
  3. specific absorption rate (SAR) values of particular phones and the relevance as a measure of exposure; and
  4. the effect of hands-free kits and shielding devices on limiting emissions levels. (4.201)
  • The Committee concurs with the recommendations of the Stewart Report: “We recommend that information on SAR values for mobile phones must be readily accessible to consumers:
  1. at the point of sale with information on the box,
  2. on leaflets available in stores giving comparative information on different phones and with explanatory information,
  3. as a menu option on the screen of the phone, and as a label on the phone,
  4. on a national web site, which lists the SAR values of different phone types.” (4.202)
Use of mobile phones by children
  • The Committee considers that a precautionary approach is desirable, and supports the Stewart Report’s recommendation that the effects of RF radiation on children should be treated as a priority research area given the increasing use of mobile phones by children and teenagers. (2.165)
Mobile phone base stations
  • ...the Committee is persuaded that a precautionary approach should be taken in siting base stations. (Summary)
  • The Committee found the so-called low-impact facility determinations especially to be a cause of community dissatisfaction….the continuous exposure from towers, and the involuntary nature of that exposure have generated considerable public concern. (Summary)
  • An approach that could be adopted in relation to the siting of mobile phone towers and base stations is to prohibit the placement of these structures at particular distances from sensitive sites such as schools, a practice that has been adopted in some countries. The manner in which the emissions are beamed results in a concentration of the RF intensity at around 100 meters from the tower or base station so a buffer of 150 metres may be appropriate. (2.203)
  • The network operator should provide similar advice where a base station is located near school grounds, nursing homes, child care facilities, hospitals and so on, and if necessary, placement should ensure that vulnerable groups are not chronically exposed where the beam is of greatest intensity. (2.204)
  • ...the Committee agrees with the need for rigorous and well-designed studies in this as in all fields of science. (2.224)
  • The Committee Chair considers that the effects of electromagnetic radiation deserve attention and that a concerted and targeted approach to research in this area is needed and, in the light of the inconsistency of many of the results of these studies, a cautious approach should be adopted to policy-making in this area. (2.226)
  • The Committee Chair supports the view that human studies should be undertaken as quickly as possible to ensure that there are sufficient people to act as suitable controls. (2.262)
  • While the technology is relatively new and evidence of some health effects may have a long latency period, for example the incidence of cancer …, given the increasing number of people worldwide, particularly young people, using mobile phones, there is an urgent need to replicate studies, commence long-term epidemiological studies and establish a scientifically substantiated body of evidence to provide guidance to the public about the possible adverse health effects of electromagnetic radiation. (2.263)
  • The Committee Chair also calls on the telecommunications industry to give priority in its technology development to research on reducing exposure to RF radiation. (2.265)
  • (Re industry participation in NHMRC Committee that allocates research funding:) The Committee Chair notes that any member taking part in the research funding process has the capacity to influence the Expert Committee and is of the view that greater efforts should be made by the NHMRC to ensure that the Expert Committee is and is perceived to be, at arms length from industry. (3.79)
  • ...research must operate independently of influence by industry, government or regulatory bodies. (4.3)
  • The Committee recommends that the Committee on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health Issues (CEMPHI) website is regularly updated to reflect ongoing developments in research and standard setting. (Summary)
  • ...the Government has a responsibility to provide independent, honest, competent advice to the general public about radiofrequency issues. (3.130)
  • The Committee Chair concurs with the CSIRO’s view that relaxations of the 1985 Australian limits over much of the frequency range and averaging measurements over six minutes do not represent progress in dealing with non-thermal effects and are not warranted.
  • The Committee Chair also agrees that the standards should continue to include the precautionary principle and the principle that all possible efforts should be made to keep exposures as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) below prescribed limits. (Summary)
  • The Committee Chair found the progress of standard development to have been somewhat arbitrary and inadequate in dealing with non-thermal effects. (4.2)
  • Given … the complexity and variability of the resonant properties of the human body, the Committee questions the efficacy of artificial modelling as an adequate tool to define safety levels in wireless equipment. (4.21)
  • ...the Committee Chair considers that the science is divided and uncertain at best and the mounting evidence of cancer risk associated with electromagnetic field exposures is of concern to rational people and that it is not responsible to increase human exposures in these circumstances. (4.61)
  • The Committee notes that in the event of a dispute or lack of agreement in the ARPANSA working group over the new Standard including such matters as the inclusion of the precautionary approach, the Standard would be elevated to the Radiation Health Committee who would then take the decision. (4.125)
  • The Committee Chair is of the view that this would negate the advantages of having a fair representation of the various stakeholders on the working group… (4.126)
  • For this reason, the Committee Chair holds that the process adopted by ARPANSA, particularly with regard to the absence of the CSIRO, has not been an improvement on that of the Standards Australia TE/7 Committee and is not in the interests of public health. (4.128)
