Chapter 3 - Allocation of Australian radiofrequency electromagnetic energy program funds
This chapter focuses on the $4.5 million
Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program the stated aim of which is to
address community concerns about exposure to electromagnetic radiation
occurring in the radiofrequency range of the spectrum. This Program is managed
by two government agencies: the Committee on Electromagnetic Energy Public
Health Issues (CEMEPHI) and the National Health and Medical Research Council
(NHMRC). Both of these agencies come under the Department of Health and Aged
Care. The Committee examined the funding allocation as well as criticisms of
the program raised during its inquiry.
Committee on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health
On 23 October 1995, the Government established
an interdepartmental Committee on Electromagnetic Energy Public Health Issues
(CEMEPHI). This Committee is responsible for advising the Government on public
health issues related to the use of the radiofrequency spectrum for
- the current status and suitability of technical standards
relating to electromagnetic energy in the radiofrequency spectrum and public
health (but not to cut across the standards development process);
- how standards are being implemented by the industry;
- whether compliance programs are adequate, and, if they are found
to be lacking, developing appropriate reporting processes to ensure compliance
is being maintained (relying as much as possible on self regulation strategies
but utilising legislative means if necessary);
- the extent of human services programs put in place to assist
those experiencing interference problems with health equipment from
- the status of overseas and Australian research into the
health/electromagnetic energy issue and the scope for further research to be
undertaken in Australia; and
- the implementation of a community information program to ensure
all relevant information on the health/electromagnetic energy issue is freely
Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program
On 15 October 1996, the Australian Government
announced the program which would fund electromagnetic radiation research into
health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone towers and other
communications devices and equipment; contribute to a World Health Organization
(WHO) project that coordinates the international research effort, and reviews
the scientific literature; and provide public information. A total of $4.5 million
was drawn from a one per cent levy on radiocommunications licences in
1996-97, set aside for use over a five year period.
Of the $4.5 million, $3.15 million was
initially allocated for research, with the remainder identified for public
information and the WHO collaboration. The research component was later
increased to $3.4 million.
With the establishment of the Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy (RF EME) Program, the CEMEPHI became responsible
for the overall implementation of that Program. In addition, it became
specifically responsible for the public information component and Australia’s
involvement in the WHO collaboration.
On 1 July 1998, the support function for the
CEMEPHI was transferred from the then Department of Communications and the Arts,
and its administrative costs drawn from the $4.5 million. The CEMEPHI is
currently convened by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety
Agency (ARPANSA) which falls under the aegis of the Department of Health and
Aged Care. Current membership of the CEMEPHI is:
Dr John Loy (Chair)
Dr Kevin Buckett
Department of Health and Aged
Care (Public Health Division)
Professor Don Cameron
Mr David Clarkson
Mr Wayne Cornelius
Ms Liz Cotton
Mr Tad Jarzynski
Mr Ken Karipidis
Mr Ian McAlister
Ms Leonie Tarnawski
National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)
The research component of the Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy (RF EME) Program is managed by the National Health
and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The NHMRC is a national body which makes
authoritative recommendations to Commonwealth, state and territory governments.
It is regularly referred to for advice on prevailing public health, medical
research and ethical issues, as well as providing practical advice to the
The NHMRC’s role in the RF EME Program is to
develop a research framework, determine priorities, call for funding proposals,
make recommendations and ensure that the research is of a high quality and in
the public interest. It requires that the research findings are submitted for
publication in peer-reviewed scientific literature. The NHMRC does not manage
the research it funds. This is the responsibility of the grant recipients and
The NHMRC established a Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy Expert Committee (the Expert Committee) for the purpose
of administering the research funding for the RF EME Program. The Expert
Committee was formed pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between
the CEMEPHI and the NHMRC. This MOU specified the roles and responsibilities
of the NHMRC and the CEMEPHI in relation to the research, and provided a
framework for the EME research.
Where the Funds Have Been Allocated
Funding for the whole program has been made
available at the rate of $1 million per year starting on 1 January 1997.
Of the $1 million, $700,000 goes to the NHMRC for the research program and the
remaining $300,000 covers the involvement in the WHO International EMF Project
($US50,000 per year) and also the public information program ($131,000 spent by
The MOU between the CEMEPHI and the NHMRC
provides that funds, which are not required for other parts of the Program, may
be transferred to the research component. This occurred when the support
function for the CEMEPHI was transferred from the Department of Communications
and the Arts to ARPANSA and an additional $250,000, not required in the other
parts of the Program, was allocated to the research component.
Australian Research Component
On 25 October 1997, the NHMRC advertised in the
national press for expressions of interest for research proposals to be
received by 5 December 1997. Twenty-two expressions of interest were received
covering a range of fields. The Expert Committee participated in a round table
debate on the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal and arrived at an
agreed rating for scientific merit. Seven highly rated proposals were
short-listed and invited to submit full proposals.
The NHMRC arranged for peer review, including
possible conflict of interest issues, of the full proposals. This involved
both Australian and international grant assessors. All full applications each
went to four assessors. Mr David Clarkson, Director, Research Development
Section, Centre for Research Management, NHMRC described the assessment
When examining this proposal versus that proposal, there is a
list of criteria that we give to assessors and that the committee use – for
example, the quality of the science: is it good science, is it good
methodology, has it got ample sample size, are there enough subjects involved,
are there enough mice involved? There is also the track record of the
scientists: have they done work in this area before or is it something they
have never done before, and have they got enough people on their team to do the
specialised examination of the issues within the project – for example, have
they got an epidemiologist, if that is required; have they got somebody who
knows something about the dosimetry, which is fairly complex for a lot of the
scientists because it is an area they are unfamiliar with; have they got
somebody who is a medical statistician? Those sorts of things depend on the
issue that they are looking at.
So those are the issues: relevance, scientific importance, track
record and, important in this particular area, is it strategically important,
is it answering those questions? In the last call for proposals, we put on the
bottom ‘other areas that may be relevant’. There is a judgment made by the
panel about relevance as we ask the assessors to make a judgment call on that
Four projects, two of which were pilot studies,
were selected for funding in the first round, totalling approximately $1.4
million. Funds were quarantined to convert two of the pilot studies to full
studies if results from the pilots indicated that this would be required.
Three of the research projects were announced in
July 1998, following endorsement by the Minister for Health and Aged Care. The
pilot studies were:
- a case-control study of brain and other tumours in adults,
conducted by Professor Armstrong, administered by the NSW Cancer Council. This
16 month pilot study received $90,000; and
- the effect of radiofrequency exposure on intrachromosomal
recombination in mutation and cancer, conducted by Dr Sykes and administered by
Flinders University of South Australia. This pilot study received $75,000.
