Chapter 2 - Research on the health effects of electromagnetic radiation
While radio waves and other forms of
electromagnetic energy have been in use for decades, the recent dramatic
increase in the use of mobile phones, the visible proliferation of mobile phone
towers and antennas and accompanying anecdotal and scientific studies showing
biological and possibly health effects associated with these structures, have
led to increased public concern about the safety of mobile phones and other
telecommunications technologies. Many studies have been conducted to examine
the relationship between radiofrequency radiation and biological and health
effects, however to date, the results have been inconclusive.
Several recent expert reviews provide an analysis
of the relevant scientific literature, with last year’s UK Stewart Report
considered the most comprehensive so far. Other reviews include those
conducted by the CSIRO in 1994, the European Commission in 1996, the
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in 1996
and 1998, the World Health Organization in 1998, and the Royal Society of
Canada and the UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology
in 1999. The conclusions and recommendations from these reviews will be
referred to throughout this chapter.
The Committee received submissions and evidence
from a number of scientists and health professionals, as well as community
organisations and individuals. Some claimed that there is ample evidence of
biological and/or adverse health effects associated with non-thermal levels of
exposure to electromagnetic radiation, while others concluded that no clear
relationship has been established.
This chapter provides a summary of the
scientific research covered by recent major reviews, as part of a discussion of
the evidence presented to this Committee based on the observations and research
of witnesses and submitters to this inquiry. It concludes with an overview of
current Australian and international research in this field.
Exposure to electromagnetic radiation – if
biological effects are shown, what are the health implications?
Exposure to non-ionising radiation, at exposure
levels sufficient to cause heating above 1ºC, is known to cause adverse health
Knowledge about and acceptance of the effects of non-thermal exposure to
electromagnetic radiation remains limited and contentious.
As stated earlier, a number of expert reviews of
the literature have been conducted, which have drawn the following conclusions in
relation to the health effects of non-ionising radiation, including
This report concluded that there was insufficient reliable
scientific evidence on which to base sound conclusions about safety of radio
frequency (RF) exposures in telecommunications. It stated that ‘because of its
equivocal nature, the data base for RF emissions has limited value. It may be
dangerous to make general statements on safety based on lack of evidence of
harmful effects when so little relevant research has been carried out’.
International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation
Protection (ICNIRP), 1996
Most of the established biological effects of exposure to RF
fields are consistent with responses to induced heating resulting in rises in
tissue or body temperature of greater than 1°C ... In contrast, non-thermal
effects are not well established and currently do not form a scientifically
acceptable basis for restricting human exposure for frequencies used by
hand-held radio telephones and base stations.
European Commission, 1996
Overall, the existing scientific literature encompassing
toxicology, epidemiology and other data relevant to risk assessment, while
providing useful information, provides no convincing evidence that
pose a long-term public health hazard.
World Health Organization, 1998
... no known health hazards were associated with exposure to RF
sources emitting fields too low to cause a significant temperature rise in
Epidemiological studies on exposed workers and the general
public have shown no major health effects associated with typical exposure
environments. This is consistent with the results of laboratory research on
cellular and animal models, which have demonstrated neither teratogenic
nor carcinogenic effects of exposure to athermal levels of high-frequency.
Royal Society of Canada, 1999
The Royal Society Expert Panel on Radiofrequency Fields noted
that there were ‘a number of observed biological effects of exposure of cells
or animals to non-thermal levels of exposure to RF fields’, but had found ‘no
evidence of documented health effects in animals or humans’ relating to this
exposure. However, it also expressed the view that ‘many of the studies in
humans and animals addressing the potential for adverse health effects do not
have sufficient power to rule out completely any possibility of such effects
UK Independent Group on Mobile Phones Report (Stewart
The Stewart Report (Mobile Phones and Health) noted that
while there has been little research into the safety of mobile phone and base
station emissions, there was some peer-reviewed literature from human and
animal studies and substantial non-peer-reviewed information, which refer to
the potential health effects caused by exposure to RF radiation from mobile
phone technology. It concluded that the balance of evidence suggests that
exposure to radiofrequency radiation below National Radiological Protection
and International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
guidelines ‘do not cause adverse health effects to the general population’, but
noted that ‘[t]here is now scientific evidence ... which suggests that there may
be biological effects occurring at exposure levels below these guidelines’.
The Stewart Report concluded that ‘it is not possible at present to say that
exposure to RF radiation ... is totally without potential adverse health effects,
and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach’.
Animal studies have provided evidence of
significant responses to radiofrequency radiation, including changes in
temperature regulation, endocrine function, cardiovascular function, immune
response, nervous system activity, and behaviour; however, the significance of
biological responses at low exposure levels and their relationship to health
effects are either not agreed with or not well understood.
The Telstra Repacholi et al study in
Adelaide is one of those which has shown a significant increase in cancer
incidence for mice genetically predisposed to lymphoma, and this study is
currently being ‘confirmed’ and is referred to later.
The Committee was informed that a growing body
of research provides evidence of biological effects. This was the conclusion
of the Royal Society of Canada Report, which said:
It is clear to the panel that there are a number of observed
biological effects of exposure of cells or animals to non-thermal levels of
exposure to RF fields. These observed biological effects meet the common
standards for scientific observation in that the experiments were
well-designed, had appropriate positive and/or negative controls, contained
valid RF exposure parameters, included appropriate statistical evaluation of
the significance of the data, and have been observed to occur by more than one
Despite this, the Australian Communications
Authority stated that ‘the evidence for production of harmful biological
effects at relatively low levels of exposure (that is, field intensities lower
than those that would produce measurable heating) is ambiguous and unproven.
The World Health Organization (WHO) draws a
distinction between effects on health, which it defines as ‘the state of
complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of
disease or infirmity’
and biological effects which are ‘a physiological response that may or may not
be perceptible to the exposed organism’.
In his paper on exposure to low level radiofrequency fields, Dr Michael
Repacholi, Coordinator, Occupational and Environmental Health, WHO, stated:
Biological systems respond to many stimuli as part of the normal
process of living. Such responses are examples of biological effects. It is
questionable whether reported ‘effects’, even if substantiated, can be
considered to represent evidence of a hazard simply because the significance of
the effect for the organism is not understood.
Professor Litovitz, Professor Emeritus of
Physics at the Catholic University of America, said on the question of whether
or not electromagnetic fields caused health effects:
If they cause biologic effects, there is the possibility – not
necessarily, but there is the possibility – that there will be health effects.
A biologic effect does not mean a health effect, but you cannot get a health
effect without a biologic effect.
Approaches to interpreting experimental results
and determining when a biological response should be considered to constitute a
health hazard include:
- any field-induced response is undesirable and should be avoided;
- exposure should be avoided if a physiological response in an
organism is measurable; and
- where no discomfort or pain is experienced, the stimulus
producing a response should be considered harmless.
To establish that a biological response has
health implications, Dr Repacholi says a number of conditions need to be
satisfied, including determining whether the biological or psychological
changes are reversible, whether effects are additive, or whether there are
adequate compensation mechanisms to respond to the effects. Dr Repacholi offered the
view that where dose-response relationships have not been established, it is
difficult to extrapolate results between different frequency ranges and
exposure levels, making it important to repeat experiments at different
Dose assessment is also important in epidemiological and human studies, because
of differences between ‘near field’ and ‘far field’ exposure.
The role of epidemiology, in vitro and in
When assessing the literature, it is worth
noting that in vitro studies provide insights into the mechanisms
underlying biological effects, whereas in vivo studies of animals and
humans are considered to provide more convincing evidence of biological effects
that may have implications for adverse health consequences for people. However, the most direct
information on the risks of adverse human health effects come from
epidemiological studies. Dr Repacholi commented:
Most of the known human carcinogens were first identified as
such by epidemiological studies; for this reason such evidence should not be
taken lightly, even if the findings are unexpected or are inconsistent with
other evidence ... Epidemiological studies are important for monitoring public
health impact of exposure, particularly from new technologies.
This view is supported by medical practitioner
and specialist in occupational medicine, Dr David Black, who noted that
‘[e]pidemiology is frequently misunderstood, and often wrongly criticised as
being limited to showing associations but never proving causation’.
In his submission, Dr Black describes some of
the criteria of causation for epidemiological studies. It also identifies the
different types of evidence relevant to human health studies. These range from
experimental studies, which he says while providing some of the strongest
evidence of cause and effect, could not be applied to human populations when
the effect is harmful, and have limitations when the results from animal
studies are applied to humans because of species differences; cohort and
case-control studies, which compare groups which do and do not exhibit the
effect, considered to be less precise than experimental studies and requiring a
number of consistent studies before a conclusion can be drawn; ecological
studies which are considered weaker than the two previously described because
they study exposure between population groups rather than individuals, and are
generally used for formulating or refining hypotheses for case-control or cohort
studies; and finally, individual case studies, descriptive studies, anecdotal
evidence etc, which are rarely proof of a definitive relationship but may
suggest the need for further research.
Dr Black also said the use of statistical
significance to describe scientific results is also defined as indicating ‘the
way the data has fallen but does not take into account reasons for this that
are not related to true cause and effect, such as bias, confounding or
statistical variation’, and therefore ‘statistical significance’ per se
should not be confused with ‘causation’.
Dr John Moulder, Professor of Radiation Oncology
at the Medical College of Wisconsin, USA, when discussing cancer risk
When the epidemiological evidence for an association between a
physical agent and cancer is weak and/or the link is biophysically implausible,
laboratory studies are critical for risk evaluation. If there is strong
cellular (in vitro) and/or animal (in vivo) evidence that an
agent is carcinogenic, it can make even weak epidemiology evidence for an
association credible. Conversely, if appropriate laboratory studies are done
and these studies fail to show any consistent evidence for carcinogenic
activity, then we tend to dismiss weak epidemiological evidence, particularly
if the association is biophysically implausible.
One of the most contentious issues with regard
to the way in which evidence from scientific studies is interpreted and
afforded credibility is the question of replication, confirmation or
The Mobile Manufacturers Forum argued:
... the results of any individual study cannot be considered
sufficient to establish or refute a possible human health risk. Individual
studies must be validated and replicated before they can be relied on, and the
determination of whether a potential health hazard exists requires a weight of
evidence that evaluates all relevant, credible and valid data.
Professor Mark Elwood, epidemiologist and public
health expert, stated:
I want to emphasise only one methodological principle relating
to most of these studies, and that is a general principle of epidemiology and,
indeed, of science; that is, when you do a study which finds an unexpected and
new finding which has not been reported before, it is very difficult within
that study to assess whether that finding is meaningful or whether it is due to
chance variation. The only real way to assess it is to set up a second,
independent study to test it.
Dr Moulder argued that the failure to replicate
results may be indicative of flaws in the original study:
... [the fact] that you cannot confirm and replicate it implies
that there is something at least slightly wrong with the original – not
necessarily totally wrong but something did not happen the way the authors
think it happened. At the first stage of an attempt to confirm, where you have
somebody reporting something and somebody else saying they cannot confirm it,
you really cannot necessarily believe either study ... Sometimes it is not clear
and you basically have to wait for more people to attempt to do it and you end
up making what is basically a weight of evidence argument.
Dr Neil Cherry from Lincoln University, New
Zealand, reported in his submission that Dr Repacholi had informed an industry
sponsored press conference that there was no evidence that GSM cellphones were
hazardous to health:
At the conference he [Dr Repacholi] presented his paper on the
Telstra funded project that showed that GSM cellphone radiation at quite low
non-thermal levels, doubled the cancer in mice. When challenged by the
conference chairman, Dr Michael Kundi, Dr Repacholi said that a study is not
evidence until it is replicated. The conference rejected this. A study is
evidence. Replication provides confirmation and establishment.
Dr Cherry also pointed out that in replication
work there can be unforseen variables:
It was shown in the calcium ion efflux work of Dr Blackman that
biological effects in the laboratory can vary with the local magnetic fields,
with temperature and with a number of other factors.
Professor Litovitz advised the Committee:
There have been a large number of publications, and certainly
over 100 have reported non-thermal biologic effects at exposure levels below
that considered safe by most government standards. If there have been that
many publications, you can ask the question: why is there controversy? If all
of these papers are out there and every scientist is correct, why is there such
a controversy and why is there so much argument? The answer is that the papers
do not all agree. For almost every paper you see on biologic effect, you will
see papers that say ‘I didn’t see anything. I see a big effect, but I didn’t
... So I ask myself: is this field of biomagnetics a junk science
field? Are these scientists out there who see effects at low levels all
incompetent, or worse? The answer is that lack of replication – that is to
say, two scientists disagreeing – is not limited to bioelectric magnetics but
rather it is a general problem in toxicity, it is a general problem in biology.
... Let us take drug X, whose name is not important. We ask this question:
does this drug induce deformed limbs in Norway rats? The results are as
follows. In one set of experiments, those treated with the drug show 60
percent deformed limbs, those untreated eight per cent. You have to conclude
from that experiment that this drug is a teratogen, that is to say it causes
abnormal embryos. ... This is not a story, this is a publication.
The difference between these experiments is that they were both
using Norway rats, but there are all kinds of Norway rats – just like we are
all people but we are genetically enormously different, and we are genetically
enormously different in our susceptibility to various kinds of stress. So even
though you go out and buy these rats that does not mean you have identical
rats. The drug that was used in this experiment was called thalidomide, which,
as you well know, was an enormous disaster. It was a disaster because it was
only studied in one strain and was not studied in the other.
The difference in genetic susceptibility of the test animals was
never taken into account, and this experiment was only done after 10,000
children were born without limbs. So this lack of replication does not mean
that there is no scientific validity. It means that science is complicated; it
means that biology is complicated, and that the human system is complicated –
and even rats are complicated.
Professor Litovitz also cited an experiment in
the US in which six laboratories with identical equipment tested chick embryos
to see if magnetic fields caused abnormalities:
... When these six laboratories’ results came back, two said yes,
two said absolutely no, and four said, ‘We might see something.’ ... Six months
later we made a measurement again and found no effect. ... As we went through
the three-year period, we found an enormous genetic compound in the response of
chick embryos to electromagnetic fields. ... It is not that you [the laboratory]
did something wrong; it is the genetics. They were working with different
The Committee queried whether the Vernon-Roberts
study (see Australian research below) could be considered a true
replication of the 1997 Adelaide mouse study, given the modifications that have
been made to the original methodology. Dr Repacholi, from the World Health
Organization and member of the Adelaide mouse study team advised:
... in initial studies they may have done something that is not
particularly helpful or there is a better way of doing it. If the result is a
true result it should still occur in the animal. There is no reason to expect
that you are still exposing the animal to radiofrequency fields using the same
pulsing regimes, maybe different times, different orientations, but if there is
going to be an effect it should still occur. We were very careful in reviewing
the follow-up study in Adelaide, and there is another study being done in
Europe, to make sure that, yes, what was done in the original study is going to
be either confirmed or not confirmed in these studies.
In referring to the Adelaide mouse confirmation
study, Dr Thomas Magnussen, CEO of the EMX Corporation, said:
... but there are significant differences between the two
experiments. For instance, Repacholi’s first experiment ran for 18 months.