  • The Committee Chair remains concerned that members with industry interests on the ARPANSA working group are, despite having no voting rights, in a position to influence the discussion. (4.128)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that, particularly in the light of recent reports on the links between powerlines, radio towers and leukaemia, additional research into extremely low frequencies and TV/radio tower exposure should be encouraged. (2.1)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that precautionary measures for the placement of powerlines be up-graded to include wide buffer zones, and undergrounding and shielding cables where practicable. (2.2)
  • The Committee recommends that based on a growing body of research that provides evidence of biological effects, the Commonwealth Government considers developing material to advise parents and children of the potential risks associated with mobile phone use. (2.3)
  • The Committee recommends that shielding and hands-free devices are tested, labelled for their effectiveness and regulated by standards. (2.4)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that the Government review the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination 1997, and as a precautionary measure, amend it to enable community groups to have greater input into the siting of antenna towers and require their installation to go through normal local government planning processes. (2.5)
  • The Committee recommends the development of an industry code of practice for handling consumer health complaints. (2.6)
  • The Committee recommends the establishment of a centralised complaints mechanism in ARPANSA or the Department of Health for people to report adverse health effects associated with mobile phone use and other radiofrequency technology, and for the data from this register to be considered by the NHMRC in determining research funding priorities. (2.7)
  • The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government consider sponsoring conferences on the health effects of radiofrequency radiation along similar lines to that conducted on gene technology. (2.8)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that a study into p53 mice be listed as an area of research for which future research applications should be encouraged. (2.7) [This would replicate the Adelaide Hospital study.]
  • The Committee Chair recommends that the equivalent of $5 for each mobile phone in use be collected annually for this purpose [independent research] (approximately $40 million) and that the rate be reviewed after a period of five years. (3.1)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that funding for maintaining the NHMRC-administered research program be provided at $4 million per annum of the $40 million and that the balance be used by the CSIRO to establish a structured program of research and set up a specialised research unit for this purpose. (3.2)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that the radiofrequency standard be defined and administered by a process similar to that used by Standards Australia. (4.1)
  • The Committee Chair recommends that the level of 200 microwatts per square centimetre in the expired Interim Standard (AS/NZS 2772.1(Int):1998) be retained in the Australian Standard. (4.2)
Liberal Report
  • While there may be some biological effects from low levels of RF radiation...the possibility of biological effects (and thus possibly health effects) argues for a precautionary approach. (1.2)
  • Government members are opposed to the enormous increase in funding for research…(1.5)
  • Government members support the role of ARPANSA in the standards setting process. (1.7)
  • Government members support the following recommendations:
  1. testing, labelling and regulating shielding and hands-free devices
  2. development of an industry code of practice for handling consumer health complaints
  3. the establishment of a centralised complaints mechanism
  4. sponsoring of consensus conferences by the Commonwealth Government.
  • A national survey of domestic magnetic fields useful. (1.9)
  • The public should be made aware that mobile phones do emit electromagnetic radiation and that they should be used prudently. Therefore, the development of independent material to advise people about what is known about mobile phone radiation is supported. (1.9)
  • The Government members believe it is appropriate that the present levy and [research] funding ($1 million per annum) continue. (1.9)
  • Government members believe that purchasers of mobile phones should have information to allow them to make informed choices abut personal exposures resulting from their use of mobile phones. ...therefore support the labelling of mobile phones and information at point of sale” (1.10)
Labor Report

Labor Senators:

  • support ongoing research into potential adverse effects of EMR.
  • note that … the funding available for EMR research does not appear to be inadequate.
  • conclude that there does not seem to be an identifiable problem with expenditure of funding by NHMRC.
  • [believe] that Standards Australia should be the primary body for setting standards.
  • find no substantial criticism of the transfer of the responsibility for setting a new Australian standard for electromagnetic emissions to ARPANSA.
  • support a standard setting process consistent with existing science on the health effects of EMR, and ongoing research into potential adverse health effects arising from non-thermal levels of exposure.
  • support the inclusion of precautionary measures in the new standard…
  • Given that the draft RF standard produced by ARPANSA incorporates a precautionary approach, and recognizes the need for ongoing research, Labor Senators conclude that there is no justification for this Committee to recommend alternative courses of action.
  • conclude that there is currently no scientific evidence to support the proposition that maintaining lower permissible levels of RF radiation in the standards will decrease the potential for health effects, and that there is no compelling scientific argument for such action at this time.

Full copies of the reports are available from the internet and can be downloaded from the following site:

EMRAA News June 2001, Vol 6 No 2