The third project was an 18 month study on human
volunteers testing the effect of 900 MHz radiofrequency radiation on human
neuropsychological responses conducted by Dr Stough and administered by the
Swinburne Institute of Technology, Victoria. This project received $50,000.
The fourth project was announced in September
1998. This project was to test the effects of GSM-like fields on tumour
incidence in ET-pim-1 mutant mice. It was to be conducted by
Professor Vernon-Roberts, administered by the University of Adelaide and
received $1.122 million. This was a replication or confirmation study of
research, funded by the Federal Government and Telstra and conducted in 1993-95
by the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
A report on the Professor Armstrong pilot study
was reviewed by the Expert Committee and a decision made to fund a full,
stand alone, four year study. The grant, totalling $1.2 million, was announced
in December 2000.
Dr Sykes reported at the end of 1999. The
findings from the pilot study did not support the hypothesis of the project and
the Expert Committee decided there was no justification to provide further
funds for a full study to test the same hypothesis with the same methodology.
The NHMRC informed the Senate Committee that Dr
Stough’s project is now complete and the final report is awaiting publication.
Further details of these projects can be found
in Chapter 2.
round of funding
In February 2000, the Expert Committee called
for a second round of expressions of interest for radiofrequency
electromagnetic energy research. It was able to do this when funds set aside
for Dr Sykes’ full study were not required. In addition, a decision had been
made to reallocate funds earlier quarantined for an additional component to
Professor Vernon-Roberts’ study, which it was thought would be better spent
There were also monies transferred from other parts of the Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy Program in line with the MOU between the NHMRC and the
CEMEPHI (refer to paragraph 3.9 above). The second round of funding came to
The second round endeavoured to address research
areas that have been identified by the World Health Organization as still
requiring attention. Research in the areas of neuropsychological and
neurophysiological abnormalities was particularly encouraged by the NHMRC.
The NHMRC sought expressions of interest in
April 2000. Eleven proposals were submitted (although some proposals
incorporated more than one project) with one of the eleven proposals being
ineligible for funding through the Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy
Program because it would have been based and managed overseas.
The process for deciding which projects to fund
was similar to that for the initial funding round. The Expert Committee met on
20 June 2000 to shortlist the expressions of interest, subsequently
inviting full applications from six proposals. Five full applications (one
applicant chose not to submit a full application) were received, peer reviewed,
and considered by the Expert Committee.
The Expert Committee recommended two grants for
funding which were announced by the Minister on 1 March 2001. The projects,
totalling $522,575, were:
human physiological responses to exposure to mobile phone type
radiation. This study will be conducted by Dr Andrew Wood at Swinburne
University of Technology. Funds allocated are $213,570 over three years; and
- effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation from long
term mobile phone use on vision and hearing. Associate Professor Paul Mitchell
at Westmead Hospital will conduct this study. Funds allocated are $309,005
over two years.
Criticism of the research program
The Senate Committee received submissions which
were critical of the research program. The criticism focussed on the amount of
funds provided for the program; the length of time taken to get research
results; the selection of projects for funding; and scientists whose findings
have indicated in the past that there may be health and psychological effects
from electromagnetic radiation have had their funding discontinued or made
unavailable for the necessary experimental replication, or they have not been
awarded grants at all.
Witnesses argued that, in the light of the
revenues earned by the Government from the telecommunications industry, and the
large number of people exposed by the use of mobile phones in particular, a
much larger sum should be provided for research into the health effects of
electromagnetic radiation. The Electromagnetic Radiation Alliance of Australia
This amount of funding for research into the health effects of
EMR is paltry, given that the telecommunications industry generates millions of
dollars annually for the government and many millions more from the sale of
According to Mr Stewart Fist, a journalist:
The most generous characterisation that any reasonable person
could put on the present government’s $4.2 [sic] million funding for EMF
research and public information about cellphone dangers, is that it is tokenism
at its worst.
The NHMRC provided to the Committee comparative
information on grants which it distributes in other areas. In 2000, it
distributed approximately $118 million in grants, of which approximately $42
million were new grants. It argued that the $700,000 per annum research
component of the Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program was consistent
with amounts awarded in the following areas:
- aetiology and neurobiology of depressive and bipolar disorders
- vascular biology in thrombosis ($813,386); and
- biological function of genes in the pathophysiology of Downs
A media release from the Minister for
Communications and the Arts claimed that whilst there are public concerns about
possible health effects of electromagnetic radiation, other health issues such
as damage to skin through exposure to the sun, the development of breast cancer
or death or injury because of road accidents are of greater concern.
Dr John Moulder, a Professor of Radiation
Oncology in Wisconsin, told the Committee that it becomes a political and
social decision whether to divert resources from one area of inquiry into
Sometimes, as soon as you start looking, you find something
hazardous, but once some work has been done and it does not show any strong
evidence of a hazard, then it is a political decision how much more time and
money should be spent on this issue as opposed to all the other things out
there that are possible or known hazards. I think that is a social or a
The NHMRC received a smaller number of
applications in response to the second round of funding and said:
One can look at the number of applications we received for the
second round. Eleven is not a lot, given the amount of interest in the area,
so maybe we need to stimulate it in different ways ...
The NHMRC acknowledged that, with an increase in
money, more research could be funded, but had reservations about the small
number of researchers in this particular area in Australia. In addition, the
one-off nature of the funding is seen as a problem by the Expert Committee and
this aspect of the funding does not encourage researchers to specialise and
become expert in the area.
According to Mr David Clarkson from the NHMRC:
... good people are working in other areas and are not being
pulled across to this area because of its limited career path ...
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications
Association (AMTA) informed the Committee that if there were not enough funds
to cover projects identified by the NHMRC as appropriate, it would look at
I should draw your attention to the fact that in our submission
we said that, were the NHMRC to identify research programs that were
appropriate for funding and there was insufficient funding, the industry would
be prepared to look at providing funding for those projects. But they would be
projects identified by the NHMRC.
There is consensus among stakeholders in this
area, that more research needs to be conducted into the effects of
electromagnetic radiation and the Committee recommends that the Government
maintain a research program on an ongoing basis. This is necessary not only
for the research findings that will be the result of such a program, but also
to develop the expertise in this area in Australia and enlarge the pool from
which researchers can be drawn.
Professor Philip Jennings, Professor of Physics
at Murdoch University (in a personal submission) made the point that:
... health research related to the effects of EMR is well behind
the level needed to ensure that public health is not adversely affected by
technological progress. This is partly a result of underfunding and partly due
to the emphasis on ionising radiation in the past. We have very little
experience of long term exposure of large numbers of people to the sorts of EMR
doses we are now experiencing.