The new one is going to run for 24 months. The way the animals are exposed is
quite different in the two experiments. The genetics can never be the same.
When we are talking about biological experiments, it is virtually impossible to
make a replication.
The Consumers’ Telecommunications Network
commented that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that there are no
potential health risks associated with radiofrequency radiation.
Dr Black said that in science it is impossible
to prove a negative, and thus it will not be possible to claim that there are
no health effects, only that the evidence suggests that such a scenario would
be highly unlikely, as illustrated by the following statements:
... it is frequently stated by people who are concerned that the
application of [radiofrequency] technology should not proceed until there is
proof of the absence of any adverse effect. The answer to this can only be
that there will never be such proof about RF, or for that matter anything else
It is also equally true that it is theoretically impossible to
provide absolute unarguable proof of an association.
The only conclusion which can be drawn from an understanding of
the principles of epidemiology and of the assessment of scientific data is that
whilst it is possible to prove an association with substantial and convincing
certainty, it is impossible to prove an absence of an association in such a
Before outlining the research that is currently
under-way both in Australia and overseas into electromagnetic radiation and its
effects as it relates to telecommunications equipment, this section summarises
what is known so far about the biological and health effects of electromagnetic
Expert reviews referred to at the beginning of
this chapter have relied upon existing literature and a number of witnesses
have concluded from scientific abstracts that there are potential health
effects of EMR.
Mr Stewart Fist, journalist, claims to have the
largest website collection of abstracts of scientific research publications and
says that about 60 per cent of them show effects from non-ionising radiation.
The World Health Organization website includes a
database of current and published research into the biological and health
effects of radiofrequency radiation.
Some witnesses expressed the view that while
this information is a valuable resource in understanding the science, it was an
inadequate substitute for a working knowledge of the material. The CSIRO’s
submission to this inquiry commented on its own limitations in relying on
research by others:
CSIRO is maintaining a watching brief, although it appreciates
the limitations of attempting to evaluate research without the benefit of involvement
and participation. Independent, authoritative scientific information is
provided in response to enquiries from Government and the community.
The absence of involvement in scientific research into
biological effects of EMR is a recognised limitation in any assessment of the
state of research. It is only possible to fully understand the complexities of
sophisticated biological procedures through experience gained from working at
the bench. Unfortunately, this level of expertise and understanding is
lacking, or indeed absent, in many of the participants of committees or working
groups that try to make assessments of the veracity of scientific research.
Is the scientific evidence inconclusive?
The most recent expert reviews of the relevant
electromagnetic radiation literature suggest that the results in this area are
Industry submissions generally argued too that
the science was inconclusive. Hutchison Telecommunications, said in its
... the world’s leading experts and key health advisory bodies
state that there is no substantiated evidence to suggest a link between the use
of mobile phones and long term public health risks, but we acknowledge there is
public concern on this issue.
Nokia Mobile Phones, Australia, said:
... a substantial amount of scientific research conducted all over
the world over many years, demonstrates that radio signals within established
safety levels emitted from mobile telephone[s] and their base stations present
no adverse effects to human health.
Motorola Australia, said:
... the scientific evidence does not demonstrate a risk to public
health from wireless phones.
In his submission, Mr Neil Boucher, said:
Most of the ‘research’ that has been carried out on the health
effects of electromagnetism are top down studies. That is people are
assembled, with largely medical and statistical qualifications (and usually
with little or no knowledge of electromagnetism itself), to look for
epidemiological evidence of some health effect. The fact that nothing
conclusive has been found to date testifies both to the relative insignificance
of any effect (if it exists) and to the futility of the methods employed.
The Australian Communications Authority (ACA)
submitted that radiofrequency devices that operate in accordance with
recognised human exposure standards do not pose a health risk.
The Committee notes the observations in the
We were struck by certain inconsistencies and inadequacies in
the scientific literature on the biological effects of RF radiation. Many
studies in this field have been exploratory and preliminary in nature, and
claims of effects have sometimes been based on single experiments rather than a
consistent series of hypothesis-driven investigations. In some cases, study design
and statistical analysis have been inadequate, and apparent effects may have
been artefactual or due to random variation. Indeed, the field is troubled by
failures to replicate previous studies and by a lack of theoretical explanation
of some effects that have been claimed. There may also be biases arising from
selective publication and non-publication of results.
Finally, even for effects that appear to be well substantiated,
the biological significance and the implications for health are often unclear.
Not all witnesses were of the view that the
evidence was inconclusive. Dr Neil Cherry told the Committee that his
work in preparing for a tribunal hearing for the first mobile phone base
station in NZ in 1995 had led him to examine epidemiological and biological
research from around the world:
I was very surprised there is so much published evidence in
reputable, peer review journals that has not been sighted, summarised or
integrated. The more I received the more solid the evidence seemed to be and
the more consistent it seemed to be. And so when I heard people saying that
the evidence was weak and inconsistent, I decided I should debate this with
people and go to conferences and talk to them about it. ... This culminated, I
believe, in a climax last year at the conference at the European Parliament
where I was asked to look particularly at low level effects and epidemiological
studies with those response relationships of low level effects. ... Over 20
studies show that radiofrequency microwave radiation damages the genes, damages
the chromosomes, damages the DNA, and therefore indicates genotoxicity. I am
also aware that many studies only use small samples – they are epidemiological
studies or laboratory samples. They find elevated levels but they are not
specifically significant and they are often described as showing no effects.
But I have supplied with my evidence a summary of brain tumour studies, and I
have characterised them as studies showing elevated effects, studies showing
significantly elevated effects and studies showing dose response effects. And
that is a classical way, I believe, at looking at the evidence trail and
asking: was it elevated, was it significantly elevated and have we found dose
response elevation? ...
... Following those principles, I come to totally different
conclusions than Dr Moulder, Dr Black, Dr Elwood and Dr Repacholi.
Mrs McLean of Electromagnetic Radiation Alliance
of Australia (EMRAA), said that many studies are showing a range of effects,
including brain tumours, leukaemia, heart problems, neurological problems,
neuro-degenerative diseases, breast cancer and affects on the immune system, as
well as affecting melatonin levels, enzymes, hormones, genes and signal
transduction in cells.
These are discussed later in this chapter.
Anecdotal and non-peer-reviewed evidence
A number of submissions to this inquiry referred
anecdotally to cases of brain tumours,
hyperactivity in children and nausea,
skin growths protruding from the ear against which the mobile phone was held, chronic fatigue, nose bleeds, and other health effects, which they linked to mobile
Submissions also noted that expert panels, such
as the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (the Stewart Group), had been
presented with anecdotal evidence of adverse health effects from mobile phones
and their base stations, which were claimed to be related to non-thermal
effects of radiofrequency radiation.
Reference was also made to reports of ‘microwave sickness’ from mobile phones,
including headaches, fatigue, impotence, blood pressure changes, chest pain and
One submission raised the possibility of a link between legionnaires disease
outbreaks with the presence of mobile phone towers and high voltage power lines
in the vicinity of cooling towers.
The Committee notes the conclusions of the Royal
Society of Canada Report:
Headache and fatigue are nonspecific symptoms. ... Headache is not
an indicator of ‘brain activity’ and in general headaches occur in the absence
of structural abnormalities of either the brain or the blood-brain barrier. ...
Although there is need to consider the possibility of [microwave-induced]
symptoms such as headache and fatigue, existing data do not support the
conclusion that [microwave fields] can induce headaches.
The panel did not find persuasive evidence of the existence of
radiofrequency radiation sickness syndrome, however, some individuals may be
able to sense when they are exposed to radiofrequency fields.
The Report recommended further research into
While the EMR Safety Network International
argued that anecdotal evidence should be heeded, Dr Repacholi argued that this
type of evidence is more valuable in establishing a hypothesis, rather than as
proof of causal effect:
When reviewing the scientific literature, only independently
confirmed effects can be considered when assessing health risk. For
establishing research needs, effects which have not been confirmed, but are
possible and could have implications for health, should be considered because
they may ultimately be established.
The Committee notes that the Stewart Group
included evidence from sources other than peer-reviewed scientific journals as
part of its assessment of the potential health risks associated with exposure
to radiofrequency fields.
The Committee was advised that material that has not been peer-reviewed can
suffer from several shortcomings, including deficiencies in methodology,
analysis and conclusions.
Dr Repacholi said that the quality of peer
review can vary and that the results of many studies need to be compared and
evaluated before a conclusion can be drawn.
Dr John Moulder mentioned difficulties in
selecting suitable independent candidates to undertake peer review,
particularly in small and highly specialised fields such as dosimetry:
What I do is look for people who are involved in the specific
field but who have no direct connections, either positive or negative, with the
authors of the study. Sometimes that is in fact impossible. I will explain
what I would do if I could not find the perfect person by taking the example of
radiofrequency radiation and cancer in animals. If everybody who is in that
field is conflicted, I might look for someone who is an expert in RF dosimetry,
even though they knew nothing about cancer, and then look for someone who was
into carcinogenesis in animal models, even if they knew nothing about
radiofrequency radiation, and then possibly back that up with a statistician
who would not necessarily be familiar with either, but statistics is
Publication and research bias
Dr David Black, in his submission, also drew the
Committee’s attention to what he described as ‘publication bias’, whereby
journals may prefer to publish a paper where the study has produced ‘novel’
results rather than one ‘simply reiterating a well accepted status quo’. A
similar bias was suggested in relation to difficulties in attracting funding
for studies considered ‘likely to be simply reiterating well established fact’,
and that these two biases need to be considered when undertaking a literature
The Committee also notes the comments of Dr Stan Barnett, CSIRO:
One of the biggest difficulties that we have in this particular
area of research is that there are all sorts of biases in research generally.
That is a given. You have to take adequate controls to make sure that you do
not allow those biases – the experimental biases, the observer biases and the
biases in the statistical analysis program that you use. All of those things
are biases which researchers are familiar with and which we understand ... but
before you even start the research one of the biggest biases that exists
generally is that of selection bias. ... Selection bias is simply that the
person who has the money ... has the resources and therefore has the ability to
select, firstly, the type of research that they want to spend their money on;
secondly, the facility where they would like to have it done ... and, thirdly,
they can select whomever they wish to do that research, whether it is somebody
who has the necessary experience in the area or somebody who has a high
profile. There may be issues other than the essential science that determine
the selection of the research that is undertaken.
Concerns raised about the difficulties in
obtaining funding for replication studies are referred to in Chapter 3.
A number of studies have linked exposure to
electromagnetic radiation with a range of biological and health conditions
including: high blood pressure in humans; severe depression of the
immunological and endocrinological responses of young chickens; increases in
the permeability of the blood-brain barrier; calcium efflux from brain tissue;
effects on the dopamine-opiate system considered to be involved in headaches;
influences on epileptic activity; and increases in the mortality of chick
embryos. Studies have also found evidence of chromosome aberrations and
increases in double and single strand DNA breakages, and increases in the promotion
of certain cancers in genetically predisposed mice.
Biological effects that have been specifically
linked to radiofrequencies include changes to calcium ion mobility in the
brains of cats and rabbits as well as isolated cells and tissues, changes to the
proliferation rate of cells, alterations to enzyme activity, and affects on
The search for a mechanism
Various mechanisms have been proposed for the
way in which radiofrequency fields interact with biological systems, generally
involving the induction of movement of molecules.
Professor Philip Jennings, referred to
ferrimagnetic material in human tissue with possible implications for the
interaction between electromagnetic radiation, particularly extremely low
frequencies, and biological systems.
Professor Litovitz said:
There are those who believe that only heat can cause an effect
and there are those who believe otherwise, whose experiments suggest that it
takes only a signal to a cell to cause the cell to do something. The cell has
its own energy; you supply the trigger and the cell proceeds to produce enzymes
and proteins, et cetera. ... Let us look at the example of garage door openers ...
You are in your car and you press this and your garage door opens. The
question is: can you believe that this supplied the energy for the garage door
to open? Was it this that supplied the energy for that motor to pick up the
garage door? We are saying no. We are saying that this is a signal that
turned on the energy to the motor. That is the similarity, that is what
athermal effects are all about: cells receive a signal and turn on the engine
inside the cell which produces proteins, which produces enzymes necessary for
We have studied in detail the target of the EMF and we now know
the number of milliseconds that it takes the cell to be able to say there is a
field there. ... It is well known in biology that this information goes to a
process called signal transduction on the surface of the cell or receptors.
They say something and send a signal to the nucleus, which proceeds to undergo
various biochemical processes. This takes seconds.
... We are now working on a possible mechanism which relates EM
field exposure to health effects. We find that EM fields alter the levels of
protective proteins. It turns out that the major effort in my lab today is to
use these non-thermal effects to protect against damage due to heart attacks,
to treat cancer and to treat inflammation. These non-thermal effects are
remarkably useful, and will be useful in the next few years, in therapy. The
question is: when are they therapeutic and when might they be harmful?
... You have a protein that works, you come in with a
electromagnetic field stressor, the protein is damaged and unfolded, nature
produces protective proteins, goes in and refolds the protein and repairs the
damage. This is one of the most exciting discoveries in the past 30 years in
medicine. These protective proteins, these stress proteins, are being studied
by almost every pharmaceutical company in the country because of their
potential, because they are the basic repair mechanisms ... and we have found
that EM fields can modify the amount of protective proteins that you have. I
say ‘we’ – there is a minimum of four, and I think it is five, labs that have
replicated the concept that EM fields can affect protective proteins. ...
There is a theory now that these protective proteins are related
to Alzheimer’s and that a reduction in protective proteins means a greater
probability of Alzheimer’s. This is a theory which we have not tested, but
there is data out there that appears to relate the incidence of Alzheimer’s to
exposure to electromagnetic fields. ... We cannot necessarily say that there is a
health effect, but we can say that mechanisms exist for potential health
Dr Peter French drew a link between evidence of
the role of heat shock proteins in cancer and mobile phones:
In plain English, the point
is that it has been demonstrated by several researchers that increasing the
amount of heat shock proteins in cells results in the increased potential for
developing tumours, increased stimulation of metastasis or spread of cancers,
the direct development of cancer, de novo, and the decreased effectiveness of
anti-cancer drugs. Any one of these outcomes is obviously undesirable, but
there is, within the heat shock protein and medical research literature,
evidence for each of these statements.
... where are we with the
mobile phone cancer link? This is a summary of this part of my presentation.
A mobile phone user will experience energy from the radiation of the phone
going into the brain. That can induce some physiological effects, as has been
published by Krause et al, but, importantly, it can potentially induce the heat
shock response in the brain which can lead to the turning on of heat shock
proteins. For a single event that is fine, because that is the body responding
defensively. Normally it takes four to eight hours for the protein machinery
to work after the protein machinery has been activated. It takes from four to
eight hours for the proteins to be secreted, to be made and then ultimately
they disappear if they are not needed. If you continually use a mobile phone,
you can imagine that the heat shock proteins would be chronically induced,
similar to the over-expression studies which have been described. Continued
regular mobile phone use can result in chronic expression of heat shock
proteins, which can lead to – from
those findings which are referenced there – increased metastasis, initiation and promotion of cancer and resistance
to anti-cancer drugs.
