"The Human Effects of Microwaves" was the focus of two days of Federal Government Hearings in April this year.
The Canadian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, made up of Members of Parliament from all Federal Parties, heard testimony from international scientists on why Canada is not adequately protecting its population from microwave radiation.
Standing Committee on Health Hearings into
Microwave Exposure Levels
Thursday April 29, 2010
Testimony from four Scientists. (Please note, the research refers to cell phones because no safety research exists on WiFi. Both cell phones and wifi operate on microwaves. Exposure to the microwave radiation from WiFi, however, is hours at a time not minutes and once it is in an elementary school the exposure starts at a much younger age - 4 years old - while cell phone use is not common until teenage years. Research from 2009 shows that using a cell phone before age 18 increases the risk of developing a brain tumour 400%. There is no research on exposing children to microwave radiation beginning in kindergarten).
Dr. Olle Johansson (Associate Professor, Experimental Dermatology, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden)
Good morning. First of all, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for allowing me to participate on this very important occasion. It is, of course, a tremendous honour to represent the Karolinska Institute and the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, both of which are famous for their Nobel prizes in medicine and physiology, chemistry, and physics.
It's obvious that your safety code is completely out of date and obsolete and that goes for any form of international or national standard body throughout the world…Low intensity, non-thermal bio-effects and adverse health effects all demonstrate their levels significantly below existing exposure standards. These standards are inadequate and obsolete with respect to the prolonged low-intensity exposures.
….You should get rid of any form of technical standards and introduce new biologically-based public exposure standards that are urgently needed to protect public health worldwide. It is definitely not in the interest of the public to wait.
You have to understand what you are talking about are technical standards based upon thermal heating effects in the acute stage measured in fluid-filled plastic dolls. It has nothing to do with the kind of biological effects that are seen very, very far below Safety Code 6 values…
My summary of today is that it feels very much, at least to people present in Canada right now, you want to take a chance on children and the future just for a toy. And if I am wrong, I am very, very happy.
But please, let us look at these studies and also remember you can never, ever out-balance a study showing an effect with studies that don't show an effect. You can only out-balance them with studies that are exact replications showing and proving why the first study was wrong, And such replications are not around. The replications that are around strongly support that the current standards are obsolete and need to be revised.
I was also going to comment that it seems that the members of Health Canada do not quite understand the precautionary principle which is outlined in the Rio Declaration. You should read it carefully because it clearly says that minority of findings should be fully reported and considered and it's the uncertainty that should be the basis to take action and action would mean a moratorium, safety precautions, or whatever.
And the interesting thing is that if you look seriously with adult eyes on the scientific literature and take away the studies that don't show an effect because they are, as you probably all know, of no interest in risk analysis… all the good cars would never impinge in risk analysis regarding car safety, for instance… I hear over and over again that the levels of exposure are low. In the room you are sitting right now (Parliament buildings, Ottawa), just from the third generation mobile telephony compared to natural background that was around for billions of years of Canada, you are sitting in levels that are approximately one million billion times above natural background. There you have your question mark, are we really built for a microwave life at such extreme levels? From the size, the question is very clear cut, no we are not built for that.
We are not talking about minor reductions. Just a few days ago I submitted a paper to a major American journal where we point to the reductions of public exposure levels, taking into consideration the future of the kids, the teenagers, the elderly, and the adults, must be lowered dramatically... If I'm wrong, then I would be of course very happy to be wrong. But that would also mean that thousands of papers would be wrong at the same time and that has never, ever happened in science.
You still have to understand that even if you are an average of 5,400 times below Safety Code 6 you are still one million or one billion times above normal background regarding third generation mobile telephones. The interesting thing is that for all other wireless communications systems and exposures, you are mostly much higher than that. Therefore you must ask yourself, do we through evolution have an automatic microwave shield built into our body? Being so intelligent, should we protect our kids 2010, from the kind of exposures produced and manufactured by Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, and so on? The answer is, of course, we don't have that and therefore we must stop... The question is, are we prepared to really take a chance on that? In Sweden, we always try to tell ourselves that it is better safe than sorry.
Dr. Annie Sasco (Director, Epidemiology for Cancer Prevention, Institute national de la santé et de la recherche medical. A Director of Epidemiology, National Institutes of Health, NIH)
My name is Annie Sasco. I am an MD, with doctoral training at Harvard in epidemiology, two Master's and a Doctoral Degree. I have been working in cancer epidemiology for the last 25 years at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization.