The amount of funding was criticised as
inadequate for independent Australian scientists to seriously explore the
possibility of health problems caused by electromagnetic radiation, and the
Committee Chair therefore considers that the level of funding should be
significantly higher and adequate to deliver a structured program of research
which is independent and of high quality and relevance.
Much of the controversy in the area arises from
attempts to discredit studies because of their design or methodology or the
fact they have not been replicated.
The CSIRO suggested that a figure of $60
million, based on a $10 levy on each mobile phone user, would be a generous
amount of research funding:
If Australia wants to do this sort of research then it needs to
be adequately funded. Therefore, a levy seems one way to do that; there are
others, I am sure. I think there are six million subscribers, so $10 is quite
a lot. It adds up to $60 million. That is about the budget for my division,
which is 400 people.
Other submissions also advocated a levy on
mobile phone users which would be used to fund research. Mr Les Dalton, a
retired CSIRO Principal Research Scientist, advocated that there be:
... a levy on users of mobile phones to provide the research
funding. That would channel funds from the industry far better than direct
handouts by carriers themselves; it is then at arms-length between the research
and the funding source. A very small levy would provide a far greater research
fund than anything the government has so far been prepared to offer.
Mr Don Maisch, an electromagnetic energy
activist, also suggested that there be a levy on the phone user:
Considering the amount of profits that are being made by the
industry, I think a small tax on mobile phone users, going back into research,
is not really very much of a thing to ask.
The Electromagnetic Radiation Alliance of
Australia suggested that ‘[i]n order to avoid the difficulties of obtaining
genuine results from credible science, there is a great need for independent
research and independently administered funding’. It recommended that:
- two funds be established, one to finance studies on the effects
of telecommunications technology on health and the other to finance studies on
the effects of powerline fields on health;
- funding for these be derived from all telecommunications
companies and all power utilities;
- each mobile phone user be required to contribute $10 per annum to
research the effects of mobile phone use; and
- money from these funds be allocated to research by independent
panels comprising public health professionals and members of the community.
Mr Fist provided the Committee with a proposal
for an independent Commonwealth Institute of Radio/Environmental Health which
could be incorporated within the CSIRO. He argued that this was necessary
Currently the research being conducted into cellphone health
problems around the world is scattered and the researchers often work in
isolation, only meeting at conferences. Australian funding is piece-meal – the
money is being scattered to a few institutions and researchers with little
long-term strategy. 
Mr Fist suggested that this Institute should be
funded on a user-pays basis, by a levy on all cellphones in Australia or on all
mobile phone bills:
People are spending on average $1,200 a year on these things.
For God’s sake, they should be able to spend another $5 or $10 a year on
whether they are safe. You fund by a levy, and therefore it is not on the
budget and not subject to budget cuts. You keep it independent within the
CSIRO where people will trust it, where the money does not get sloughed off
into other CSIRO research.
The Consumers Telecommunications Network
suggested that research could be funded from the sale of Telstra but was not
opposed to the idea of a consumer levy. Ms Corbin said in relation to a levy:
I think $10 is probably a bit much. However, I do think
consumers would be happy to have some form of levy. ... The public wants to know
whether mobiles have a detrimental effect. The most common question I get
asked when people find out what I do for a living is, ‘Do you know if mobile
phones actually affect you?’ There is a huge hunger out there to have that
question answered. I think people would be happy to contribute to research and
also to proper labelling.
The Committee Chair considers that a levy would
circumvent the problem alluded to earlier, where, to increase research in the
electromagnetic radiation area, resources would need to be diverted away from
Submissions suggested that research funds should
be raised from a levy on mobile phone users rather than on the carriers, in order
that the research so conducted is at arms-length from the industry, to avoid
implications of bias.
The Committee Chair is not persuaded that the
means of raising funds is a determinant of independence. Rather the process
for deciding which research receives funding must be at arms length and seen to
Mr Les Dalton provided another reason for
restricting the levy to mobile phone research rather than for other
radiofrequency emitting equipment. He suggested that mobile phone users are a
special case because they are so numerous and are subjected to intense levels
The Committee Chair considers that revenue
raised from the mobile phone sector should primarily be used for such research
but that it should be a matter for the body which administers the research
program to determine whether research into radiofrequency emissions from other
sources has relevance.
The Committee Chair considers that revenue for
research from the sector should be linked to the numbers of users of mobile
phones but holds the view that industry and Government should develop the
fairest and most administratively effective system of collection.
One way of determining the amount of additional
funding required in Australia for this research would be to draw on the total
value of the expressions of interest which were lodged with the NHMRC:
applications for RF EME research
Expressions of interest
Full proposals received
First round of funding
Second round of funding
However, the Committee Chair considers this
approach to be limited because an ongoing program of funding for research would
likely produce a more substantial number of proposals.
The Committee Chair supports the concept of the
CSIRO being the premium research body for this work but as the CSIRO pointed
out, even though it has a watching brief on telecommunications radiation issues
it does not have a budget to conduct research. Dr Haddad explained:
... the Division of Telecommunications and Industrial Physics ...
has a lot of dealings with telecommunications carriers, but primarily in a very
much more commercial role than the sort of area that Dr Barnett has been
talking about. CSIRO has a choice these days. It is required to maintain its
external income level at a reasonably high level for a research organisation
and, as such, it has to choose the areas in which it works quite carefully.
Appropriation funding has been flat; in fact, in real dollar terms, it has
decreased significantly over the last few years. That makes it harder and
harder to maintain a variety of areas of what I would call more fundamental
research, if you like, which underpins all this sort of short-term tactical
work that you can do to earn money. So we are forced to make choices. In this
particular area, yes, it is of great public interest, but it harks back to the
fact that I do not believe that, unless a significant amount of money is
available, we will be doing anything more than tinkering around the edges. So
my attitude would be: if you want it done, do it properly, or, essentially,
keep a watching brief and stay out of it.
The Committee Chair recommends that the equivalent of $5
for each mobile phone in use be collected annually for this purpose
(approximately $40 million) and that the rate be reviewed after a period of
The Committee Chair recommends that funding for
maintaining the NHMRC-administered research program be provided at $4 million
per annum of the $40 million and that the balance be used by the CSIRO to
establish a structured program of research and set up a specialised research
unit for this purpose.
time taken to produce research results
Submissions expressed frustration with the time
taken to produce research results:
The Council is concerned that almost four years have elapsed
since the Federal Government provided the $4.5 million fund for EMR research
with only preliminary research having been undertaken so far.