I am not saying mobile
phones cause cancer. I am saying that this is a pathway – which is founded on solid, peer reviewed
international science – which
provides a mechanism whereby mobile phone radiation could lead to cancer.
Given that that is the case, then I would contend that some action is needed.
If this is a possibility, then clearly research is needed to determine whether
in fact heat shock proteins are being induced in the brains of mobile phone
users; furthermore, we do not need to wait 30 years until that bottom line is
... The link has been made by
me. Having said that, the mechanism by which microwaves may cause protein
unfolding, leading to the heat shock response, has not yet been determined, and
there are a couple of possibilities. De Pomerai’s group says that there may be
a resonance of the microwave field with the protein or with the water. We have
published, and it is in the written submission, a hypothesis paper in the Journal
of Theoretical Biology which advances those two possibilities as well, for
attributing low power as another stressor to activate the heat shock response.
Associate Professor Olle Johansson from the
Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, in discussing the health effects of visual
display units, referred to the role of mast cells as a possible mechanism:
Here in Sweden, the problems
around different types of electromagnetic devices arose with the introduction
of radio in the twenties and thirties but it was much more evident in the late
seventies. When the PC explosion came, all the offices were turned into
computer based systems and people were sitting all day long in front of visual
display terminals of different types. At the end of the seventies and at the
beginning of the eighties, a growing number of people complained of different
symptoms, especially from their face, on their neck, arms and hands after they
had been sitting in front of these visual display terminals. From the very beginning,
it was not understood what was going on, but people were searching around in
the working environment for different explanations. Very soon, the ideas
focused upon the radiation from the visual display terminals. With respect to
the symptoms, one could mention, for instance, skin problems, facial burning,
redness, dry skin, facial heat, swelling, tingling sensations and even
blisters. Also, it was connected with feelings of fatigue and headaches, and
memory losses were claimed et cetera. Of course, as scientists we tried to
understand the symptoms.
... In the last years, the
focus has been much more on different high frequency devices, which of course
include modern computer screens but also include light tubes of high frequency,
different kinds of telecommunications systems, such as wireless DEC telephones,
different radio alarm based systems and, of course, mobile telephones.
Parallel to this, a number of investigators – some among them having some very interesting data from Australia –
have documented the results of experiments
at the cellular and tissue level of different animals and humans which show the
effects of, for instance, exposure to high frequency signals from mobile
... there are now more and
more studies coming out pointing to possible mechanisms, from the cellular and
molecular level, all the way up to more macroscopic events. Our working
hypothesis is very simple actually. For instance, looking at human skin, both
from patients claiming these kind of health problems and from normal healthy
volunteers who have sat in front of visual display terminals, we see
alterations in different cell types. For instance, the histamine contained in
mast cells is identical to what you would see – and it is reported also in the literature – from other irradiation damage sources: for
instance, from sunrays, X-rays and radioactivity. Our very simple and maybe
naive working hypothesis that this irradiation damage is of a more long-term
type compared to other more energetic irradiation damage.
Of course, the molecular
cell biochemistry machinery has to be worked out in detail and this work is, of
course, going on. As I said before, in Australia, you have the research team
around Peter French and his collaborators that has been studying these mast
cells that have been irradiated using high frequency mobile telephone signals.
From their studies, it is evident that these cells are affected. You then have
to imagine what would happen if you have the same situation in a human being.
Dr Cherry proposed another mechanism:
... The early studies show that oscillating signals interfere with
the brain very significantly and can change the EEG and can change the calcium
ions, and these change reaction times. This is a classical physics approach of
resonant absorption. If a system can oscillate and an oscillating signal comes
in, it can resonantly be absorbed. It is what an aerial does, it is what a
cell phone does, it is what is used in telecommunications, ... It has been
demonstrated in many laboratories that it actually does occur.
But according to Dr John Moulder, in order to
induce a biological change, ‘radio-frequency radiation must deposit enough
energy to significantly alter some biological structure’.
In noting some of the current hypotheses about
possible biological interactions, Dr Repacholi stated:
These RF field-induced alterations, if they occur, could be
anticipated to cause a wide variety of physiological changes in living cells
that are only poorly understood at the present time.
While observing that thermal effects may account
for positive results, the Stewart Report considered that reports of epigenetic
effects should be taken seriously and further research undertaken.
The Committee notes that a number of studies
cited in submissions as providing evidence of biological or adverse health
effects relate to extremely low frequency (ELF) exposure. Areas of similarity
between the effects of radiofrequency radiation and extremely low frequencies
include effects on calcium efflux, ODC
activity and behaviour associated with the opioid system. The Royal Society of
Canada Expert Panel suggested that ‘many of the efforts now underway to
understand the mechanism associated with ELF effects could be used to
investigate the mechanisms by which ELF-modulated RF fields elicit non-thermal
The importance of determining the biological
mechanism(s) responsible for any observed effects, particularly in relation to
the setting of safety standards, was highlighted by the CSIRO:
... it is generally agreed by various expert panels that research
on mechanisms of interaction is essential. Without an understanding of how low
energy RF fields cause these biological effects, it is difficult to establish
safety limits particularly for non-thermal levels.
How important is it to distinguish between
Dr Moulder argued for the need to clearly
distinguish between the evidence for adverse health effects from exposure to
radiofrequency radiation as opposed to extremely low frequencies (ELF). The
applicability of ELF research to radiofrequency exposure was referred to by EMF
South World Pty Ltd:
... observed bioeffects induced by mobile phone microwave
are remarkably similar to bioeffects induced by power-line frequency EMF.
This means that two decades of epidemiological data on power-line frequency EMF
can be used in the debate on potential health effects of mobile phone
radiation, on which there is virtually no epidemiological data.
Dr Moulder advised that it was not appropriate
to extrapolate the results of exposure to frequencies from different areas of
the electromagnetic spectrum:
... the biophysics of the interaction is completely different. I
do not want to be absolutist ... But, in general, if you want to understand the
biological effects of radiofrequency radiation, you use radiofrequency
Dr Moulder later added:
In general ... most of the effects of radiofrequency radiation
that we know of are not strongly dependent on frequency ... But the bigger the
jump you make, the less certain you can be ... if we finally concluded that
radiofrequency radiation was safe enough for all practical purposes, that does
not tell us whether powerline frequency is safe. ... But, if you demonstrated
that the frequencies used for FM and television were hazardous, then you would
certainly worry about cell phone frequency. It would not prove it, but the
closer together in frequency your information is, the more likely it is to be
The Committee notes, however, the views
expressed by Professor Philip Jennings, who stated:
Our society’s experience with ionising radiation should persuade
us to take great care ... The original standard set for ionising radiation
protection ... has proven to be quite inappropriate and as further research has
been performed and evaluated the public limit has been reduced by nearly a
factor of a thousand. This could also happen with EMR. We are still in the
infancy of EMR research and we should learn from the mistakes we made with
ionising radiation and introduce a principle of prudent avoidance or ALARA’.
Professor Litovitz argued that:
The cell’s characteristic response to a mobile phone is the same
as that to a power line. This was beautiful for us, because it meant that all
the data out there on powerline problems could be translated to the data on
cell phone or mobile phone problems. That is to say, you could put them
together to try to understand what is going on.
Many of the studies cited during this inquiry
relate to extremely low frequency (primarily 50/60Hz) exposure, which report
observed effects on the reproductive system, blood changes, ECG, heart rate, blood pressure
and body temperature, melatonin and cancer.
Studies have also been conducted into the health implications of exposure to
radars, which operate at radiofrequencies ranging from 300 MHz to 15 GHz.
Submissions and evidence to this inquiry have
referred to biological and health effects associated with powerlines, radio and
television towers and video display units (see below); however, this inquiry is
concerned with electromagnetic radiation associated with telecommunications
Dr Neil Cherry reported in his submission that:
Ten epidemiological studies have found significant miscarriage
from EMR exposure across the spectrum from ELF, SW, to RF/MW. The Scandinavian
physiotherapist studies, Kallén et al. (1982) and Larsen et al. (1991) also
found significant prematurity, congenital malformation, still birth and cot
death. Ouellet-Hellstrom and Stewart (1993) confirm the causal relationship
with a highly significant dose-response relationship.
Dr Cherry said it was also important to note
that if an effect is seen with low frequency signals, such as an ELF 50 Hz or
60 Hz signal, or the Schumann Resonance ELF signals, then it is more likely and
likely to be worse for modulated or pulsed RF/MW:
This is because an ELF signal has a very long wavelength and
generally passes easily right through the body. Unless there is a resonant
oscillator, such as for the Schumann Resonances, it induces quite small fields
in the body. On the other hand the RF/MW signals have wavelengths closer to
the dimensions of bodies and body parts, they are more strongly absorbed in
human bodies through the aerial effect.
The Committee notes that the World Health Organization
draws a distinction between radio and TV broadcasting and telecommunications
facilities. While for the most part the Committee has confined its comments to
telecommunications technologies, in acknowledgment of concerns raised in
relation to electromagnetic radiation generally, the Committee has digressed
into other frequency ranges and technological applications in its review.
Observed biological and health effects of
Movement of substances across cell membranes
Studies have examined the effect of
radiofrequency radiation on the movement of substances across cell membranes.
The role of calcium in the functioning of brain and other cells has prompted
research into calcium movement in brain tissue. While some studies have shown
that low levels of RF exposure cause an increase in calcium efflux from brain
tissue, according to the Stewart Report results are contradictory, and evidence
of an amplitude modulated response at extremely low frequencies does not appear
to be relevant to mobile phone technology, ‘where the amplitude modulation
within the critical frequency band is very small’. The Stewart Report further
concluded that ‘[i]f such effects occur as a result of exposure to mobile
phones, their implications for cell function are unclear and no obvious health
risk has been suggested. Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure, amplitude
modulation around 16 Hz should be avoided, if possible, in future developments
in signal coding’.
The Stewart Report found evidence that exposure
to high intensity radiofrequency fields, sufficient to result in a temperature
rise in tissue, can reduce the excitability of neurons. However, exposure at
non-thermal levels does not appear to have an effect.
It also reported that various studies have
examined the potential of radiofrequency radiation to affect gene expression
and produced inconsistent results. While the well publicised study showing an
increase in the lifecycle of nematodes may be suggestive of a non-thermal
effect, the report said that there was little evidence to support the
proposition that mobile phone radiation causes a stress response in mammalian
The enzyme ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) plays a
role in the synthesis of polyamines which can trigger DNA synthesis, cell
growth and cell differentiation. Activation of ODC has been related to the
late, ‘promotional’ phase of cancer production, which is usually (but not
always) correlated with an increase in the rate of cell division in the
affected tissue. Again, the results of studies examining the effects of
radiofrequency radiation on ODC activity have been mixed. Positive findings do
not indicate an obvious pattern of dose-response or reveal a mechanism to
explain the changes. The Stewart Report noted that although all carcinogenic
factors stimulate ODC, not all stimuli that increase ODC activity promote
cancer, and said it was unlikely that the small increases observed from
exposure to pulse-modulated radiofrequency fields could, on their own, have a
The Royal Society of Canada Report states that:
... the lack of major [cell] proliferative response in the tissue
of cell line following ELF exposure does not necessarily mean that ELF is
incapable of serving as a tumour promoter, particularly if alterations in ODC
activity are involved .... It is possible that this small change in ODC activity
brought about by ELF is unrelated to human cancer risk.
The Report suggests that further research is
Dr Peter French indicated that the heat-shock
protein response which is activated by external stressors such as chemicals,
heavy metals, drugs and radiofrequency radiation has been shown in a separate
study to be causally linked to cancer formation. Other research submitted by
Dr French suggested a link between RF exposure, cell changes and gene
Submissions referred to studies that had shown
that extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields reduce melatonin
production by the pineal gland, and the magnetic fields prevent melatonin from
inhibiting the development of breast cancer.
Circulating levels of this hormone have a strong circadian rhythm with
melatonin levels peaking in humans at night. Melatonin affects the mammalian
reproductive system as well as other physiological and biochemical functions. While it may be hypothesised
that similar effects may result from exposure to radiofrequency radiation, the
Royal Society of Canada Report said that additional research is required to
test the effects of RF radiation on pineal function, circulating melatonin
levels, and the utilization of melatonin by target cells and tissues.
Dr Cherry cited a study from Switzerland on the
... They were sampling melatonin before and after the tower was
permanently turned off and they found a significant rise in melatonin after the
tower was turned off. They found a dose response increase in sleep
disturbance. When the tower was turned off experimentally, the sleep quality
improved and melatonin rose in animals.
The Stewart Report commented that part of the
brain and the gland involved in melatonin production are further from the
surface of the head in humans than in animals and concluded that:
... even if there were an effect on melatonin production in
animals resulting from a direct interaction of fields within the brain, it
would be much less likely to occur in people.
In his submission, however, Dr Cherry claims
that EMR reduces melatonin and enhances free radical activity in humans and
that this is genotoxic, damaging the DNA and chromosomes, enhancing oncogene
expression and transforming cells to neoplastic cells and causing cancer in
We have natural EMR-based communication systems in our brains,
hearts, cell and bodies. External natural and artificial EMR resonantly
interacts with these communication systems altering hormone balances and
damaging organs and cells. The brain and the heart are especially sensitive because
they mediate and regulate primary biological functions that are vital to life,
thinking and heart beat, using EMR signals, the EEG and ECG. When EMR
interferes with the EEG this is communicated to the body by neurotransmitters
and neurohormones, including the serotonin/melatonin system. EMR reduces
melatonin. Melatonin is vital for the health of the Immune System, the Brain,
The Heart and every cell, because it is the most potent naturally produced
antioxidant. It is a potent free radical scavenger that plays a vital
protective role to protect the DNA in every cell. Reduced melatonin causes
cancer, miscarriage, heart disease, neurological diseases, viral and bacterial
In his submission, Dr Cherry says:
Cancer is a chronic disease problem from accumulated genetic
cell damage. Latencies for children and soft tissue cancers are as short as a
few years, for most cancers they take 10 to 40 years to develop. Cancer rates
rise rapidly with age over 65 years because of the life-time of accumulated
cell damage and the drastic reduction in melatonin that occurs after puberty.
Figure 1: Melatonin Production varies with age, Reiter & Robinson
This shows how vulnerable very young children are because they
have very low melatonin levels and undeveloped immune systems. It also shows
how reduced melatonin makes older people more vulnerable and much more prone to
disease and cancer.
Dr Cherry cited a large epidemiological study of
female breast cancer over 24 states in the US which identified several organic
solvents, including organochlorines, that significantly increased the incidence
of breast cancer and which showed that radiofrequency fields were as dangerous
as toxic chemicals and ionising radiation.
|Table 1: Breast cancer from occupational exposures,
Cantor et al.
Metals and Oxides
Dr Cherry says this evidence is backed by more
than 10 other studies showing that EMR across the spectrum increases breast
cancer incidence and 15 studies showing reduced melatonin, including four with
... These are sufficient to classify a causal relationship between
EMR and breast cancer, with melatonin reduction [a]s the biological mechanism.