During that time I have seen a doubling of the number of cancer cases in the world in 25 years, and that led me to question the reason why. Therefore, I became interested in environmental contaminants, be they physical, as is the case with ionizing or non-ionizing radiation, chemicals, or whatever.
I think it's important for scientists to go sometimes beyond the mere statistical results and to see, if you are interested in prevention, how to push for policies.
To come to the issue of electromagnetic fields specifically, I have been already audited in several centres on that, including in the French Senate.
What do we know today about electromagnetic fields?…When do we have enough evidence to take action?
With regard to electromagnetic fields, we have of course more than plenty of evidence of exposure. I think that exposure of the human population has greatly increased in the last 20 years. That is a very recent phenomenon in terms of frequency of exposure of a population from multiple sources. And even if it's sole source is at a low level there is the possibility, of course, for interaction and for cumulative effects over time since exposure starts in utero and goes on for a whole life. So evidence of exposure, we have it ever more frequent and in fact soon the problem will be that no one will be unexposed, which will make comparison difficult and therefore epidemiology difficult.
With regard to biological effects, more will be said by other witnesses. There are of two groups, thermal and non-thermal, with the issue of potential general toxicity and whether these EMF have a promoting or an initiating effect for cancer occurrence.
Experimental studies have been too few in a way and most of them have been done by industry-funded researchers with very few public studies done with public funds to look at the evidence on animals, whereas animals are usually good cancer model long-term effect models for exposure to carcinogens.
Epidemiology is, of course, the most relevant. What do we know just on cellphones and on antennas….in several studies or some studies there is a tendency for increased risk for the heaviest users even if defined in different ways. And that's exactly what one expects to see. At the beginning obviously we are still young in exposure in a way in the population but it could be just the beginning of a more frequent problem in the years to come.
The issue of a specific sensitivity of children to this exposure has to be underlined, although the data at this time being exceedingly few but more is needed. And similarly, we need more studies with valid protocol to look at issues of actual hypersensitivity.
So do we already have enough to act on it? I think we have a great level of suspicion and already quite a number of data which goes in that direction. If we want to wait for final proof, at least in terms of cancer, it may still take 20 years and the issue will become that we will not have unexposed population to act as control. So we may never have the absolute final proof. But we have enough data to go ahead with a precautionary principle to avoid exposures which are unnecessary if our goal is to reduce somewhat the burden of cancer in the years to come and other chronic diseases
...I think I will make a short term recommendation for research on experimental animals because that's where it's the easiest to compare exposure to electromagnetic fields versus non-exposed with public funded research. With regard to human health, we need to have more information on the health effects, especially on children, because that population is usually more sensitive to exposure to potential carcinogens. The problem is that of course, if we look at long term effects, it will take a while before we see it so I think that in the meantime, we should be already very cautious in terms of exposure, so I support what has been said from Sweden. There is no reason to wait to lower down the exposure levels of a population. For example, in France, 16 cities have been chosen where the exposure will be limited to 0.64 per meter, the recommended level from the Bioinitiative Report, to see if there will be a difference in the way the people feel in their own health and showing that it's feasible to have lower emission levels. So, more research, yes, but more research should not delay action. When we see that we had to wait more than four years to maybe seeing the results of the study, it's really a problem…It would be an unethical to do studies where kids would be assigned to be exposed (to microwaves) and others would not.
It's really observational studies which could give some idea of short-term effects… France has decided that several of the schools and the national public library will not have wi-fi. … I just want to ask a question. What are the risks of being more cautious?. As an MD I would remind you of what Hippocrates said—First, do no harm. Primum, non nocere. When it's not necessary to have even a cause for potential harm, why should we have it?
The Chair: Thank you.
Dr. Dimitris Panagopoulos (Doctor, Department of Cell Biology and Biophysics, Faculty of Biology, University of Athens)
Dr. Dimitris Panagopoulos: Hello. Thanks for inviting me. I shall try to describe within a few lines 10 basic conclusions of our experimental and theoretical work in the University of Athens during the last 11 years regarding the biological effects of mobile telephone radiation.