The CSIRO pointed out, however, that the issue
of effects of radiofrequency radiation is not going to be solved quickly or
I think the committee should be aware that this is not the sort
of research work that you will get done by next month. This is a long,
rigorous and arduous piece of work to establish cause and effect in this
particular situation. You need epidemiological studies. You need all sorts of
things that will take a significant length of time. You cannot have it
finished by Christmas.
The NHMRC and the CEMEPHI argued that their
processes aimed to ensure that electromagnetic energy research, funded through
the NHMRC, was of the highest standard, was independent, and addressed the most
important scientific questions in relation to any health effects of exposure to
radiofrequency electromagnetic energy.
Dr Barnett of the CSIRO, however, suggested that
the NHMRC often takes a long time to distribute research funds:
Once the Department of Communications obtained those funds from
cabinet, they were essentially passed on to NHMRC because it was felt at the
time – at least within government circles – that that was the expeditious way
to do things. In fact, it did take rather a long time to get around to
actually providing any funding for research. That is not atypical of NHMRC –
the time frames are usually long.
The NHMRC outlined for the Committee the steps
taken which led to the allocation of funds and the conduct of the research.
The draft Australian Research Agenda, developed by the CEMEPHI, was forwarded
in August 1997 to the NHMRC as a basis for developing its research priorities.
The Strategic Research Development Committee (one of the four principal NHMRC
committees) and the CEMEPHI signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on 22
September 1997 to set out their respective roles and responsibilities. The MOU
between the CEMEPHI and the NHMRC specified that the NHMRC should establish a
Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Expert Committee under its Strategic
Research Development Committee. The Expert Committee was convened and research
questions were refined in October 1997. The call for expressions of
interest took place also in October 1997. Expressions of interest were
received in December 1997, shortlisted applicants were invited to submit full
proposals in February 1998 and full applications were sent for peer review in
March 1998. Assessor reports were forwarded to applicants for their comments
in May 1998 and the Expert Committee considered the peer reviews and
rebuttals. It made its recommendations to the Minister in May 1998 who
announced the successful grant recipients in July 1998.
of the telecommunications industry on the research
Some submissions suggested that the RF EME
Research Program wasted funds on projects designed to spread industry-based
Much of the money from the 5-year research/public education
program has been wasted on projects designed to spread industry-based
propaganda and to cover up the existing research that shows a possible
connection between electromagnetic radiation and health problems.
It was contended that the telecommunications
industry will try to influence research into electromagnetic emissions to show
that there are no ill effects from its technology:
If you are a researcher doing research that is being funded by
industry, if you are coming up with results that are not what the company wants
to hear, you will not get further funding. But if you give results that look
good you tend to get further funding. So there is very much a bias to slant
your research towards the person who is providing the funding.
have claimed that industry cover-ups and interference in the publication of
research results, and selection bias in the choice of studies to be funded, are
reasons for the failure to replicate many studies that have shown a
relationship between EMR and biological and health effects. Mr Fist pointed out:
On the question of replication, if a scientist does a study and
produces a certain result, then replication needs to be done by someone else. ...
Independent universities are not going to fund the replication because their
interest is in advancing into new areas. The only people who have the money to
fund replication when adverse effects are found are the cellphone companies and
the government. The government does not fund it around the world and the
cellphone companies have no interest in funding replication of adverse effects,
at least not in public release, so you get pseudo replications.
The Committee also
notes the following observation:
Scientists do not want to go out and do an exact replication.
This is an enormous waste of time. What science is built on is that, if you do
something and you claim a result, what is the implication? If I do it in a
cervical cancer cell, does it imply that it will work in a breast cancer cell?
So I can confirm a concept not by going and doing it in cervical cancer but I
can do it in a breast cancer cell.
expressed concern about the lack of independence of scientific studies when
research is carried out under a direct contract between the corporation and the
research team. Mr Dalton claimed that under these arrangements ‘the release to
the public of the information about the research findings can, and at times has
been, restricted or manipulated’.
Other submissions also stressed the need for research to be overseen by an
independent committee and conducted independently of industry.
Mr Dalton referred
to the 1997 Adelaide mouse study, the results of which, he claimed, had been
delayed by a telecommunications company under a confidentiality clause in the
Mr Dalton advised that this study had indicated that the ‘rate of tumour
incidence in the mice increased over time, showing that the development of
tumours is related to a measurable dose of radiation’.
Mr Fist drew parallels between the operations of
tobacco companies and telecommunications companies whereby, he alleged, both
industries manipulate the research, discredit findings and researchers who
produce unfavourable results, and employ various public relations techniques
for managing the debate and influencing government policy. Mr Fist commented
... especially in the United States but also in parts of Europe,
particularly in Germany, there has been the development over the last years of
a subset of the public relations industry which has specifically targeted
science and scientists, which has systematically corrupted the presentation of
evidence, which attempts to control a couple of scientific disciplines – mainly
epidemiology and toxicology – and which very much controls what is now being
called ‘risk assessment’.
... the science in this country [Australia] is particularly good.
The countries that stand out around the world are Australia, England and
Sweden. The most corrupt science countries are America by far, Germany and
some of the Scandinavian countries like Finland, which in the cellphone area
depend totally on the cellphone industry for funding all sorts of research. In
the States the government withdrew totally from funding research. The EPA and
the FDA were both doing a lot of research. In fact, at one stage the EPA
classed cellphones as a potential carcinogen. They got stopped from doing that
and they got their research rights taken away from them. So since about
1994-95 until now research has been totally in the hands of the cellphone
Dr Michael Repacholi from the World Health
Organization, however, claimed that the telecommunications industry has learnt
not to repeat the experience of the tobacco industry when it funded research to
support its product:
... I think industry has got the message that they are the cause
of the problem to start off with – it is their technology, their industry – and
they are putting substantial amounts of money into this, there is no doubt. ...
We know about the tobacco industry but I think industry has
learnt from that and they do not want to go through that again. That is my
understanding. But we certainly have had industry saying early in the program,
‘We have funded lots of projects but the people do not believe the results’. I
say, ‘What do you expect? If you were there dealing directly with the scientists
then people will relate back to the previous experiences of other industry funding’.
We recommended that that has to be a firewall. There has to be an independent
panel that deals with the funding agency and the scientists ...
The Mobile Manufacturers Forum told the
... we are striving to be open and responsive to consumer concerns
about questions that have been raised about health issues. There is a very
large scientific database in existence which is continually being reviewed, and
the conclusions are consistent in confirming no health risk from mobile phone
use. However, many of these reviews are calling for further research. We are
taking the research call very seriously. ... We have established principles
within our research sponsorship to assure transparency.