Dr Cherry also cited studies which found that
melatonin reduction can be a cause of miscarriage and that microwaves
significantly increased the incidence of miscarriage in a dose-response manner
in the first trimester and that very young babies are sensitive to variations
in the natural EMR at extremely low levels:
One of the most important single studies involved cot death
(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in Ontario, Canada. O’Connor and Persinger
(1997) were investigating the GMA melatonin hypothesis by seeing if a
melatonin-related syndrome (SIDS) varied with GMA. They found that SIDS
incidence significantly increased when GMA >30 nT and GMA <20 nT, - a
homeostatic result. This confirms that GMA causes illness and death in
vulnerable people, babies, and involves melatonin homeostasis.
A number of studies have examined the potential
of radiofrequency radiation to affect the permeability of the blood-brain
While most studies have had negative results, one study did find an increased
blood-brain permeability to albumin in RF irradiated rats. While it has been
suggested that blood-brain barrier breakdown following microwave radiation
exposure may be due to thermal effects, some researchers have suggested that
the disturbance may occur under ‘power window’ conditions where there may be a
range of power intensities at which the barrier remains intact.
The Stewart Report concluded that ‘[t]he
available evidence for an effect of RF exposure on the blood-brain barrier is
inconsistent and contradictory. Recent, well-conducted studies have not
reported any effects’.
In contrast, the Royal Society of Canada Report stated that effects on the
blood-brain barrier permeability, calcium efflux and ODC activity ‘occur at
exposures not thought to elicit thermal effects, [and] it is likely that these
effects, even if they also occur at higher exposure levels, are non-thermal
A number of studies also have examined the
potential of radiofrequency fields to cause damage to DNA, and some have found
no effects at non-thermal levels of exposure. While radiofrequency fields do
not have sufficient energy to break chemical bonds or directly cause DNA strand
breaks, several studies have shown an increase in breakages at non-thermal
levels of exposure and chromosomal aberrations. Whilst these studies have not
been replicated, they are ‘confirmed’ by the fact that they were similar and
carried out in laboratories independent of each other.
According to Dr Cherry:
The first identified study that showed that pulsed RF radiation
cause significant chromosome aberrations was Heller and Teixeira-Pinto
(1959). Garlic roots were exposed to 27 MHz pulsed at 80 to 180 Hz. for 5
mins. They were examined 24 hrs later. They concluded that this RF signal
mimicked the chromosomal aberration produced by ionizing radiation and
c-mitotic substances. No increased temperature was observed. ...
Garaj-Vrhovac et al. (1990) noted the differences and
similarities between the mutagenicity of microwaves and VCM (vinyl chloride
monomer). They studied a group of workers who were exposed to 10 to 50 µW/cm2 of radar produced
microwaves. Some were also exposed to about 5 ppm of VCM, a known carcinogen.
Exposure to each of these substances (microwaves and VCM) produced highly
significant (p<0.01 to p<0.001) increases in Chromatid breaks, Chromosome
breaks, acentric and dicentric breaks in human lymphocytes from blood taken
from exposed workers. The results were consistent across two assays, a
micronucleus test and chromosome aberration assay. Chromosome aberrations and
micronuclei are significantly higher than the controls, (p<0.05, p<0.001,
p<0.0001), for each of the exposure intensity.
Dr Cherry also drew the Committee’s attention to
studies done of staff in the US Embassy in Moscow that was chronically exposed
to radar over a decade and found increased chromosome damage:
... I have found more than 30 studies showing chromosome damage in
people exposed to radiofrequency microwave radiation. This is far more than we
have for benzine, which is a carcinogen.
The results of genotoxic studies were said by the
Stewart Report to have been generally negative. Dr Cherry says the studies he
cited in his submission show very strong evidence of genotoxic effects from
RF/MW exposures and notes that when chromosomes are damaged, one of the primary
protective measures is for the immune system natural killer cells to eliminate
the damaged cells.
The Committee notes that the general public
ICNIRP guideline for microwaves above 2 GHz is 1 mW/cm2, and for
workers is 5 mW/cm2. Dr Cherry pointed out that the Garaj-Vrhovac et
al (1991) study of Chinese hamster cells in an isothermal exposure system
showed that even at exposures 100 times below the public exposure guideline a
60 minute exposure kills 28 per cent of the cells and 30 minutes kills 8 per
cent of the cells.
Garaj-Vrhovac (1999) also found that 12 workers
occupationally exposed to microwaves had significantly increased chromosome
damage as well as disturbances in the distribution of cells over the first,
second and third mitotic divisions.
Dr Stan Barnett in commenting on the CSIRO’s
unsuccessful proposals for NHMRC funding which was to look at cell response to
radiation at specific periods in the cell division cycle, said:
... One of the biggest failings of all cellular studies is that,
largely, they either use highly transformed cell lines which are very sensitive
to almost anything, or they use cell lines which are general laboratory, fairly
robust cells like lymphocytes. Nobody bothers to try to synchronise the
cells. It is well known in radiation biology that cells respond to radiation
at specific periods in the cell division cycle. Our proposal was to use a
fairly complex system which would allow us to use what we know as a radiation
sensitive cell line and to synchronise it so that we only exposed it in G1, where
we know – because of 30 years of background work – this particular cell is
highly sensitive to radiation. It is deficient in DNA repair enzymes, and we
know that, if you are going to produce any kind of impairment of DNA repair
which would be manifest as single strand breaks as per the Henry Lai study,
this would be an opportunity to use the most sensitive available end point that
we know of to test that scenario.
It is also the case that studies have shown an
increase in the number of cells with micronuclei, the formation of which are
considered to reflect DNA damage, after exposure to RF radiation. In spite of
this, the Stewart Report concluded that implications for human health are
unclear as normal tissue can also exhibit a high and variable incidence of
micronuclei, making results difficult to interpret.
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.
Health effects discussed
chronic fatigue, immune system impairment and learning difficulties have also
been observed in radiofrequency exposed residential populations, and it has been
argued that these effects are consistent with observed biological effects
including calcium ion alteration and melatonin reduction. Various symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, feelings of
discomfort, burning skin, which appear to be highly correlated with ‘warm
sensations’ on and behind the ear against which the mobile phone is held, are
described by Hocking (1998) and later observed in a survey of over 10,000
mobile phone users in Norway and Sweden.
There have also been newspaper reports of more epileptic seizures in a school
since mobile phone use has increased.
Although the development and promotion of cancer
ranks in the general public’s mind as a real health risk associated with mobile
phone and other telecommunications technologies, and indeed with other
artificial sources of electromagnetic emissions, the scientific evidence for
this association is said by many to be less definitive.
One area of contention is whether radiofrequency
radiation initiates cancer or whether it may be implicated in the promotion of
While there is general agreement that the energy in non-ionising radiation
emitted by mobile telephones is unlikely to break chemical bonds, thereby
inducing alterations in the genome,
Dr Cherry informed the Committee that in his view there is now sufficient
evidence to show that EMR interacts and interferes with communication systems
in our brains, hearts, cell and bodies through neurotransmitters and
neurohormones, including the serotonin/melatonin system.
According to Dr Cherry, 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
The 1994 CSIRO report says:
For any biological effect to become significant the body’s
homeostatic mechanism has to be overcome. Homeostatis uses cellular
communications via molecules and ions to control the three basic functions of
cells: proliferation, differentiation, and activation. Cancer promotion
involves the disruption of cell-to-cell communication.
There is more agreement and significant evidence
to support non-ionising radiation as a cancer promoter.
Dr John Holt stated that cancer cells were three
times as conductive of RF as non-cancer cells, and that non-ionising radiation
rendered tumours more sensitive to ionising radiation.
In its report of 1994, CSIRO said:
However, because a promoting agent requires high doses, must
continue for long periods of time, and is reversible, it has been argued that
the risks from a promoting agent are less than the risks from an initiating
Most epidemiological studies that have been published
focussed on RF exposure not directly related to cellular phones, and provide
primarily indirect evidence from occupational or amateur radio operator
radiofrequency exposure, with exposures being ‘more varied in dose, type of
signal, and anatomical localisation than exposures from cellular telephones’.
These studies had variable findings.
Professor Mark Elwood, epidemiologist,
... overall ... I do not see any consistency in relationships
between cancer and radiofrequencies. There are quite a lot of studies, so there
are some positive results which require further assessment. The studies are
limited by lack of information on exposure, lack of control for other factors
and, in some studies, biases in the data. ... Very often it is the weaker
studies, with much smaller numbers and much weaker study designs, that tend to
show unusual results, which therefore need testing. So, overall, my conclusion
is that there is no consistent evidence relating radiofrequency exposures and
cancer in humans, in terms of current research.
The information provided by these studies is
considered, by most reviews, to be of limited value because of inherent
selection biases and because they incorporate exposure conditions dissimilar to
those experienced from cellular phone use.
The Stewart Report notes that studies of brain
cancer have provided ‘inconsistent results’.
The Report also refers to studies of other types of cancer, concluding ‘data on
other types of cancer are more sparse and although some have suggested
increased risks from RF exposure, their limitations are such that these
findings should not be a cause for concern’.
Several studies published since the Stewart Report support this conclusion.
The recent occupational study of Motorola
employees is considered to have dealt with some of the shortcomings of earlier
This extensive study of 195,775 Motorola employees between 1976 and 1996 found
that for the nine per cent of employees that had experienced moderate to high
levels of RF exposure, there was no increase in brain or
cancer mortality than either the general population or employees that had been
exposed to lower levels of RF radiation.
Professor Elwood, in his submission to the
Committee, commented that the comparisons of employee mortality with general
population mortality in this study were of limited value, but that the analyses
of mortality between employees with different levels of exposure were more
His analyses revealed no increased risk for cancers of the brain, all lymphatic
and haemopoetic cancers, leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s
disease (although given the small numbers involved, a slight increase or
decrease could not be discounted), nor for any general increased mortality
Professor Elwood noted that an important finding
of this study was the lack of association between degree of exposure and the
incidence of the cancers studied, and that it also indicated no difference in
overall specific risks between the men and women studied. However, he advised:
... even a study of this size cannot confidently exclude a modest
increased risk of specific cancers which occur in relatively small numbers,
although it can confidently exclude increases in total mortality or from major
causes such as all cancers.
In evidence to
this Committee, Dr Peter French, Principal Scientific Officer, Centre for
Immunology, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, advised that there was no
‘definitive evidence’ for a link between mobile phone radiation and cancer.
However, he added that while there apparently was insufficient evidence on the
surface, buried within the unsubstantiated assertions, fears, anecdotes and
myriad of facts there were clues that point to a link between cancer and mobile
on the other hand, concluded that based on an overall assessment of the
research to date, there was ‘no consistent evidence relating radiofrequency
exposures and cancer in humans’.
... the better studies ... are
the ones that show no association. Very often it is the weaker studies, with
much smaller numbers and much weaker study designs, that tend to show unusual
results which therefore need testing. So, overall, my conclusion is that there
is no consistent evidence relating radiofrequency exposures and cancer in humans,
in terms of current research.
oncologist, Dr John Moulder, in his submission to the Committee, concluded
... the epidemiological
evidence for a causal association between cancer and exposure to
radio-frequency radiation is weak to non-existent.
... animal carcinogenesis
studies conducted to date provide no replicated evidence that exposure of
animals to radio-frequency radiation at non-thermal intensities causes or
...[o]verall, exposure of
cells to radio-frequency radiation with an intensity that does not
significantly raise cell temperature does not produce any consistent evidence
for genotoxic or epigenetic activity.
The interpretation of the scientific literature
by some expert bodies, including the ICNIRP in the preparation of its exposure
safety guidelines, has been criticised.
Dr Cherry stated:
They decide that there is no evidence of genotoxicity but they
do not cite any studies that have been published that do show that RF microwave
damages chromosomes – and that is the classic test of genotoxicity... Secondly,
when I looked at two of their studies on cancer, they said that two recent
studies do not show any significant effects. I have those studies and they do
show significant effects.
Dr Barnett advised that the CSIRO had submitted
two projects to the NHMRC, both of which were shortlisted but unsuccessful,
related to the potential effects of radiofrequency radiation on DNA and cancer
One was an animal system, where we were looking at repeating, I
believe, a very important research finding which has been largely ignored,
which was finally published in 1992 by Chou and others. That work was actually
undertaken at the Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio. That study looked at
simply exposing rats to 2450 megahertz of radiation throughout their lives.
When the data was analysed for tumour development in the exposed
versus controlled animals, it turned out that, depending on how you chose to
analyse the data, you got either a negative or a positive result. The study
had been largely referred to as providing a negative result. It was only
negative if you separated out each type of cancer and then looked at the
difference in numbers for each type of cancer. Clearly, because they only used
a couple of hundred animals, when it was broken down into all the different
types of cancer, the numbers that were being compared were extremely small, so
the statistical power would be pretty poor. When they compared the incidence
of primary malignancies between the two groups there was a fourfold increase in
the exposed group.
Some witnesses to this inquiry referred to
anecdotal evidence of people claiming, ‘with hindsight and when prompted’, to
suffer from a range of cancer types resulting from chronic exposure to electromagnetic
While it has been claimed that the involvement of electromagnetic emissions in
the proliferation of cancer cells and possibly even as the cause of cancer is
this view has not been supported by recent reviews on recently published
The results of a case-control study conducted at
five United States academic medical centres between 1994 and 1998 using a
structured questionnaire, were published by Muscat et al in 2000. There were 469 men and women
aged between 18 and 80 years with primary brain cancer, with 422 controls.
Details obtained from interviews included the number of years of use,
minutes/hours of use per month, year of first use, phone manufacturer, reported
average monthly bill, demographics, smoking history, alcohol consumption,
exposure to power frequency fields, occupation and medical history. No
assessment was made of participants’ diet.
The researchers concluded that the study ‘shows
no effect with short-term exposure to cellular telephones that operate on
(primarily) analog signals’ and recommended that further research is undertaken
to account for longer induction periods, particularly for slow-growing tumours,
and the differences between analog and digital mobile phones.
There was no association observed between the
duration of cellular phone use and incidence of brain tumours. In the cases
examined, cerebral tumours occurred more frequently on the side of the head to
which the phone had been held, however, for patients with temporal lobe cancer,
the tumours occurred more frequently on the side opposite to that against which
the phone was customarily held. This contrasts with a Swedish study that found
an association between the side of the head a brain tumour occurred and the
side of phone use, although this study also did not find an overall association
between cell phone use and the risk of brain cancer.
The Committee received a confidential submission
from a person suffering from a growth inside their skull. The growth was
adjacent to the mobile telephone antenna position. This person was a heavy
user of both analogue and digital mobile phones and believes that the excessive
microwave radiation resulting from extremely heavy mobile phone use, most
probably caused the malformation.
Dr Bruce Hocking undertook a survey of 40 people
to categorize the types of symptoms exhibited by users of mobile phones. The
symptoms mainly affected the head and, for a few, the waist. These symptoms
included dull pain, an unpleasant warmth or heating, as well as ache, throb,
sharp pain and pressure. All respondents could distinguish the sensations from
ordinary headache. Most respondents felt the sensation less than five minutes
after commencing the mobile phone call, but for others the sensation built up
as the day progressed. For some, the sensation lasted less than an hour after
ceasing calls, for others it lasted till bed-time, and five respondents felt it
the next day.