Conclusion number one, GSM 900 and 1,800 megahertz radiation from mobile phone handsets is found to reduce insect reproduction by up to 60%. The insects were exposed for six minutes daily during the first five days of their adult lives. Both males and females were found to be affected.
Second, the reduction of insect reproductive capacity was found to be due to cell death induction in reproductive cells. We can see some pictures. These are eggs from insects. In the first picture we see eggs from a known exposed insect. In the second picture we see eggs from an insect exposed to radiation from a mobile phone handset, where we can see the characteristic fluorescence denoting DNA fragmentation and cell death. Many more pictures like this can be seen in the papers distributed to the committee members.
Conclusion number three, the effect in regards to short-term exposures is evident for radiational intensities down to 1 microwatt per square centimetre. This radiational intensity is found at about 1 metre distance from a cell phone, or at about 100 metres distance from a corresponding base station antenna. This radiational intensity is 450 times and 900 times lower than the limit set by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection, ICNIRP, for 900 and 1,800 megahertz respectively.
It is possible for long-term exposure durations for weeks, or months, or years, that the effect would be evident at even longer distances or at even smaller intensities. For this, a safety factor should be introduced in the above value of 1 microwatt per square centimetre. By introducing a safety factor of 10, the above value becomes 0.1 microwatts per square centimetre, which is the limit proposed by the university report.
Number four, the effect is strongest for intensities higher than 200 microwatts per square centimetre--this is when we have the cell phone very close to our head. Within that so-called window, around the intensity value of 10 microwatts per square centimetre, is where the effect becomes even stronger. This intensity value of 10 microwatts per square centimetre corresponds to a distance of about 20 to 30 centimetres from a mobile phone handset, or to a distance of 20 to 30 metres from a base station antenna.
Conclusion number five, the effect increases with increasing daily exposure duration in regards to short-term exposures, from one minute up to 21 minutes daily.
Number six, the effect is non-thermal. There are no temperature increases during the exposures.
Seven, the effect at cellular level is most likely due to irregular gating of ion channels on the cell membranes, caused by the micro-magnetic fields, leading to disruption of cells' electrochemical balances and functions. This mechanism is a non-thermal one.
Number eight, although we cannot simply extrapolate the above results from insects to humans, similar effects on humans cannot be excluded. On the contrary, they are possible, first because insects are in general much more resistant to radiation than mammals, and second because the presented findings are in agreement with the results of other experimenters reporting DNA damage on mammalian cells or mammalian and human infertility.
There are also many references for these findings in the papers distributed to the committee.
Conclusion number nine. Reported observations during the last years regarding diminishing of insect populations, especially bees, can be explained by a decrease in their reproductive capacity, as I described.
Conclusion number 10. Symptoms referred to as microwave syndrome, like headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, etc., among people residing around base station antennas can possibly be explained by cellular stress induction on brain cells or even cell death induction on a number of brain cells.
Thank you for your attention.
The Chair: Thank you very much, That was very insightful.
Dr. Panagopoulos, you may have answered this already, but I didn't quite catch. In the insect research that you've been doing at the University of Athens, is the damage to reproductive cells and insect reproduction, is that reversible when they are no longer exposed to the radiation?
Dr. Dimitris Panagopoulos: When some eggs are eliminated because of cell death reduction, other eggs are produced. The population is decreasing and when the effect is in the verify word- this is the cell that will give the next generations, then we may have mutations to the next generations.
…I believe that the existing exposure limits are thousands of times above the levels that we have biological effects.
Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy (Doctor, Lecturer in Biology, Imperial College London)
Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy: I'm a retired lecturer from Imperial College London. I have sent the committee a lot of material containing scientific evidence, but what I want to do now is just summarize. So I apologize for not giving references.
I had a lifelong interest in radio communications and I was one of the first people I know to buy a mobile phone. But I'm afraid all is not quite right. As the number of mobile phones, cell phones, expanded, a whole series of weird health effects started to appear. The cell phone companies had no idea what was causing them and still less how to stop them happening. The only solution was to deny their existence and this is what seems to be is happening.
They argue that because the results are not consistent, this is due to experimental error and can therefore be ignored. But this argument is flawed, because it doesn't take into account biological variability. We are all the product of thousands of genes that interact with each other and the environment in unpredictable ways. Each individual is unique. Not every smoker dies of cancer. We don't all have the same side effects from taking medicinal drugs and we can't all be expected to respond in the same way to electromagnetic insults. Just because everyone is not affected doesn't mean that no one is affected.