Although Dr Repacholi claimed industry was
providing substantial amounts for research, the Australian Mobile
Telecommunications Association (AMTA) advised the Committee its members are
generally not undertaking research.
Furthermore, the Committee Chair fails to see how the industry’s ‘established
principles’ can ‘assure transparency’ and prefers Dr Repacholi’s
recommendations that research should be dealt with through an independent
In convening the Expert Committee which
administered the research funding, the NHMRC informed the Senate Committee,
that it was particularly cognisant of the need to maintain very high standards
to avoid conflicts of interest. The NHMRC said that measures to protect
against conflict of interest were standard practice, but given the particular
sensitivity of the electromagnetic radiation issue, the NHMRC refined its
procedures for the EME process. These were consequently more stringent than
those in place for other areas of the NHMRC at that time.
Members of the Expert Committee were appointed
on the basis of their recognised expertise in areas of science relevant to the
EME research program. Committee expertise includes the fields of epidemiology,
cancer biology, radiation physics, physical dosimetry and engineering, nuclear
medicine, mathematical modelling, and neurology. Two representatives from the
Strategic Research Development Committee who had not been involved in the EME
area were nominated to independently co-chair the Expert Committee. A member
with a background in, and knowledge of, consumer issues was also appointed.
Membership of the Expert Committee, and members’
fields of expertise follow:
Electromagnetic Energy Expert Committee
Prof Don Cameron (co-Chair)
Endocrinology - SRDC nominee
Prof Judith Black (co-Chair)
Respiratory/Thoracic - SRDC nominee
Dr Chris Bain
Prof Tony Basten
Cancer Biology (resigned
Prof Annette Dobson
Prof Kay Ellem
Cancer Cell Biology (resigned
Dr Alan Harris
Prof Michael Halmagyi
Neurology (commenced June
Dr Ken Joyner
Radiation physics, physical
dosimetry and engineering (expert observer)
Ms Michelle Kosky
Consumer issues - NHMRC
nominee (resigned 2000)
Dr Fred Khafagi
Dr Colin Roy
Radiation Physics, physical
dosimetry (observer from CEMEPHI)
Prof Colin Thompson
The NHMRC believes that it has developed
procedures to ensure that bias is not present in the selection of projects for
The NHMRC was invited to manage the research in recognition of
its independence, the rigour of its peer review processes and the overall
quality of the research it supports. The EME Expert Committee has no
preconceived ideas in relation to possible health effects of mobile phones and
related telecommunications equipment, wishing only to know the facts relating
to this issue.
Mr David Clarkson, Director, Research
Development Section, NHMRC, was questioned by the Committee about whether any
allegations had been raised at either the Expert Committee level or the more
senior board level about actual bias or perceptions of bias in the allocation
of funds. He informed the Committee that no allegation of bias has been raised
formally at either level.
The CSIRO commented that one member of the
Expert Committee was a previous chairman of the New South Wales Cancer Council
which received funding for one of the four projects approved by the Minister,
and that this could be perceived as a conflict of interest.
The NHMRC response to this comment was to inform
the Committee that Professor Armstrong resigned from the Expert Committee
before the call for the first round of funding. The NHMRC emphasised that it
is a requirement that all potential appointees declare any personal or
financial interest they have in the area of research under consideration. If
appointees declare a conflict of interest, the Expert Committee will consider
how it can be most appropriately managed. All members of the Expert Committee
are requested to declare any potential conflict on a regular basis.
Some submissions to the inquiry pointed out that
Dr Ken Joyner is a member of the Expert Committee even though he presently
works for Motorola and previously worked for Telstra. Dr Joyner and the NHMRC
defended this potential conflict of interest on the basis that he does not have
voting rights on the Committee but acts as an expert adviser. According to
Mr Clarkson from the NHMRC:
We were obviously, as a secretariat, very concerned about a
potential conflict of interest because it is a very emotive issue. We always
are very conscious of conflict of interest anyway because we have only a small
number of researchers in certain areas and so it is an issue that always
occurs. All members have to specify any interest they may have in Telstra
shares or whatever. In Dr Ken Joyner’s case it was his membership of an
organisation associated with industry. That has to be spelt out and if there
is a conflict of interest that prohibits them being involved in the discussion,
they are excluded from the discussion. If a decision is made that it is not
peripheral but is pertinent to the issue being discussed at the time, they may
be permitted to be part of the background discussion but excluded from voting.
For example, in the case of Dr Joyner, he is not permitted to vote on the
actual allocation of grant applications.
The Committee Chair notes that any member taking
part in the research funding process has the capacity to influence the Expert
Committee and is of the view that greater efforts should be made by the NHMRC
to ensure that the Expert Committee is and is perceived to be, at arms length
The Committee did not find evidence of industry
bias within the NHMRC but the Committee Chair was nonetheless attracted to Mr
Fist’s suggestion that the CSIRO should be charged with setting up a ‘premier
research institute’ whereby:
... you have a way of concentrating on a single problem with all
of these various scientists – the dosimetrics people, the molecular biologists,
the normal biologists, epidemiologists and all of those people – in one
institute where they can cross-fertilise, where they can collect and collate
information. You would have a chance of doing something substantial. Until
you do that, you really cannot set standards. All you can say is that we need
to take precautions.
Dr Haddad of the CSIRO advised that:
We at CSIRO, particularly within Telecommunications and
Industrial Physics, continue to maintain a watching brief on the scientific
literature pertaining to radiofrequency bioeffects, but we do not have the
resources available at the current time to undertake active scientific research
in this area so it is a watching brief only.
Dr Barnett explained that:
We have certainly been involved for many years, in fact since 1993
when the Department of Communications approached CSIRO to evaluate the status
of research on biological effects of radio frequency radiation. We have been
involved in analysing what was available, and I spend a lot of time visiting
laboratories, speaking to scientists who were actively involved in research
from 1993. That resulted in a report and monograph that was written, a fairly
comprehensive monograph, published in 1994. So from that perspective we have
certainly done a lot of literature research. As far as hands-on experimental
research directly related to RF biological effects is concerned, we have not
Allegations were raised about the funding of the
Vernon-Roberts study which is a replication of a Repacholi et al, 1997
transgenic mouse study which found a more than two-fold increase in lymphomas
in ET-Pim1 transgenic mice exposed to pulsed 900 MHz
electromagnetic fields which simulated the digital mobile phone system. According to Mr Fist:
Not only has it taken years for this government to issue grants
of any kind through the NHMRC, the decision has been made for the major grant
to be given to the Adelaide Hospital for a replication study of its own work.
Thus the group who did the original work, are being called upon to confirm that
work. This is equivalent to having the police force investigating itself.