In addition, Dr Hocking co-authored a paper
on a detailed study of a person who had enduring effects on the side of his
head where he used his GSM mobile phone. He experienced persistent unpleasant
feelings lasting for more than a year and underwent extensive investigations by
neurologists to find out if he had brain tumours or some other odd sort of
neurological condition that could have been causing these problems, and nothing
had been found. Dr Hocking informed the Committee:
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. I agree it is only one case, and before you get too excited you would
like to see more. Nonetheless, I think it is a significant warning when you
see it in context with the previous 40 cases that I was reporting that were
getting similar sorts of symptoms that there is considerable likelihood that
mobile phones, at the low levels of radiofrequency which they are operate on,
are causing disturbances of neural function.
It is also considerable evidence of an athermal effect. Given
that mobile phones operate at low intensity – we are told by government, WHO
and industry that mobile phones operate well within safety standards – that to
produce this sort of effect we are having effects outside at low levels. 
Since 1994, researchers at the National Cancer
Institute (NCI) in the United States have been conducting an adult brain tumour
study which includes investigating a range of possible risk factors including:
workplace exposures to chemical agents and electromagnetic fields; dietary
factors; family history of tumours; genetic factors; home use of selected
appliances; reproductive history and hormonal exposures; viruses; and medical
and dental exposure to ionising radiation. Cell phones, as another potential
risk factor, were included in the research program in response to public
concern about possible links between cellular phones and brain cancer.
Results from NCI research into cell phones and
brain cancer were published early in 2001. The case-control study of the
relationship between cellular/mobile phone use and brain tumours was conducted
in three hospitals in the United States between 1994 and 1998. The study
identified 782 patients in these hospitals who had glioma, meningioma or
acoustic neuroma; from the same hospitals, 799 patients with non-malignant
conditions, were used as the control group.
The study found no evidence that the risks of
glioma, meningioma, acoustic neuroma, or all types of tumours together, was
higher among people who used mobile phones for an hour or more a day or
regularly for five or more years. The researchers concluded that the results
did not support the hypothesis that the use of mobile phones causes brain
tumours, but stated that the results were ‘not sufficient to evaluate the risks
among long term, heavy users and for potentially long induction periods’.
The Committee acknowledges the difficulty of
testing long term exposure and notes that the results of this study should be
interpreted cautiously for the following reasons:
- widespread use of mobile phones is only a recent phenomenon, with
few people in the United States having used mobile phones prior to the 1990s.
Only a small number of study participants had used a mobile phone for over five
years. Consequently, the study would not have been able to detect the risk of
brain tumours after a long latency period;
- there was a reliance on interviews and the ability of
participants to accurately recall mobile phone use rather than by objective
measurements of exposure;
- the study was designed to assess the risk of all types of glioma,
and the sample was too small to detect increased risk for glioma subtypes; and
- factors other than duration of use influenced the level of
exposure of brain and nervous system tissue in the head to radiofrequency
radiation, including distance from the base station, local topography and
vegetation, whether the phone is used indoors or outdoors, the design of the
phone, and the position of the phone and the antenna in relation to the head.
In recognition of these limitations, the NCI
advised that ‘it would be premature to conclude that use of hand-held cellular
telephones does not cause tumors of the brain and nervous system’. Noting that analog phones
were predominantly in use during the study period, contrary to recent years
when phones have been increasingly based on digital technology, the NCI
nevertheless offers the view that ‘there is no evidence at this time that
cancer risk would differ for the two types of phones’.
The results of a unique Danish study into the
relationship between mobile phones and cancer were also published at the
beginning of February 2001 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
A research team, headed by Dr Christoffer
Johansen, conducted a retrospective cohort study of cancer incidence in
420,095 Danish users of mobile phones between 1982 and 1995, using telephone
subscription lists from two Danish mobile phone operating companies and the
Danish Cancer Registry. The team observed no significant difference between expected
and observed incidence of cancers of the brain, nervous system or salivary
gland, or of leukaemia. Risks for these cancers did not vary by duration of
cellular telephone use, time since first subscription, age at first
subscription, or type of cellular phone used (analog or digital). The study
concluded that the results did not support the hypothesis that there is an
association between the use of mobile phones and tumours of the brain, salivary
gland, leukaemia or other cancers.
Dr Johansen is reported as stating that ‘[i]f it
is assumed that tumour promotion occurs close to the site of exposure, this
finding provides additional evidence against a link between cellphone use and
brain cancer’. However, Dr Johansen indicated that the study results did
not rule out a relationship between mobile phones and other health risks such
as ringing noises in the head, migraine, headaches, other symptoms of the
conditions associated with the central nervous system, Parkinson’s and
Alzheimer’s diseases, various types of dementia, and skin diseases.
Responding to the report, Australia’s Dr Bruce
Armstrong, who is undertaking an epidemiological case-control study on the
relationship between exposure to radiofrequency radiation and brain and other
tumours in adults (see Australian research below), stated that while it
was a ‘reassuring study’, it did not ‘give an ultimate assurance of a lack of a
hazard’. A shortcoming of the study was that only a small percentage of the
mobile phone service subscribers had used their phones for more than seven
years and this ‘raised questions on what links there were between cancer and
long term mobile phone users’.
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. A discussion
of the efficacy of current standards is discussed in Chapter 4.
Although a dominant concern, cancer is only one
of the health effects that has been attributed to radiofrequency exposure.
Electromagnetic emissions have also been implicated in many debilitating and/or
serious health conditions, often immune system related, including allergies,
repeated flu-like episodes and auto-immune diseases. There is also some evidence
of genetic predisposition and age-related factors that may influence
sensitivity to potential effects of RF radiation.
While there have been reports of effects on the
cardiovascular system from exposure to electromagnetic radiation, the Stewart
Report concluded that ‘on the basis of published evidence, [there is] no basis
for concern about effects of mobile phone use on the heart and circulation’.
People subject to chronic electromagnetic energy exposure have also reported
suffering heart attacks and high blood pressure. The Stewart Group said,
however, that while normal use of a mobile phone against the head is unlikely
to have a direct effect on the human heart, influences on cardiovascular
centres in the brainstem and on the carotid body, a body of tissue involved in
the regulation of the heartbeat, were more conceivable, and further
experimental work on human volunteers was warranted. Observed effects were
said to be attributable to thermal effects from acute exposures to
Despite concerns about the possible effects of
mobile phone use on cognitive functions such as memory, attention and
concentration, relatively few laboratory studies have addressed this issue in
people and, of those that have, all have investigated effects from acute rather
than chronic exposure. While exposure to radiofrequency radiation at levels
which cause increases in core temperature of 1ºC lead to changes in performance
of primates in well-learned tasks or other simple behaviour, on which the
current standards are based, the Stewart Report said that results at
non-thermal levels are inconsistent and recommended further research. Most studies which investigated
exposure to low levels of RF radiation focussed on physiological measures of
brain function, such as the electroencephalogram (EEG), rather than indices of
cognitive performance per se. The Stewart Report noted that the
functional significance of different components of the normal, waking EEG is
poorly understood, making it difficult to interpret results showing an
influence of radiofrequency signals on the EEG.
This was said to be less of a concern with
respect to EEG patterns associated with sleep as these are ‘well characterised
and routinely used as indices of the different sleep stages that a typically
healthy individual will move between during the night’. There have been observations of a
range of sleep-related disorders, including altered sleep patterns, circadian
rhythm and reaction times, from naturally occurring electromagnetic radiation
and short-wave radio exposure.
However, these effects have been observed at lower frequencies than what are
used for mobile phone transmissions. In addition, the Stewart Report said that
results of work on the neurotransmitter system, which is involved in regulation
of emotion, memory and sleep, appear to show temperature-related effects. To
determine the extent to which the results of those studies can be extrapolated
across the electromagnetic spectrum requires that these studies should be
repeated using radiofrequencies. The Stewart Report
concluded that further research should be conducted in both areas.
Reference was made to a study that linked
exposure to electromagnetic fields with an increase in incidence in Alzheimer’s
Disease (AD), which, it is hypothesised, is due to a chain reaction of cellular
effects starting with interference to cellular calcium ion homeostasis. In its report, the Royal
Society of Canada acknowledged this and another related hypothesis, but noted
that studies aimed at testing these claims had used exposure to extremely low
frequency fields (powerlines) rather than radiofrequency radiation. In addition,
methodological shortcomings limited the interpretation of the results. The
report concluded that ‘there are no convincing, reproducible data to suggest a
relationship between AD and [microwave] exposure’.
While it has been suggested that the evidence
indicates that an increase in diseases connected with the immune system may be
the long term effect of radiofrequency radiation from mobile phone use, other reviews have been more
cautious and point to the ambiguous nature of outcomes in this area of
research. The European Commission Report noted that there is a level of
adaptability and redundancy built in to the immune system via self-regulation. Thermal effects that have
elicited responses in the immune system have been found to be transitory, with
levels returning to normal with the cessation of radiofrequency exposure. The
Stewart Report concluded that, given the inconsistent results from studies
using low level radiofrequency radiation exposure, it was difficult to
attribute any effects to exposure.
The Stewart Report also referred to various
studies that had investigated the effects of high intensity pulsed RF fields on
the eye. Noting that these exposure levels were well above the specific
absorption that could occur from the use of current mobile phones, it warned
that possible adverse health effects in the eye may be associated with high
peak-power pulsed radiofrequency fields.
Some drugs and environmental hazards are known
to have damaging effects on a developing embryo at exposure levels which are of
little or no risk to the adult animal. According to the Stewart Report,
despite extensive research into the potential effects of radiofrequency fields
on fertility and development, studies have failed to show any convincing
evidence of effects.
The Stewart Report referred to a 1993 study that showed an increased risk of
miscarriage in physiotherapists who reported exposure during the first six
months before or three months after pregnancy and a higher risk in those with
more frequent exposure and concluded that there was a ‘relatively low response
rate to the questionnaire that was used to collect information’ and that ‘[n]o
corresponding association was found with use of short-wave diathermy’.
The Royal Society of Canada Report also referred
to the low overall response rate and ‘lack of validity in interview-based
exposure assessment’, limiting the interpretation of the results. It stated that the Kallén
study, while a good design and having a high participation rate, ‘the numbers
exposed to microwave equipment were too small to provide reliable risk
The Report also referred to the Larsen et al 1991 study cited by Dr
Cherry, and noted that ‘[t]here was no significant association of spontaneous
abortion with exposure to short-wave radiation ... nor was there any association
with the other outcomes studied, except for gender ratio ... in the high-exposed
group’. The Stewart Report said that other studies of pregnancy in
physiotherapists did not support the relationship between miscarriage or other
Dr Cherry disagrees, citing ten epidemiological
studies that have found significant miscarriage from EMR exposure across the
spectrum from ELF, SW to RF/MW:
The Scandinavian physiotherapist studies, Kallén et al (1982)
and Larsen et al. (1991) also found significant prematurity, congenital
malformation, still birth and cot death. Ouellet-Hellstrom and Stewart (1993)
confirm the causal relationship with a highly significant dose-response
Dr Cherry also argued that research linking cot
death to reduction in melatonin related to ELF signals:
One of the most important single studies involved cot death
(Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in Ontario, Canada. O’Connor and Persinger
(1997) were investigating the GMA melatonin hypothesis by seeing if a
melatonin-related syndrome (SIDS) varied with GMA. They found that SIDS
incidence significantly increased when GMA >30 nT and GMA, <20 nT, – a
homeostatic result. This confirms that GMA causes illness and death in
vulnerable people, babies, and involves melatonin homeostasis.
This shows that very young babies are sensitive to variations in
the natural EMR and extremely low exposure levels. Thus we would expect the
fetus to also be vulnerable.
A study by Magras and Xenos (1997) responded to
health concerns among residents living in the vicinity of an RF transmission
tower in Greece. They placed groups of mice at various locations in relation
to the tower and monitored the fertility of the mice over several generations.
The ‘low’ exposure group (0.168µW/cm2) became infertile after 5
generations and the ‘high’ exposure group (1.053µW/cm2) became
infertile after only 3 generations. According to the Stewart Report however,
this study is not conclusive because it did not include a matched control group
nor take into account other environmental factors to which the mice were
Dr Cherry disagrees with this interpretation too
saying the study confirmed the evidence that chronic low level exposure to RF
radiation leads to reproductive problems.
Several submissions also referred to the issue
of hypersensitivity of some people to prolonged exposure to electricity and
The EMR Safety Network International advised, in its submission, that an
increasing number of people, through a process of elimination, are attributing
health effects to EME exposure and ‘find they can no longer tolerate such
exposure in the home or workplace’.
It was claimed that symptoms including fatigue and concentration difficulties
suffered by electro-sensitive people have been dismissed as ‘extreme
intolerance to stress or imaginary illness’, despite evidence that
electromagnetic fields can affect body cells and cause disease:
Electro hypersensitive individuals must also be acknowledged and
respected. These people are not merely a few electrophobic individuals seeking
attention and special protection. They are visible examples of the injury that
any individual may ultimately sustain due to EMR exposure at levels well below
the now accepted standards based on the ICNIRP recommendations. At present,
electro hypersensitivity is believed to be affecting only a minority group. In
my view, this is a gross underestimation of the real situation. It can take
time for the individual to develop intolerance to EMR. The unique
physiological and genetic make-up of any individual determines the degree of
EMR tolerance that they will have and which body system may become affected.
The greater sensitivity of children to the
effects of electromagnetic radiation was raised in several submissions. It has been argued that
children are likely to be more susceptible to any adverse health effects
because of high cell turnover/division,
children have thinner skulls,
their immune system and brain wave activity is less robust than adults, and because they will have
experienced a longer period of exposure over their lifetime. Parent concerns
about this issue are leading some to remove their children from schools that
are located near mobile phone towers or base stations.
The Consumers’ Telecommunications Network
expressed its concern at the vulnerability of children to potential adverse
health effects of mobile phone technologies:
Our understanding of the publicly available research suggests
that we still do not know exactly what the health effects might be. We believe
that such effects are likely to be cumulative over time and with usage, that
children are likely to be more vulnerable than adults, and that we may not
understand the effects fully for some years.
The incidence of childhood cancer was alluded to
in the Stewart Report when it referred to two studies that had been conducted
in Australia, which looked at the incidence of leukaemia in children residing
in three municipalities surrounding television masts. While the earlier study
by Hocking et al had found a 60 per cent increase in leukaemia in
children living close to the TV towers, the later study by McKenzie et al
found that this excess occurred in only one of the three municipalities close
to the mast.
The Royal Society of Canada Report was critical of the ecological design of the
1996 Hocking et al study, which it considered weakened the strength of
the results. It also noted that the McKenzie study did not support Hocking’s
In response to criticisms of his study, Dr Hocking stated:
We have subsequently
responded to McKenzie and Morrell, and that is the letter that I have tabled in
front of Senator Allison for you, and we point out several things which are
incorrect about McKenzie and Morrell’s criticisms. I am now standing in front
of the poster and pointing out that in the three municipalities surrounding the
tower – North Sydney, Lane Cove and
Willoughby – there are more cases of
leukemia in Lane Cove than in the other two areas. The substance of their
criticism is that if the radiofrequency was distributed evenly across all those
areas you would have expected proportionately the same number of cases in each
one of those municipalities.