They also say that there is no plausible explanation for such diverse results. In this presentation I've explained just how these effects, how these multitudinal effects are produced and how modifications to the signal can put most of them right.
There are two mechanisms that explain nearly all of them. The first one is based on the pigment cryptochrome. Plants use it to measure light, animals use it to navigate in the earth's magnetic field. Both animals and plants use it to regulate their body clocks. Now Ritz and his co-workers in 2004 discovered that birds' magnetic navigation was disrupted by a radio wave because of their effects on cryptochrome. This is also true for insects and probably causes colony collapse disorder in bees. The radio waves don't break chemical bonds, they just interfere with the transport of an electron between two parts of the molecule that is essential for its function.
Cryptochrome also controls circadian rhythms and the body clock which regulates the sleep-wake cycle and also the immune system. The immune system works best at night. This explains the sleep disturbances found in people living near mobile phone base stations. It also increases their risk of cancer by reducing the ability of the immune system with incipient cancer cells. It might also contribute to the decline of the bees which are becoming increasingly susceptible to pathogens. As you all know, the loss of the bees would be devastating to our agriculture…
Secondly, there are effects on the cell membranes. Low frequency electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies, this is the modulated low frequencies, can remove calcium ions from cell membranes. This weakens them and makes them more inclined to leak, which explains most of the other biological effects such as cardiac arrhythmia.
The heart muscle beats in response to electrical waves propagating through it. These are generated by ions moving across its cell membranes. If they leak, these ion movements are less pronounced and the heartbeat becomes irregular, which could result in heart failure--a lack of information.
When cells leak into the surrounding matrix, it can cause inflammation. That which is beginning to show is early dementia. The brain is separated from the blood by what is called a “tight junction” barrier in which the gaps between the cells are sealed to prevent the entry of unwanted materials. Cell phone radiation makes this barrier leak to let in toxic materials that can lead to early dementia.
....There's been some recent work in Cleveland, Ohio in Dr. Agarwal's group, where it shows that donated human sperm can be damaged by cell phone radiation in less than an hour. That damage is visible and it could be used as a test for the safety of mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and any form of wireless communication. The results being available in a couple of days. You don't have to wait 20 years for somebody to develop brain cancer to see whether it's dangerous. You should have the details of that. Did that help?
Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP):
Thank you. Mr. Goldsworthy, you indicated just because everyone is not affected does not mean that no one is affected. So I think that really encapsulates everything here.
Dr. Johansson, you also mentioned with respect to our safety code, the Health Canada's safety code 6, the guidelines for that are probably outdated, because they talk about thermal effect. You indicate that it's clear that we are not dealing with heating effects. So I would tend to think that maybe safety code 6 needs to be revamped with respect to the guidelines for this particular issue.
My concern is specifically with respect to children as well for the most part, and maybe especially those from the outlying countries could speak to this, whether or not there's been studies done with children. It seems that here in Canada, there's a data gap when it comes to that. The fact of the matter is, there is no data on the effect of microwave exposure on carrier frequencies, such as cellphones and Wi-Fi on children. The guidelines talk about skin exposure over six minutes. Have there been tests about six-hour exposures here in Canada? Maybe you can just talk about whether those studies have been done in your countries, and how is this affecting the schools?
Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy: Most of what has been said today is concerned with the power levels and alleged heating effects, which most people, now, who are worried about non-thermal effects, don't think are important. What may be more important is the modulation of the signal, that is the way the signal strength rises and falls as the digital waves are transmitted, and it is that which people think disturbs cell membranes and causes some of the effects that we are seeing, like loss of fertility. It's not so much the strength of the signal, but the way in which it is modulated.
I repeat, a nice test for this is on the viability of sperm because it's very relevant. Anything which damages the sperm damages the whole human race. And sperm are particular because they are haploid, which means they have only one set of genes, and they are unable to repair doubled-stranded DNA breaks.
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Goldsworthy.
Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy: Because the normal way in which a double-stranded break is repaired is to cut out the damaged section and replace it with the corresponding piece from the homologous chromosome.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Actually, our time is up now.
I want to thank Dr. Johansson, Dr. Panagopoulos, and Dr. Goldsworthy for joining us via teleconference. I wish you a really good day.