According to the NHMRC however, this is not
correct. The administering body for the Repacholi et al, 1997 Telstra
study was the Adelaide Hospital. The administering body for the current study
is the University of Adelaide and the project is being undertaken at the
Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, in Adelaide.
The NHMRC acknowledged that there was some
overlap within the research groups at a junior and associated clinician level
but said that, given the limited number of people in Australia with relevant
expertise, it is to be expected that some overlap would occur.
When it was put by the Committee to Mr Fist that
only two people would be on the team from the previous study he said:
That still largely defeats it. It is a bit like justice needing
to be seen to be done. When studies are replicated, that study will be open to
attack whatever happens. If it comes out the same as before, everyone is going
to say they were covering their tracks. If it comes out totally different,
they are going to be saying they are trying to get Telstra funds again. You
really needed to shift that study away. The reason it was done in the same
place is that Australia really has only one decent animal house capable of
doing this work. You need very expensive exposure systems. ... we need to
develop a major facility for the study of long-term insidious effects. I do
not hold that cellphones are a potential immediate threat to anyone; I think
cellphone handsets against the side of the head have the potential to produce
very large-scale increases in some specific diseases, mainly connected with
immune systems, in the long term. That is what I think the evidence shows.
Although peer-reviewed, the original study has
been largely discounted by industry because it had not been replicated and its
methodology criticised. The Vernon-Roberts study is a ‘confirmation’ rather
than a ‘replication’ because the methodology has been changed and considerably
improved, according to the NHMRC.
For instance, the mice are confined within metal tubes for the period of
exposure instead of being free to move around. There is also an Italian study
being done, which, to a large degree, mirrors the Vernon-Roberts study:
The importance of the second study being done by the Italians is
that, if they come out with findings that are similar using the same
methodology, you can have a greater degree of confidence in the results than in
one study alone. That is just a scientific method.
Dr Stan Barnett from the CSIRO, commented that
there were many parties with an interest in this study being replicated,
because of the significance of its findings and that the cost was quite modest
for a whole-of-life rodent study:
I guess it would have come as no surprise to anybody who has
been involved in this area that the Repacholi mouse study would be repeated in
some form. Clearly that was a very important finding, and there is lots of
pressure – scientific, political and others – to ensure that that work is
continued in some way. So I do not think it is surprising that that Adelaide
study was funded. One of the difficulties with doing that sort of research is
that it is certainly expensive. I think the funding of about $1.1 million that
went to the Adelaide study was quite modest for a whole-of-life rodent study.
who have found effects were not awarded grants
Reports have appeared in the media suggesting
that the NHMRC was failing to support some of the most promising lines of
inquiry in its attempts to discover any link between radiofrequency radiation
and health effects.
Dr Sykes’ pilot study, for which funds were not provided for a full study, was
cited as one example. The NHMRC explained to the Committee that Dr Sykes’
pilot study was not converted to a full study because results had failed to
support its hypothesis. Dr Sykes had acknowledged that this was the case but
argued that the effects found in the pilot were nonetheless significant and
warranted further study.
Dr Barnett advised the Committee that the CSIRO
was one of the organisations which had not been successful in its applications
We did apply to the NHMRC and we had two projects short-listed
out of the six that were short-listed. Unfortunately, odds seem to be against
us. Four of the six that were short-listed were funded and we were not. I do
have ongoing research allied to this area in developing specifically radiation
sensitive biosensors. That work is carried on outside of Australia. It is
undertaken and sponsored through the United States Air Force. They apparently
are more interested in our research than Australia is.
In detailing the study proposals, Dr Barnett
Essentially we had two types of projects that we submitted as
expressions of interest, and both of those were short-listed. They involved
looking at the potential effects of radiofrequency radiation on DNA and cancer
production in two different systems. 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
has 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.
We felt that was a pretty important study. Because that study
had been largely ignored, and because my colleagues at Brooks Air Force Base
agreed to work with me, we thought that it would be an interesting one to try
to duplicate, with some improvements on the exposure conditions but essentially
using the same laboratory set-up and looking at other indicators of chromosomal
damage such as the micronucleus assay, which has now just this year become an
important issue because there have been some publications of positive effects
in that area.
The other study was looking at using what we know as a radiation
sensitive cell line, which has been specifically developed, again with that
organisation. 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.
The result of the expressions of interest were that the
committee in its wisdom thought that the two studies that we were proposing
were so similar – we found that hard to believe, but they seemed to think that
they were similar – that we should combine them into one study and submit
that. We chose to ignore that direction, because they clearly are not similar,
and decided against doing the whole-of-life animal study. Also, suspecting –
or, in fact, knowing – that someone else had submitted to do a repeat of the
Repacholi study, we thought that, because of the amount of money involved,
there was no way the NHMRC were going to fund two whole-of-life rodent
studies. So we put in our submission on the basis of the radiation sensitive
cell line that we have and the outcome was that we were not funded. I have,
incidentally, continued to do that work to develop that radiation sensitive
line further. Again, under sponsorship of the US Air Force, I spent some time
over there last year. But we have not yet obtained funding to use it as an end
point for RF radiation. We have used it for ionising radiation.
One of the concerns that was expressed, certainly to me [by
NHMRC], was that the committee did not want to see any research done outside of
Australia because this was supposed to be an Australian research program. More
importantly, they did not want any funding to go outside of Australia. My
proposal made it absolutely clear that none of the funding was being used
outside. I had established a collaborative research program with, again,
partners in the US Air Force. They were prepared to do their side of the
program at no cost to us or the NHMRC program. That was made pretty clear in
my submission, but it was used as one of the reasons given – there were a
couple of reasons given – as to why they chose not to fund that particular
The NHMRC informed the Committee that it was
asked to coordinate the research component of the EME program in recognition of
the rigour of its peer review processes and overall quality of its research
effort. Selection of all grants is made through a competitive process and
recommendations for funding are made on scientific merit and ability of
projects to meet the objectives of the EME program.
The NHMRC argued that if a researcher is unable
to get funds under the Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program, there are
other sources of funds available. An annual grant round in December is open to
any researcher to put in a proposal in any field.
On the other hand, the RF EME Research Program
falls into the category of research which is required to meet a specific need:
... what we call strategic research. These are areas identified
as underdone or needing additional support and encouragement, and a small
amount of money is allocated to that research. In those areas, the research
questions are more specifically defined, with an orientation to getting results
as quickly as possible.
Dr Barnett of the CSIRO, however criticised the
lack of a ‘sensible structured program of research’:
Research has been sporadic. The results have been controversial
and contradictory. It is not really surprising. Unless you have a properly
structured and directed system of research, you will not overcome the initial
problem of the undirected sporadic bits of research that are carried on,
sometimes not particularly well. Clearly if you pay peanuts you get monkeys,
as the old saying goes. If you do not provide adequate or proper resources,
you are being extremely optimistic in expecting a decent outcome.