... We obviously adjust our
data to allow for per thousand population of something like that. Nonetheless,
there is this increased rate or numbers of cases in Lane Cove whichever way you
look at it. ...
There are two things to
say. First of all, the original hypothesis was that the group of
municipalities surrounding the towers could have a different rate of leukemia
compared to the group of municipalities out there. To then take the data and
to subdivide it after we had done a test of homogeneity to show there was
evenness within statistical bounds between these areas and then to say, ‘We are
going to treat these areas differently, one from the other, and because there
is a bigger number here, therefore this does not hold up,’ is incorrect. We
have the problem that it is basically moving the goalposts after the kick is
taken. The original hypothesis was to treat all of these areas as one unit
compared with all those areas out there as one unit. They are then wanting to
subdivide the data and say, ‘A pocket here is different from a pocket there and
yet we would have expected them to be the same. Therefore, there is something
wrong with the study.’ You cannot do that with such a fragile study. It is a
very crudely designed study for reasons I will explain to you.
We were basically
constrained by the geographic boundaries of local government areas in Sydney.
Therefore, we had to go along the boundaries of Willoughby and Lane Cove and so
forth simply to gather in the data. It does not necessarily mean that there is
an effect occurring where those borderlines are. If there is an effect it
could be that the effect only goes out for two kilometres from the towers and
not to the four kilometres where these boundaries roughly lie. In such a case
you are then diluting your data. In other words, by having to incorporate
cases with the data close to the towers, along with population where there is
no effect occurring, you basically wash out or dilute your effect.
Morrell and McKenzie were
factually incorrect. There was additional high power broadcasting in the sense
that the transmission times of these television stations increased from 18
hours a day to 24 hours a day in 1975 or 1976 – I have forgotten what it was. Our study commenced in 1972 and went
through until 1990. Effectively, you have three or four years where there were
only 18 hours a day going up to 24 hours a day. That is a negligible
difference in the exposure. ...
The Royal Society of Canada Report concluded
that ‘none of the few investigations of risk of childhood cancer conducted so
far can be regarded as providing useful information concerning the effect of
radio-frequency fields on risk of childhood cancer’.
While the Stewart Report concluded that
exposures below ICNIRP guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the
general public, in line with its recommended precautionary approach to the use
of mobile phone technologies, it recommended that children be discouraged from
using mobile phones for non-essential calls. The Stewart Report recommended
that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile
phones by children.
The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) referred to evidence that
specific energy absorption rate (SAR) is larger in children than in adults
because children’s tissue contains more ions and therefore has a higher
ARPANSA, however, disputed this conclusion in its response to the IEGMP
recommendation about mobile phones and children, stating:
There is no scientific evidence to support the idea that any
adverse health effects would occur to any individual exposed to levels below
the Australian limit. It is true that children are likely to be exposed for a
much longer time than adults but in the absence of any knowledge of an injury
mechanism, there is no reason to believe that children will be inherently more
vulnerable than any other age groups. However, just as concerned persons may
choose to restrict personal use of mobile phones, concerned parents may also
choose to limit the use of mobile phones by their children.
The Committee also notes the views of Dr David
Black, medical practitioner, in commenting on the Stewart Report’s
recommendations vis a vis children:
The importance given to the perceived differences in RF
absorption between children and adults seems to me to be a generically derived
concern searching for a mechanism. The debates about skull thickness have been
had and dismissed in the literature several years ago. The ideas about
different absorption based on conductivity seems to be based on only
unquantified unpublished data. In simply considering ... the underlying
biophysics of this idea ... any difference would be small and not important
compared to other factors ...
Dr Black further stated:
... it may be that children do
have slightly more ionic fluid in their brain and, therefore, have slightly
more conductive tissues. But if that is so, then there would be an increase in
screening as well as the conductivity. Therefore, that might even out –
it might not. But the difference is only a
factor of maybe 20 or 30 per cent, and the actual safety margin and the
standard is much higher than that. Furthermore, the testing systems that are
currently used for cell phone handsets actually use fluid of much higher
conductivity than is in the adult brain, which would be in fact higher than you
would find in a child’s brain. So I do not think any of those points raised in
the Stewart report are actually valid, so I cannot agree with them.
The Committee notes, however, Dr Cherry’s
evidence when referring to his early involvement on the siting of a base
station in a school that at that time he ‘[did] not know of any studies showing
adverse effects from radiofrequency/microwave radiation or cell phone
radiation, but I do know about resonant absorption and I do know about the way
the brain works, because we have studied that. So I would be concerned about
the sensitivity of children’s brains ...’.
Cancer Institute has noted that few children used cell phones prior to 1994.
While certain agents, for example ionising radiation and particular chemicals,
which are known to cause brain and nervous system cancer in rats, have greatest
effect when administered early in life when the nervous system is developing,
this has not yet been established with respect to mobile phones.
Of concern to some
witnesses were marketing campaigns designed to sell mobile phones to children. It was suggested that mobile phones should be labelled with
additional warnings to advise that children and young adults have a greater
risk of EME absorption, and protective devices or hands-free kits should be
included with any mobile phones sold to, or intended for use by, children under
the age of 18 years.
There was support from a number of submitters
and witnesses for the Stewart Report’s recommendation with respect to children
and mobile phones.
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 young children and teenagers.
Others considered more susceptible or at greater
risk to any adverse effects from electromagnetic radiation are pregnant women,
the immuno-depressed, workers occupationally exposed to EMR and the elderly.
One submission suggested that a national register should be established to
record the health status of workers occupationally exposed to electromagnetic
Mobile phone towers and base stations
A considerable number of submissions expressed
concern about the proliferation of mobile phone towers, particularly in
sensitive locations, and their impact on health. One of the concerns about
exposure to radiation from towers, in contrast to mobile phones, is the
continuous exposure from towers compared with the more spasmodic nature of
mobile phone calls,
and the involuntary nature of the exposure.
There have also been differing claims about the
relative risks associated with exposure to mobile phone emissions and radiation
from mobile phone base stations or television towers. For example, Mr Neil
Boucher, consulting engineer, said in his submission that:
... it is worth noting that the exposure from a base station
placed 100 meters away is minuscule compared to the exposure one would get from
making a few calls a day with a handheld mobile phone.
One submission stated:
Real or perceived, people are afraid of these installations and
don’t want to live near something that pumps out electromagnetic radiation 24
hours a day. Just what the world needs: more pollution, both visual and
environmental in the case of this technology. And all to operate mobile phones
which now appear to be hazardous to our health!
Concern was also expressed about the community
being used as ‘guinea pigs to prove or disprove the effects of long term
exposure to EMR’.
The radiation from mobile phone towers was seen to be ‘an invisible time bomb’,
where ‘if the radiation was visible such as smoke ... the issue would have been
clearly addressed sooner’.
Although some evidence to the Committee and
conclusions from recent expert reviews indicate that radiation from mobile
phone towers is considered to be potentially less harmful than mobile phone
emissions, it was suggested by physicist Dr GJ Hyland, that this may not be the
case. In referring to studies which examined the effects of electromagnetic
radiation exposure on DNA, Dr Hyland stated:
Although the power density of the radiation used in these
experiments is typically that associated with mobile phone handsets, and thus
much higher than that found in the publicly accessible areas [in] the vicinity
of a Base-station, the information content of the radiation emitted by
the latter is the same; accordingly, these results are not
irrelevant to the consideration of potential adverse health effects associated
with chronic exposure to Base-station radiation. Indeed, there are instances
where the response of the living system is either sharper ... or actually increases
... as the irradiating power density decreases – possibly due to a
corresponding decrease in thermal influences, which at higher intensities tend
to mask (and eventually obliterate) any (contra-thermal) non-thermal effects. 
Nevertheless, ARPANSA noted that:
... ARPANSA has conducted extensive survey measurements of
environmental radiofrequency levels produced by mobile telephone base stations
and also by other broadcast sources of radiofrequency radiation. The ARPANSA
data clearly show that mobile phone base stations contribute only a small
fraction of total environmental RF levels arising chiefly from other sources
such as AM radio masts and television towers. In addition, total environmental
exposure levels are low in comparison to public exposure limits specified [in]
Mr Wayne Cornelius, ARPANSA, stated:
... For the most part, people in the general environment are not
exposed to the levels that are being debated about as low level; but there is
the issue of the mobile phone, where the device is quite close to the head and
the levels are very much higher than from, say, a base station transmitter or a
radio tower, unless you are very close to a radio tower.
The Stewart Report concluded that there is no
general health risk to people living near mobile phone base stations, but said
anxiety about the uncertainty felt by those people could affect their
well-being. ARPANSA suggested that appropriate research should be undertaken
to examine the health implications of the public’s anxiety about potential
health risks associated with mobile phone base stations.
Benefits of mobile phones
It was suggested to the Committee that although
there are concerns about the potentially higher risk to children from excessive
mobile phone use, it may also promote safety by enabling children to keep in
contact with their parents. However, the Committee notes that there have also
been cases of people being mugged for their mobile phone.
The extent to which the benefits of mobile phone
technology should take precedence over the health of the community was also
raised. The Dapto Residents Against Tower Health Risks stated:
The authorities seem to have adopted the view point that the
advantages of telecommunications equipment and facilities are far greater than
the disadvantages like possible adverse health effects from the emitted
electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
The Consumers’ Telecommunications Network (CTN),
noted that its members value the benefits of mobile phone technology and ‘would
not support restrictions in their availability’. People with hearing aids
have also expressed a desire for greater access to mobile telecommunications. The CTN did not support
EMRAA’s call for the prohibition of mobile phone use in certain public places.
Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)
Evidence was put to the Committee that
electromagnetic interference (EMI) from digital, but not analog, mobile phones
can affect the operation of implantable cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators.
The effect is not present when the mobile phone is turned off. Electromagnetic interference
with cochlear implants was also referred to in one submission, and with hearing aids.
The Stewart Report acknowledged the potential
hazards that may arise from indiscriminate use of mobile phones in areas,
including hospitals, where RF radiation may interfere with sensitive electronic
The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (Stewart Group) supported steps
to warn people about the dangers of using mobile phones at these sites and
recommended that hospitals place visible warning signs at entrances to
buildings advising that mobile phones should be turned off.
To minimise the potential for EMI, the
Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has advised that mobile phones
should not be kept in pockets above the site of implants, and that users use
the ear furthest away from the implant when operating the phone, and avoid
direct contact between the antenna and the user’s skin.
The Committee Chair is of the view that greater
efforts should be taken by industry to solve these interference problems.
Given the problems
of interference associated with electromagnetic radiation for planes, cardiac
pacemakers, hearing aids and other medical devices, it has been suggested that
a human being may not be immune from similar interference. The Committee notes that an analogy has been drawn between
electromagnetic interference with mechanical devices and biological effects.
However, Dr John Moulder, oncologist, argued:
Some of our modern electronic equipment, particularly in the
hospital environment ... is incredibly sensitive to picking up electromagnetic
interference, in part because that is how it was designed. You can certainly
interfere with delicate radio equipment at RF levels that are hundreds to
thousands of times below where anyone has seen any biological effects. The
other advantage is that, although we cannot always prevent electromagnetic
compatibility problems, they are fairly well understood from the electrical
engineering side, and the sorts of things which cause compatibility problems
would not be expected to have much relevance to biology ... On the other hand, I
would accept that as a totally human reaction. If it interferes with my radio,
maybe it can interfere with me. But in terms of the biology and physics it is
not an obvious connection at all.
Scientific uncertainty and continuing fears
about the possible adverse health effects from exposure to radiofrequency radiation
are important in the policy making process, particularly in relation to the
inclusion of a precautionary approach for current standards. These issues are
discussed in Chapter 4.
Electromagnetic radiation from
In addition to concerns about mobile phone
technology, submissions and witnesses also referred to evidence about possible
health effects from other artificial sources of electromagnetic radiation,
including visual display units, TV towers and powerlines. Some of these
concerns are outlined below.
Associate Professor Olle Johansson, Experimental
Dermatology Unit, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, in his submission to the
Committee, referred to evidence of similarities between the cutaneous
alterations and damage from UV, X-rays and radioactivity and the symptoms of
people claiming to suffer from electrosensitivity or screen dermatitis.
The issue of the placement of high
voltage/tension electricity lines away from populated areas was also addressed
Dr Repacholi from the WHO, also expressed concern about the potential health
effects from extremely low frequency power lines. He stated:
Some studies suggest increases in leukemia and brain tumours by
working with power frequency fields. But the most worrying to me is the
residential studies where children living near powerlines seem to have a higher
incidence of leukemia. That is what we are concentrating our research on now.
A recent report from the chairman of the UK’s
National Radiological Protection Board’s Advisory Group on Non-ionising
Radiation, epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll, concluded:
Laboratory experiments have provided no good evidence that
extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields are capable of producing cancer,
nor do human epidemiological studies suggest that they cause cancer in general.
There is, however, some epidemiological evidence that prolonged exposure to
higher levels of power frequency magnetic fields is associated with a small
risk of leukaemia in children. In practice, such levels of exposure are seldom
encountered by the general public in the UK. In the absence of clear evidence
of a carcinogenic effect in adults, or of a plausible explanation from
experiments on animals or isolated cells, the epidemiological evidence is
currently not strong enough to justify a firm conclusion that such fields cause
leukaemia in children. Unless, however, further research indicates that the
finding is due to chance or some currently unrecognised artefact, the
possibility remains that intense and prolonged exposures to magnetic fields can
increase the risk of leukaemia in children.
Comparatively little evidence was received by
the Committee in relation to possible health effects from TV towers. It was
claimed that the emissions from television towers far exceed the emissions from
mobile phone towers, and concerns were raised at the placement of TV towers
close to schools and residential areas.
The Committee Chair considers that further
research is required to study the incidence of cancer around TV towers and
notes the recent publicity given to the incidence of tumours and leukaemia
around the Vatican’s radio towers. On these installations, Dr Cherry said in
evidence to the Committee:
The radio towers are much more powerful than the base stations
so, as the Hocking study shows, the effects occur much further out. I believe
that the community concern that the base stations are closer to their homes
because there are many more of them is a valid concern.
The Committee notes that, while this inquiry has
focussed on the standards for exposure to telecommunications technologies,
there is considerable community concern about other artificial sources of
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.
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.
Measures to minimise potential health risks
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:
- adopting a precautionary approach in the setting of emission/exposure
- ensuring that the mobile phone tower/base station emission beams
of greatest intensity are sited away from sensitive areas like schools and
- encouraging limits to the use of mobile phones, particularly by
- using devices which shield or otherwise minimise the level of
emissions from mobile phones; and
- 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.
The Committee also received evidence which
suggested that the superimposition of random frequencies eliminated observed
biological effects associated with pulsed radiofrequency radiation from digital
mobile phone transmissions.
However, while the Committee was advised that several laboratories had
successfully tested this hypothesis,
the Stewart Report stated that the experimental evidence had yet to be
According to Dr Swicord, the Food and Drug Administration in the United
States also was unable to replicate this result.
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. These issues are discussed in Chapter 4.
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.
The Committee recognises that many people are
blase about their health, particularly the young, as evidenced by the continued
rate of smoking uptake in teenagers despite labelled warnings and strong
evidence of a causal link between cancer and smoking. However, 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.
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.
devices and hands-free kits
Other options for preventing or minimising the
level of mobile phone emissions to which the body is exposed are shielding
devices and hands-free kits.
While a consumer association’s magazine in the
UK claimed that hands-free kits were found to act like an aerial and delivered
three times as much radiation towards the brain, tests conducted for Choice
magazine in Australia found that ‘radiation was greatly reduced’. The Electrical Compliance
Testing Association (ECTA), which undertook the tests criticised the inadequate
instructions on how to use the hand held set. They recommended holding the
phone along the bottom of the device and away from the body.
Concerns about potential health risks from
mobile phones has led to the development of various shielding devices. These
devices claim to shield users from RF radiation. The Committee was advised, given
the manner in which mobile phones operate, that it is possible that the level
of exposure may actually be greater when a shielding device is used. Under
normal circumstances, a mobile phone ‘powers down’ the closer it is to a
tower. Shielding devices may make it difficult for the phone to ‘contact’ the
base station or tower and result in the mobile phone ‘powering up’ and raising
or directing emissions to other parts of the body. ECTA expressed concern that
many of the shielding devices currently on the market were unregulated.
Another device that has been mentioned recently
is the attachment of a so-called ‘ferrite choke’ to a hands-free set, to
further reduce radiation without affecting sound quality or battery power.
However, it has been claimed that the choke would only bounce the radiation off
onto another part of the body.
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.
The Committee recommends that shielding and hands-free devices are
tested, labelled for their effectiveness and regulated by standards.
The Committee notes that no advice was available
from AMTA or ARPANSA on the implications of moving to the new generation (3G)
spectrum mobile phones.
mobile phone towers
While recent reviews have agreed that the
potential health risks associated with mobile phone towers are considerably
lower than those that may be related to mobile phones, there are steps that
should be taken to minimise any risks. A number of submissions received during
this inquiry highlighted community concerns about the placement of base
stations and mobile phone towers, particularly those near schools, hospitals,
shopping centres, churches and people’s homes. Community groups and
individuals were also concerned about the inadequate consultative process when
decisions were being made to install new towers.
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 metres from the tower or base station so a buffer zone of 150 metres may be
appropriate. The Stewart Report in discussing the moves in some communities to
oppose the siting of transmission towers on school grounds, for instance,
... a better approach would be to require that the beam of
greatest RF intensity ... from a macrocell base station sited within the grounds
of a school should not be permitted to fall on any part of the school grounds
or buildings without agreement from the school and parents ... when consent is
sought from a school and parents about this question, they should be provided with
adequate information to make an informed decision, including an explanation of
the way in which the intensity of radiation falls off with distance from the
antenna. This may be particularly relevant for schools with large grounds.
If, for an existing base station, agreement could not be obtained, its antennas
might need to be readjusted.
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
An Australian Communications Industry Forum
(ACIF) code of practice is expected to address these issues (see Chapter 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.
The Committee notes that currently there is no
mechanism by which health effects attributed by users to their mobile phones
In 1995, Dr Bruce Hocking, occupational health consultant, after reviewing
the recommendations of the 1994 CSIRO Report on the Status of Research on
Biological Effects and the Safety of Electromagnetic Radiation:
Telecommunications Frequencies, additionally recommended, inter alia,
the establishment of a ‘register of health effects to systematically
investigate and record reports of adverse health effects from mobile phone
The Committee also notes that Dr Hocking has
periodically published reports of symptoms claimed to be associated with mobile
phone use. The value of a database of anecdotal reports was criticised by Dr
Black, a New Zealand medical practitioner:
I think you can only have a formal reporting system when you
have a clear sort of threshold point or diagnosis. It would be very difficult
to get data from, for example, GPs. It would be a bit meaningless because you
would have the number of cases but you would not know the population that was
over. There will be too many variables for consistency of reporting. ... I do
not think it would be possible to have any system of mandatory reporting
because I do not know what the data would mean. But it is certainly an area
which is deserving of continued monitoring and scrutiny.
The Mobile Manufacturers Forum indicated that a
database of symptoms claimed to be associated with emissions from mobile phones
or other telecommunications structures would serve only to prompt scientific
research into possible health effects:
All the anecdotal reports do in those reporting mechanisms is
tell you one of two things: either you should do human studies or you should do
epidemiological studies. What we are doing now is going to the next step. We
are supporting human studies and epidemiological studies to address the issues
in a scientific way. There is no added value in looking at the issue of
Dr Swicord, appearing on behalf of the Mobile
Manufacturers Forum advised that studies into electro-hypersensitive people
were already under-way, and one study had already been completed and had been
unable to demonstrate an association between symptoms including headaches and
exposure to radiofrequency radiation emitted by mobile phones.
The Committee Chair notes, however, that there
is a difference between electro-hypersensitivy (EHS) and health effects. EHS
covers a broader range of problems, including neurological and the Committee
did not receive sufficient evidence on EHS to form a view about collecting data
in this field.
The Australian Communications Authority (ACA)
was questioned about its efforts in recording complaints about health effects
resulting from mobile phone use. Mr Ian McAlister, Manager,
Radiocommunications Standards Team, ACA, stated:
... I should admit it [the
complaints system] is rather embryonic at the moment. We have had some 20 to
25 legit complaints that we have recorded, more or less. What we have started
to do now is to ask the same questions of people ringing up with complaints.
We started this at the request of Dr Hocking when he was starting to do some
work into headaches and mobile phone use. He said, ‘If you get any calls,
please take them down’. We started doing that, but now it is a much more
methodical arrangement. But it is not anything like a database or something
... I do know, for example,
that people complain they will go to the carriers; they will go to suppliers
where they bought the phones; they will go to the TIO; they will come to the
ACA; they will go to the department and the Department of Health as well. I
think if you pulled them all together, you might get a basis for some research.
The ACA gets complaints on a
whole range of things. With headaches, we have not worked out a set policy on
this; but if someone rings me directly I tell them they should talk to their
medical practitioner first.
... As I mentioned, it is at a
very early stage, where we decided to collect information and to start to
record information coming from people ringing us directly. We were not setting
up a database or setting up some sort of basis for epidemiological study or
... All I did was at Dr
Hocking’s suggestion, that he would like to know of people who had complaints
about headaches and if we asked them if they would be willing for us to pass
their contact details on to someone doing research in this area we would be
happy to do so. That is the basis of our complaint handling on adverse health
Dr Robert Horton, Deputy Chairman, ACA, added:
What we will be doing is a
sort of community education campaign, if you like, over the coming six months.
We will be putting together fact sheets and so on which explain whatever the
circumstance is, the process you should follow, and what is in place – who is responsible for what – whether it is about towers or whether it is about
purchasing equipment in the marketplace. There are plenty of questions and
answers, which we will set out and go public with. We have also found that
there is an education campaign with even local councils who do not understand
the new act and their position in this area.
... I cannot tell you what
they [the fact sheets] will say at the moment or if they will say anything
about headaches, but we may provide information of where people should go if
they do have problems.
The Committee recognises that research is being
undertaken to investigate a range of symptoms attributed to mobile phone use
but industry codes of practice should be developed which ensure that mobile
phone users who complain are provided with advice with regard to minimising
exposure and referred to a Government agency such as ARPANSA or the Health
Department and records of consumer complaints reported annually.
The Committee is of the view that the
development of a database of reports of adverse health effects from mobile
phones and other sources of radiofrequency radiation would assist consumers and
provide researchers and Government agencies with valuable data in formulating
future research hypotheses.
The Committee recommends the development of an industry code of
practice for handling consumer health complaints.
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.
The difficulties of drawing conclusions
There were essentially three positions put in
relation to the scientific evidence on the health effects of radiofrequency
radiation. There were those who argued that there is insufficient evidence on
adverse health effects associated with RF radiation, those who said the
evidence is insufficient to rule out any health risks, and those who argue that
evidence shows a causal relationship between health effects and exposure to
low-power microwave emissions.
It is important to acknowledge the complexity of
the subject matter and to also recognise that parties offering interpretation
of the scientific literature are not always completely at arms-length from
The Committee Chair notes that Dr Michael
Repacholi has in the past been employed by the power and telecommunications
industry both as a consultant and as their scientific expert in court. He now
holds influential positions as Coordinator, Occupational and Environmental
Health at the World Health Organization and Chairman of the International
Radiation Protection Association’s International Non-ionizing Radiation
Committee which later became ICNIRP. This committee interacts with the WHO,
the International Labour Office, the International Commission on Radiological
Units, the International Electrotechnical Commission and the Commission of
European Communities. Dr Repacholi was instrumental in developing the TE/7
Committee standard setting procedures in Australia, advocates the adoption of
the ICNIRP based standard and was seconded from the Royal Adelaide Hospital to
the Australian Radiation Laboratory – now ARPANSA – for two years to complete
EMF research projects. Dr Repacholi was also a member of the Independent
Expert Group on Mobile Phones (The Stewart Report). The involvement of Dr Ken
Joyner, employee of Motorola, and member of the Australian RF EME Expert
Committee which provides advice to NHMRC on research grants is also discussed
in Chapter 3.
It is difficult for people, especially those
without a working knowledge in this field, to confidently understand all the
implications of the research methodologies and interpretation of results,
particularly when abstracts of studies are extensively relied upon.
While it has been argued that ‘the jury is still
out’ with respect to the effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation, in
particular, mobile phones, and that current research provides no evidence of
long term adverse health effects from relatively short exposures to
radiofrequency/microwave radiation, it is also the case that few studies have
examined directly the effects of mobile phone emissions and that, necessarily,
no long term studies have been done on humans to show that cancer, with its
long latency period, is neither promoted or initiated by radiofrequency
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.
The failure to provide sufficient evidence to
allow the technology to be considered safe, is in contrast to the continued
appearance of studies that have found biological effects if not health effects.
The Stewart Report concluded that whilst a
number of scientific studies suffered from methodological or analytical
shortcomings, the public cannot be reassured that there is no risk. The
Committee Chair found, however, that there was by no means agreement about
these criticisms and notes that it is possible for vested interests to
undermine the integrity of studies in this way, leaving the general public
uncertain about the findings.
Nevertheless, the Committee agrees with the need
for rigorous and well-designed studies in this as in all fields of science.
There are many historical examples of scientific
results that are found to conflict with other results and with established
understanding but which eventually replace earlier theories. In fact there
were a variety of reasons for discounting research that found links between
mobile phone emissions and biological or health effects.
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 (see Chapter 4 for a discussion
of precautionary approaches as they relate to the setting of standards for
mobile phone emissions).
The Committee notes that a conference was held
in Coogee, Sydney, Australia on 22-23 March 2001, entitled: The Radio
Frequency Spectrum: Managing Community Issues, which provided a forum for
all views in this debate to be represented and discussed. The Committee
considers that such forums are valuable opportunities for scientists and other
interested parties to attempt to publicly discuss the potential and actual
health effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation. The Committee sees
merit in the Commonwealth Government sponsoring similar conferences, under the
auspices of a body such as the National Academy of Science, to include
respected Australian and international researchers in this field and for such
forums to be open to the public. The Committee notes that in March 1999, the
National Museum of Australia coordinated Australia’s first consensus conference
on gene technology in the food chain, which enabled lay people to put questions
to an expert panel.
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.
World Health Organization International Electromagnetic
In November 1996, an international seminar was
held on the biological effects of low-level radiofrequency electromagnetic
fields. The seminar, after surveying the literature and preparing status
reports, concluded ‘although hazards from exposure to high-level (thermal) RF
fields were established, no known health hazards were associated with exposure
to RF sources emitting fields too low to cause a significant temperature rise
in tissue’. The seminar identified a number of research areas requiring
further study or replication.
The WHO RF Electromagnetic Fields Research Coordination Committee outlined an
agenda for future research into radiofrequency fields. The WHO Committee said ‘the
only established health effects of RF fields relate to thermal effects (for frequencies
between about 1 MHz and 300 GHz) or induced electrical currents and fields (for
frequencies up to about 1 MHz), following exposures at relatively high
levels’ and that although ‘some studies suggest biological effects from
low-level RF exposure ... there is a lack of well replicated findings’. The WHO Committee
- exposure levels, frequencies, modulation and
pulse characteristics should be as relevant as possible to human experience;
- there should be relevant biological end-points,
that is, those that can be related to possible health risks.
In terms of research priorities, the WHO
Committee said greater emphasis was placed on the results of in vivo and
epidemiological studies rather than in vitro studies, unless the latter
provide mechanisms for extrapolation to humans or additional information that
supports the results of in vivo studies.
Research needs included in the WHO’s research
agenda were said to be identified on the basis of whether the evidence for a
health risk was judged to be suggestive but insufficient to meet the criteria
for assessing health risk. The overall goal was to promote studies that
demonstrate a reproducible effect of EMF exposure that has the likelihood to
occur in humans and has potential health consequences. This research agenda
formed part of the Australian RF EME Expert Committee’s considerations in
making its research recommendations (see Australian research below).
The EMF Project provides a forum for a
coordinated international response to various electromagnetic field issues.
International scientific reviews have provided health status reports and
identified gaps in knowledge where further research is required. Australia’s
EMF research program was largely based on the WHO’s research needs identified
at an international symposium on the biological effects of exposure to
non-thermal radiofrequency fields in Munich in November 1996.
The EMF Project includes the monitoring of all
relevant research results culminating in the publication of a report, anticipated
to occur in 2005, that will provide information on health effects of exposure
to static and time varying electric and magnetic fields in the frequency range
of 0-300 GHz.
Organisations collaborating with the WHO on the
EMF Project are:
- International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
(ICNIRP) – develops international guidelines on exposure to non-ionising
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – looks at
carcinogenic effects of radiation;
- International Labour Office (ILO) – EMF exposure and occupational
- International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – development of
telecommunications equipment; information on current and future communications
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) – standards;
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – environment and
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – NIR effects on
- European Commission (EC)
- Directorate General on Employment, Industrial Relations and
Social Affairs (DG V)
- Directorate General on Science, Research and Development
- Directorate General on Telecommunications, Market Information and
Research Exploitation (DG XIII).
The 1997 WHO Research Agenda for the
International EMF Project, being conducted under the auspices of the WHO, was
re-examined in 1999. Of the seven areas that were deemed to require further
research, two were considered to have not been addressed while several others
were not fully addressed, according to Dr Swicord who made an assessment
on WHO’s behalf:
- In relation to bioassays to test for cancer initiation,
promotion, co-promotion and progression, six studies were conducted in four
laboratories including two EC studies, one in Germany and one in Finland.
- Two studies are being conducted to replicate the Repacholi mouse
study, one in Australia (see the Vernon-Roberts study below) and the other,
supported by the EC, in Italy.
- In relation to studies to test the reproducibility of reported
changes in hormone levels, effects on the eye, inner ear and cochlea, memory
loss, neurodegenerative diseases and neurophysiological effects, a French study
is examining behavioural elements of this area. In addition, an Australian
study (see the Stough study below) is addressing components of the neurophysiological
- In response to WHO’s call for epidemiological studies to be
undertaken which focus on head and neck cancers and any disorders associated
with the eye or inner ear, a large scale IARC mobile telephone study is
covering nine countries in Europe, Israel and four additional countries, for
which funding is not yet in place. One of the additional countries is
Australia, which has recently announced funding for the extension to the
Armstrong pilot study (see below). A large occupational study in the UK is
also in the pilot study phase.