In answer to the Committee’s question as to
whether CSIRO would be well placed to head up an RF radiation research effort,
Dr Haddad said:
We would certainly be interested in looking at coordinating such
an effort, provided we could be assured that we could get somewhere within a
Dr Peter French raised the issue of difficulty
he and Professor David McKenzie have had in accessing funds for their joint
We have been struggling to raise funds. ... I believe that the funding
difficulties are attributable to a number of problems and that is mainly to do
with the fact that it is a cross-disciplinary field: it does not fit neatly
into the NHMRC or the [Australian Research Council] – it crosses both. It is
an area of investigation which five years ago was certainly quite obscure. It
has now become of much greater interest.
Professor McKenzie added:
I think this field is one of the most difficult things to get
support for that I have experienced in my scientific career. I have had no
success in being funded for this work. Although we have tried jointly and
separately for many years, we have not succeeded in securing adequate support
for our work. ...
I think that it is partly the interdisciplinary nature of it,
the controversial nature of it. It tends to raise eyebrows when you are
working in interdisciplinary areas without supposedly adequate qualifications
in all fields. But, together, I would contend that Peter [French] and I have
more than adequate qualifications. In fact, we now have a significant track
record together, so I think we should be considered expert in the field;
nevertheless, it proves and remains difficult.
Dr French and Professor McKenzie expanded on the
usefulness of the disciplines of cell biology and physics coming together in
Dr French: It is essential in this
area. I know not very much about electromagnetic physics, and I know a lot
about cell biology. David is in a reverse position. For this area, which
requires a complex understanding of both issues, given the reductionist way
science goes, it is very hard to get that expertise in one group or one
institution. Certainly, it has been of great help assisting in devising
exposure systems that can seek to answer the sorts of questions that David has
raised and to characterise the exposure systems that we have used in the past.
Prof. McKenzie: While I am not expert
in cell biology and Peter is not expert in electromagnetic fields, we are
fortunate in being able to understand each other’s language. We interface very
well and come up with new science because of this ability to understand each
It is not the role of the Senate Committee to
advocate which projects should or should not have been awarded grants, however it
would appear that a greater pool of available research funding would help
overcome many of the criticisms which arise when research proposals do not
The Committee has not found evidence that the
NHMRC has been deficient or biased in its allocation of the research funds.
World Health Organization Electromagnetic Field
The World Health Organization (WHO) is
coordinating an international response to the various electromagnetic fields
issues through its International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project. This
project, established in 1996, involves over 45 countries and
eight international organisations. It provides a research coordination
role with an emphasis on determining research needs. The second part of the
Australian Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program is an annual
contribution of $US50,000 to the WHO project.
The budget of the World Health Organization
International EMF Project is $US600,000 per year. Contributions to the project
are voluntary. The costs in Australian dollar terms, of Australia’s
contribution to the project are shown below:
The WHO is currently coordinating approximately
$100 million worth of research world wide.
It will assess the health and environmental effects of exposure to static and
time varying electric and magnetic fields in the frequency range 0 - 300
gigahertz (GHz), with a view to the development of international guidelines on
When Dr Michael Repacholi appeared before the
Senate Committee on 31 August 2000, the WHO EMF project had completed its
initial literature reviews and was in the research period which he anticipated
would last about three years.
Dr Repacholi emphasised that it takes time to do the research. The project is
due to end in 2005 when the results from all the research projects will be
analysed and a final report will be published.
Three of the initial four studies funded by the
NHMRC form part of the international agenda for research: Professor
Vernon-Roberts’ study is one of two replications of the Repacholi et al,
1997 mouse study - another replication study is being done in Italy; Dr
Stough’s project addresses components of the neurophysiological area,
identified by the World Health Organization as requiring research; and Dr
Armstrong’s study forms part of a large scale International Agency for Research
on Cancer (IARC) mobile telephone epidemiological study which is expected to
cover nine countries in Europe plus five others.
The NHMRC call for the second round of research
funding was designed to address outstanding issues identified in the WHO
The Committee was
advised that if Australia is to maintain research into the effects of
electromagnetic radiation, any results showing effects from radiofrequency
radiation would likely require replication and verification in other
independent laboratories. It is therefore important to maintain links with overseas
institutions and to continue and extend active participation in the WHO
program, which will enable the results of many studies to be pooled and
Public Information Program
The third component of the Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy Program is the Public Information Program. This
component has involved determining the information that is required by the
public, obtaining the details and presenting it in a clear and concise manner.
The funds expended on this component of the RF
EME Program appear below:
Criticism of the
lack of information available on the potential risks associated with electromagnetic
radiation was expressed by witnesses and submissions to the inquiry.
Some submissions referred to
the contradictory information being presented to the public from the government
and industry on the one hand claiming that there is no substantiated evidence
that mobile phone base stations or using mobile phones will cause adverse
health effects, and the print and electronic media on the other, which report
studies that show biological effects and epidemiology which suggest the
potential for adverse health effects from radiofrequency radiation.
Mr Stan Stanfield
advocated that there be regular reports to the public regarding mobile
telephones and telecommunications towers. In addition, he felt that there is
insufficient information on research findings being made available to the
Why isn’t the public being
told more about these connections, and what is being done about this specific
research matter? ... does using a hands-free kit create a greater risk than not
were raised in relation to television towers. Mrs Leanne Noakes stated:
Inconclusive as results may
have been so far, the public should be given the opportunity to make an
informed decision for themselves and their families’ own well being. The
government has an obligation to inform the public fully of any possible health
risk. People are being told that the television towers are perfectly safe at
the distances they have been placed to residents and schools etc. This is not
a truthful answer and does not give people the opportunity to make their own
informed decision. The truth is society does not know if they are safe and
current research in fact indicates there may well be adverse effects on people
living in close proximity to the various telecommunication facilities ... The
public have a right to know and a right to make our own informed decision on
the safety and welfare of our families. To do this, information must become
freely available to the public without any bias or concealment.
The Committee sees a great need for a public
information program to accurately inform the community of radiofrequency
issues. It can be a highly technical area with concepts which are difficult to
understand for the professional in the area, never mind the layperson. Even
here, however, the Government’s program has been criticised:
There is a need for much greater public awareness about the
issue of EMR. However, it is important that this information be independent.