- In relation to studies to provide a better assessment of any
health risks from exposure to radar technology, including ultra-wide band
radars, Dr Swicord advised that this issue was not currently being addressed.
However, the NHMRC noted that the US military had undertaken considerable work
in this area which was in the process of being published, and that additional
work was being undertaken in Russia, China, and the UK.
- While it was indicated that studies testing people reporting
specific symptoms such as headaches, sleep disorders or auditory effects, and
who attribute them to RF exposure, were required, the NHMRC advised that some
areas on cognitive disorders and behaviour are proposed and that a number of other
human studies in this area have been proposed or are under-way in Germany,
Italy and the UK.
- In relation to suggested research at the cellular level that may
be directly relevant to possible in vivo effects, this was considered to
have been addressed to a large extent already, with the possible exception of
replication studies of DNA aberration results and ODC results. The NHMRC noted
that some work on ODC and DNA aberrations is being undertaken in France, Italy
In late 1999, the Research Coordination
Committee of the WHO International EMF Project reassessed its research agenda
and identified one area that was not being well addressed; there is still a
need for well controlled studies to test people with specific symptoms such as
headaches, sleep disorders or auditory effects, which they attribute to RF
Internationally, the European Commission has
also responded to WHO’s (revised) research agenda, announcing, in early 2000,
four projects in addition to the IARC study (see below):
- Combined effects of EMFs with environmental carcinogens:
molecular changes and genetic susceptibility: This study, to be conducted
by Jukka Juudlainen at the University of Kuopio in Finland, is examining the
possible effects of RF/MW exposure and known mutagenic agents; whether RF/MW
similar to those emitted by mobile phones enhance tumour development in a
carefully selected animal model; whether RF/MW exposure is a possible enhancer
of DNA damage in vivo; and examining in vitro, what the effects
are of RF/MW fields, alone or in combination with environmental chemicals, on
selected cellular processes related to carcinogenesis and non-genotoxic
- Risk evaluation of potential environmental hazards from
low-energy EMF exposure using sensitive in vitro methods: Franz Adlkofer,
Foundation for Behaviour and Environment in Munich, Germany, is carrying out in
vitro investigations of molecular and functional responses of living cells
to EMFs covering genotoxic effects, and effects on differentiation and function
of embryonic stem cells and tumour cells, gene expression and targeting, the
immune system, and cell transformation and apoptosis.
- In vivo research on possible health effects related to mobile
telephones and base stations: carcinogenicity studies in rodents: This
study, coordinated by Clemens Dasenbrock at the Fraunhofer Institute in
Germany, is undertaking two-year bioassays in Wistar rats and B6C3F1 mice with
900 MHz GSM and 1800 MHz PCS radiation, a replication of the DMBA-initiated
breast cancer bioassay in female Sprague-Dawley rats with 900 MHz GSM
radiation, and a replication of the lymphoma bioassay in Pim-1
transgenic mice with 900 MHz GSM radiation.
- Development of advice to the EC on the risk to health of the
general public from the use of security and similar devices employing pulsed
EMFs: Coordinated by Jürgen Bernhardt, German Federal Radiation Protection
Office, Oberschleissheim, Germany, this study will produce an advisory document
for the European Commission and member states addressing the issue of possible
adverse public health effects from exposure to pulsed electromagnetic fields
associated with electronic security and similar devices.
IARC INTERPHONE study
Following recommendations from several expert
reviews and the completion of a detailed feasibility study in 1998 and 1999,
which determined that a multi-national study into a range of cancers would be
feasible and informative, the International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC) established, and will coordinate, a multi-centre study of brain tumours,
salivary gland tumours, acoustic neurinomas and other head and neck tumours,
and leukaemia and lymphomas in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the UK. The
results are expected in 2003 or 2004. This study is partially funded by the EC
Fifth Framework programme.
UK Link Collaborative Research Programme
On 8 December 2000, in response to the Stewart
Report’s recommendations, the UK Government announced a £7 million
collaborative Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme. Applications have been
called for and will close at the end of March 2001, with a further call for
research applications later in the year. Research contracts would be awarded
on the basis of the most creative approach, those likely to be effective and
predictable, and those demonstrating value for money. The areas of research
for which bids are being particularly sought reflect the recommendations from the
Stewart Report: effects on brain function; consequences of exposure to pulsed
signals; improvements in dosimetry; sub-cellular and cellular changes induced
by radiofrequency radiation and their possible impact on health; psychological
and sociological studies related to the use of mobile phones; and
epidemiological and human volunteer studies including the study of children and
individuals who may be more susceptible to radiofrequency radiation.
Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) on
Health Effects of RF Emissions from Wireless Phones (Mobile Units for
Commercial Mobile Radio Services)
As part of a collaborative research program
between the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Cellular
Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), the US FDA’s Center for Devices
and Radiological Health (CDRH) will make recommendations on the studies that
are required, and the CTIA will contract directly with third parties to
undertake this research, the results of which are to be published in peer-reviewed
journals or other appropriate forums. Interim reports and ongoing working data
of these researchers will be kept confidential under the terms of the
Agreement. The research undertaken by the third parties will be conducted
under agreement independent of the CRADA, and CTIA will make the decision on
which research proposals should be funded. The Agreement will focus on two
topics: mechanistic studies related to genotoxicity (or carcinogenesis) and
research on additional epidemiological studies, and is due to conclude in
understands that the Working Group for the genotoxicity study was formed in
August 2000, and that a request for genotoxicity proposals was issued in
September to be responded to by December. The Working Group for the
epidemiology study appears to be still being organised, and it will be some
months before research proposals are sought. The Committee was advised that no
genotoxicity research grants appear to have been awarded as yet.
Radiofrequency electromagnetic emissions research program
(RF EME program)
The background to and components of Australia’s
electromagnetic emissions research program will be detailed later in this
report. Briefly, the Committee on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health Issues
(CEMEPHI), currently convened by the Australian Radiation Protection and
Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), has responsibility for the overall
implementation of the Australian Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program,
and was responsible for developing the research strategy. The National Health
and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is responsible for the management of the
research component of the program through its Strategic Research and
Development Committee (SRDC), which established a Radiofrequency (RF)
Electromagnetic Energy (EME) Expert Committee to oversee the research.
The RF EME Expert Committee developed research
priorities based on the CEMEPHI research strategy. The research agenda also
took into consideration the proposals of the European Commission’s 1996 report
on ‘Possible health effects related to the use of radiotelephones – Proposals
for a research program by a European Commission Expert Group’. The WHO’s 1996
and subsequent revised RF research agendas are also referred to in determining
The main priorities of the research strategy
identified by the CEMEPHI were:
- dosimetry and exposure systems;
- field measurements of RFR sources and personal exposure;
- numerical modelling and verification of SAR
distributions in the body;
- in vivo and in vitro studies of biological effects;
- mechanisms for interaction between radiofrequency radiation and
- animal and human laboratory studies on non-cancer disorders of
the brain and neck, including neurobehavioural and immune system effects,
affect on blood brain permeability, sleep disorders etc;
- epidemiological studies on acute and chronic exposure to
radiofrequency radiation, particularly of groups with higher exposure than the
- brain cancer; and
- further testing of hypothesised association between residence
near TV towers and childhood leukaemia.
The NHMRC advised the Committee that, although
the EME program is intended to be Australian-based and to examine RF EME issues
of particular relevance to the Australian environment, it is also intended that
the program complement overseas research activities. Four research projects were
funded from the first round and they are outlined briefly below.
The Sykes pilot study on intrachromosomal
Dr Pamela Sykes, Flinders Medical Centre,
Adelaide, was funded to conduct an in vivo pilot study to test whether
radiofrequency induced mutations in transgenic mice with a view to identifying a
biological mechanism that links RF and cancer. The study provided for exposure
to radiofrequency radiation at a certain dose for three different time
periods. If an increase in mutations were observed in the spleen cells of
animals, then a lower dose would be investigated.
The study was conducted at Flinders University
in South Australia. The results of the pilot study undertaken at specific
absorption rates at which thermal effects might be expected, did not show more
DNA breakage than was observed in mice not exposed to RF electromagnetic
emissions (EME), although it did show changes which Dr Sykes said were worthy
of further study. The results were evaluated by the NHMRC’s RF EME Expert
Committee, which decided not to recommend further funding for a full proposal
by Dr Sykes, based on testing the same hypothesis with the same methodology.
The Vernon-Roberts study on
tumour incidence in transgenic mice
Professor Barrie Vernon-Roberts, Head of the
Department of Pathology, Adelaide University and Director of the Institute of
Medical and Veterinary Science, is undertaking a replication study of the 1997
Adelaide mouse study, to test whether exposure to GSM-like radiofrequency fields
affects lymphoma rates in Eµ-pim-1 transgenic mice. In addition to the methods
followed in the earlier study, the Vernon-Roberts study will test a range of
doses and use enhanced dosimetric techniques.
Large numbers of Eµ-pim-1 transgenic
mice, which are predisposed to lymphoma development, will be exposed to
electromagnetic fields similar to those emitted by mobile telephones. There
will be four dose exposure levels in addition to control groups. The incidence
of cancer in exposed and non-exposed mice will be compared.
The Committee notes that the exposure of the
mice is expected to be completed in June 2001, followed by analysis of
pathology results and the report write-up, expected to be completed by June
The application originally included a proposal
to undertake a similar study with another genetically-modified mouse variant (p53
mice). However, the RF EME Committee considered that as definitive results
from the pim-1 study were two years away, and should the study show no
increase in lymphoma risk, that this would substantially reduce the
justification for funding the p53 mouse study. The funds have been used for
the second round of NHMRC funding for EMR research (see below).
The World Health Organization, in its submission
to this inquiry, recommended that the Vernon-Roberts team should be funded to
complete a study using the p53 mouse model, as results could ‘add
significantly to our understanding of the way RF fields interact with
biological tissues’ and ‘allow a better understanding of the results of the pim-1
Dr Peter French, Principal Scientific Officer at the Centre for Immunology, St
Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, in his submission to the Committee, noted:
It is true that [the 1997 Adelaide mouse study] does not imply
that there is an increased risk to humans of lymphoma induced by mobile phone
exposure. It may indicate however that in individuals genetically predisposed
to certain forms of cancer, the long term intermittent exposure to RF such as
that used in mobile phone technology may be an important environmental stimulus
in the induction of malignancy, by an as yet unknown mechanism.
The authors of the original mouse study, in
their conclusion, observed that while no humans were known to carry an
activated pim1 gene, there were cases of individuals expressing the p53
gene, and that these individuals may ‘comprise a subpopulation at special risk
from agents that would pose an otherwise insignificant risk of cancer’.
The Committee Chair recognises that funding
decisions are made by the NHMRC, notes the reasons for the decision to
re-allocate the funding originally set-aside for the p53 study, but is
persuaded that this study should be undertaken.
The Committee Chair recommends that a study into p53 mice
be listed as an area of research for which future research applications should
The Stough study on
Dr Con Stough, from Swinburne University,
Victoria, was funded to conduct an 18 month human study to test whether
exposure to EME emissions from mobile phones causes impairments in
neuropsychological functioning (in contrast to previous studies of the use of
mobile phones affecting driving performance that could just indicate divided
attention). The study, using 120 participants taken from the general
community, first established a baseline with respect to memory, attention and
problem solving and then gave either an RF EME or ‘sham’ (placebo) for 60
minutes. The participants were reassessed on the same day after the 60 minutes
of either EME or sham. After 7 days, a second baseline assessment was measured
and was followed by a further assessment. At each assessment subjects
completed various neuropsychological tests. These tests were designed to
measure a wide range of psychological processes, including: visual-motor
coordination and speed; visual scanning; incidental learning; sustained
attention; language comprehension; rapid decision-making; psychomotor speed;
short-term memory and attention; verbal encoding and recall; sequencing;
capacity to learn; and short-term recall.
This study has been completed and the results
are to be submitted for publication.
The Armstrong study on brain
and other tumours
Professor Bruce Armstrong, Director of the
Cancer Control Information Centre, NSW Cancer Council, has been funded to
conduct a 16 month epidemiological case-control pilot study of brain and other
tumours in adults and exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic energy in the
use of mobile phones. Professor Armstrong’s research forms part of an
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) study that includes participation
from the UK, France, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Israel and Canada. The pilot
study was accepted, and Dr Armstrong has received funding for the full study.
The full study will examine adults aged 20-69
years, diagnosed for the first time with primary glioma or meningioma of the brain, acoustic
or cancer of the parotid gland
between 1999-2001. An equal sample size of age and sex matched controls has
been randomly selected using electoral rolls. A 45 minute questionnaire based
interview will be conducted that includes questions on mobile phone usage and
pattern, type of phone (analog or digital), and use of antenna. Demographic
and other variables will also be collected.
Latest research projects
A second round of funding was agreed to in
February 2000 to address areas of research identified by the RF EME Expert
Committee as being under-researched. In line with the revised research agenda
developed by the World Health Organization (see above), the RF EME Expert
Committee emphasised the areas of neuropsychological and neurophysiological
abnormalities in its call for a second round of research expressions for
- effects on the eye and vision;
- effects on the inner ear, cochlea and hearing;
- memory loss;
- sleep disorders;
- other neurological effects;
- neuroendocrine effects;
immunological effects; and
- areas of possible biological effects.
Two projects, out of five full research
proposals submitted, were announced as part of the second round of funding. The funding details of these
projects are discussed in Chapter 3. The projects are briefly described below.
The Wood study on human physiological responses
Dr Andrew Wood, from the Swinburne University of
Technology in Victoria, will conduct a three-year study which will expose human
volunteers to radiation similar to that which would be experienced during a
mobile phone call, to identify the immediate effects of mobile phone use on the
ability of participants to respond to visual and auditory stimuli. The quality
of participant sleep during the night following exposure will also be measured.
The Mitchell study into effects on vision and hearing
Associate Professor Paul Mitchell, Westmead
Hospital, University of Sydney, will conduct a two-year study based on the large
scale Blue Mountain Eye Study
to examine the consequences of long-term mobile phone use on standard measures
of vision, eye disease and hearing. The project will also test for subtle
changes in sensory function.
A number of areas of possible future research
were highlighted in evidence to the Committee. The Committee notes calls by
submitters to this inquiry for more human and epidemiological research to be
conducted on health risks associated with exposure to low levels of radiofrequency
and occupational exposure.
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
While the technology is relatively new and
evidence of some health effects may have a long latency period, for example the
incidence of cancer that may or may not be related to mobile phone and base
station emissions, 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.
The Committee notes that while research into
extremely low-level RF radiation is not as plentiful as research into other
portions of the spectrum, there is sufficient evidence to justify conferences
to discuss the current state of the science. The Committee has made
recommendations relating to the funding of research in this area in the next
The Committee Chair also calls on the
telecommunications industry to give priority in its technology development to
research on reducing exposure to RF radiation.
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