As the telecommunications industry and the government benefit substantially
from the proliferation of telecommunications technology, they are neither
independent nor reliable sources of information. They must not be promoted as
Some submissions criticised the Public
Information component of the Government’s program, particularly since the fact
sheets were published ahead of any of the research program being put into
effect. Some argued that the Government was misusing the $4.5 million
fund by spending $12,483.75 to brief local and state governments in February
1997, as a part of the wider briefing on network rollout activities. According
to the Electromagnetic Radiation Alliance of Australia:
A good proportion of the $4.5m research fund was squandered on
an expensive and ill-directed public relations exercise. ...
However, public information campaigns must not be funded from
the meagre $4.5 [million] research allocation.
These comments may show that the Public
Information Program has not been a success in informing the public. ARPANSA
offered the view that it is difficult to address the concerns of people who are
particularly worried about possible health effects of EMR, other than by
one-on-one direct interaction over a period of time. ARPANSA says that it, and
other agencies, are devoting resources to talking directly to people with
particular concerns. The Committee was unable to verify the effectiveness of
this one-on-one communication.
The CEMEPHI advised that it consulted with
consumer focus groups, public health associations and the general public. It
reported that the Australian public’s awareness and concern about the
possibility of adverse health effects from long-term exposure to radiofrequency
emissions from telecommunications had been stimulated and heightened by the
increasing visibility of base stations and hand-held mobile phones. The
problem was said to be exacerbated by the perceived absence of balanced public
information on the question. Mobile phone base station towers provided a
frequent visual reminder of a possible health risk and carried an element of
environmental pollution with aesthetic, property value and health implications.
ARPANSA informed the Committee that current
information regarding EMR has been disseminated to the public through the
- fact sheets and other information on the ARPANSA website;
- distribution of hardcopy versions of the fact sheets;
- responding to telephone inquiries;
- consulting in public meetings;
- participating in seminars and conferences; and
- the ACA in collaboration with ARPANSA has recently developed a
poster outlining the facts concerning base stations and EMR.
In February 1997, in response to public
concerns, the CEMEPHI released a set of fact sheets which provided detail on
the Government’s Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program, potential
health effects of electromagnetic energy emissions and other related issues.
The fact sheets are:
- Government action on electromagnetic
energy public health issues;
- Electromagnetic energy and its effects;
- About mobile phones;
- About mobile phone networks;
- Potential interference of mobile phones with pacemakers, hearing
aids and other devices;
- What about telecommunications towers, and are there any health
The weight of national and international scientific opinion is
that there is no substantiated evidence that RF emissions associated with
living near a broadcast or mobile phone tower poses a health risk.
To date, the only health effect that has been proven to exist as
a result of exposure to RF EME relates to heating of part or all of the body.
This is known as the thermal effect, and the Australian exposure standard
AS/NZS2772.1(Int):1998, which sets public and occupational limits of exposure
to radiofrequency radiation, is designed to avoid adverse heating effects where
people are exposed to RF EME.
- The standards making process and AS/NZS2772.1(Int):1998 (under
These fact sheets are available from the CEMEPHI
website and are sent out on request. In addition, the fact sheets are
distributed at public meetings, seminars and conferences. The website also
provides a link to ARPANSA’s report on the measurement of levels of
radiofrequency radiation from GSM mobile phone base stations.
station radiofrequency measurement program
At the state and territory briefings in 1997,
local councils were invited to nominate two mobile telephone base station sites
in major population centres in each state and territory that were of concern to
local communities. ARPANSA was asked to carry out a survey of the radiofrequency
electromagnetic energy emissions (RF EME) in the vicinity of these base
stations. The Public Information Program funded this site measurement program.
Measurements were performed at 14 different
locations throughout Australia. Although the primary focus of the ARPANSA
study was to measure the radiofrequency emission levels from GSM (Global System
for Mobile Communication) base stations, fixed site environmental measurements
from other radiofrequency sources were also recorded, including the analogue
mobile phone system (AMPS), VHF TV, UHF TV, AM radio, FM radio and paging.
The results of the survey showed that the
radiofrequency emissions from GSM base stations were several orders of
magnitude below the maximum permitted limit in the Australian Standard.
Measurements showed that exposure levels are generally less than one per cent
of the exposure limits recommended by the Standard.
Dr Michael Repacholi made the point that despite
the fact that emissions from mobile phone base stations are 1,000 or 10,000
times below the levels recommended in standards, they get singled out:
I know there is pressure by people, but the pressure is really
because the base stations are ugly-looking things. They are in people’s living
environments – probably by schools – and people do not want anything happening
to their children, which is absolutely right, so they pick on a technology.
They do not worry about the paging transmitters, because the paging
transmitters are much smaller, but they emit much higher levels than base
A major on-going activity for the CEMEPHI is to
provide the public with information that reflects current scientific opinion
and the most recent research. The CEMEPHI has indicated that specific future
activities to be engaged in include:
- assessing ongoing research;
- assessing the UK Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones Report
(the Stewart Report);
- drafting new and revising current fact sheets;
- establishing a searchable database of quality research
- improving the webpage to facilitate public access; and
- investigating and/or developing a multimedia information package.
The Senate Committee supports these activities
but considers that there is scope for improvement in the CEMEPHI’s website in
the information available to the general public. The CEMEPHI’s website, which
at present only includes the fact sheets listed above, should be regularly
updated to reflect ongoing developments in EME research and standard setting
and there should be advice to the public as to where people can go if they
consider that they suffer from electromagnetic emissions related effects. It
would also be useful if the CEMEPHI advice to Government was tabled in the
Many submissions to the inquiry compared the
seemingly unrelated Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) crisis in Europe,
asbestos and the tobacco industry to the electromagnetic radiation debate.
Whatever the health effects from electromagnetic radiation, the Government
needs to recognise that public trust in governments and industry to say what is
safe and what is not, has been seriously undermined by assurances and fact
sheets which do not generally reflect the level of uncertainty about the safety
of cellphones identified in so many scientific studies.
In this respect, the Government has a
responsibility to provide independent, honest, competent advice to the general
public about radiofrequency issues. The Australian Government could spend
millions of dollars on an information program, but if that information is not
believed by the general public, the funds are wasted.
Mr Les Dalton suggested that a key to minimising
exposure from radiofrequency emissions to individuals and the community is an
informed public. He advocates that there be a national ‘prudent user
campaign’, not unlike the Quit campaign directed towards smokers.
The funding for the Radiofrequency
Electromagnetic Energy Program runs out at the end of the 2000-01 period.
Research worldwide into health effects of radiofrequency radiation is ongoing and
the major literature reviews of the World Health Organization from the
International EMF Project will not be completed until 2005. The Committee
considers that there is an ongoing role for the CEMEPHI to monitor developments
in this area and to more widely provide information to the public.
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