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23/06/2002 - A brief summary of the work of Alice Stewart, who died today

Dr. Alice Stewart dies 23rd June 2002

Alice StewartAlice Stewart died at the age of 95, having been fully involved in her ongoing research into the effects of radiation on health into her 90s. She was a brilliant medical scientist and like many such people, her tough, fearless and dedicated attitude resulted in her being maligned by her colleagues for having ideas which did not fit in with the accepted view.

Stewart's entire life and career were devoted to social medicine, to the improvement of the lives of others. She fought to be heard amongst the medical fraternity in order to bring about the changes needed to protect the lives and health of the public. She achieved worldwide fame, and changed medical practice, through her persistent investigations and demonstration of the connection between maternal x-rays in pregnancy and child cancers. She established a link between the standard practice of maternal x-rays and the rise in incidence of childhood leukaemia at a young age. Her findings were the cause of opposition both within and outside her profession as it called into question the assumption that low-level radiation - being imposed on nuclear workers and the public by fallout and nuclear-waste disposal - was safe. She also maintained that until the nature of radiation damage to genes was understood at the molecular level, predictions of second-generation and long-term genetic effects were premature. She earned the long-term antagonism of (the now Sir) Richard Doll, who even just a few years ago stated on television that he preferred never to think about her and her work.

She then began to look at the limits to radiation exposure on nuclear industry workers in the USA and found roughly 10 times the cancer incidence predicted from A-bomb survivor studies. By so doing she was one of the first to attract the combined hostility of the British and American governments and the enmity of the nuclear and health physics establishments. Much of her work into this subject was done after her retirement, deprived of British financial support or approval. Eventually, because of official recalculation of radiation doses to the Japanese bomb survivors, she was able to nod knowingly as ICRP guidelines on permitted levels of radiation for the public were reduced by two thirds. New evidence of the highly localised molecular damage produced by radiation in genetic material also reinforced her findings of high sensitivity during foetal development and of second-generation effects.

In 1986 (aged 80) she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, the so-called "alternative Nobel prize". She was such a controversial figure that the British embassy even refused to send a car to collect her at the airport when she flew to Stockholm to receive the Livelihood prize.

A Swedish paper "Effects of ELF and Microwaves on human lymphocytes from hypersensitive persons"

This paper by Igor Belyaev et al has been recently published. This is a very small study, of only 14 people, so the results of which need to be treated with caution, but they show that ELF at 8 Hz and a specific static magnetic field resulted in statistically significant changes of chromatin conformation, which disappeared 19 hours after exposure. This ELF exposure resulted in apoptotic DNA fragmentation. There were no significant differences in effects between the control group and the hypersensitive group. However, a trend to a prolonged state of relaxed chromatin was observed in lymphocytes from hypersensitive persons. No effects of 8 Hz exposure on apoptosis were observed when the static magnetic field was changed by 10 microtesla. This study was supported by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute.

The following comes from Melbourne in Australia, about compensation claims for people working in a firm with "exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation due to a substation located at place of work." The main woman involved had moved, with her assistant, in August 1990, into an office directly above a Melbourne electricity supply sub-station, located in the basement. Not long after moving into this office, she started to develop a feeling of general tiredness, depression and lethargy. She initially put it down to stress, thinking it would improve with time. Her assistant was also having similar health problems which only started after moving into the office. In December 1990 she had a melanoma surgically removed from her left calf muscle. In February 1991 she developed a viral complaint and an asthmatic condition. Away from the office, her symptoms improved slightly. Tests showed nothing. Her condition continued to deteriorate, as did her assistant's. In September 1991, a computer could not be installed in the office due to a very high magnetic field in the room. Tests were conducted in October 1991. The sub-station below the office was causing electromagnetic field readings of more than 3 microtesla. 18 microtesla peaks were measured at floor level and 9 at desk level. The exposure in her previous office was only 0.07 to 0.15. The office was vacated in October 1991 after they had been exposed to these high EMFs for 15 months. In late 1991 two benign growths were removed from her left leg. Her symptoms were: chronic tiredness/fatigue; insomnia - waking around 3 am with an inability to go back to sleep; stress; inability to concentrate; fluctuating hormone levels - (oestrogen/progesterone) diagnosed in November 1991; anaemia - diagnosed in November 1991 (low zinc levels also found); a facial rash in August 1991; depression; severe premenstrual tension. Her assistant who worked in the office had similar health complaints but to a lesser extent, possibly because her desk was located in a lower field level and she only worked part time. These were: constant tiredness; a feeling of listlessness; light headedness; insomnia; depression; severe premenstrual tension.

By January 1992 Mrs "X' reported some slight improvement in her condition and was still working for her employer in another part of the building. A medical report in May of 1992 found that she still had major symptoms of fatigue and a disturbed sleep cycle. The medical report concluded "EMFs can have profound effects on the central nervous system (CNS), especially the pineal gland, which is more susceptible than other areas. It controls other areas of the body through the hypothalamus, which regulates rhythms and hormonal responses. This is of considerable importance in her case where abnormalities in this area have been documented." It was well into 1993 before she had recovered her previous health but she had developed various food allergies which she thought may have been a result of the high EMF exposure.

Similar case histories were reported by other employees. Other people reported similar symptoms working in the environment in 1989/90 in which their energy levels were seriously depleted and concentration affected, after having been in a previously healthy state. The office room in question remained vacant for about two years until the sub station was shielded at a cost of $20,000. This measure greatly reduced the fields in the office space but still not to a level suitable for prolonged occupancy. It is now used for storage.

Safety of electric induction hobs questioned in Japan

IH cookers generate electromagnetic fields [in the frequency range of 100Hz and 18-23kHz] when an electric current flows through coils under the top plate. Heat is created when the electromagnetic field reacts with the metallic pan atop the plate. (For the young, whose more sensitive hearing will be able to detect this level, cooking using an induction hob could well be accompanied by a rather unpleasant whine). Whilst there is not a unanimous agreement that EMFs are linked to health problems, neither the government nor industry seems willing to make attempts to limit electromagnetic field exposure from IH cookers, both sides boasting of the products' safety, while saying it is the responsibility of the other party to communicate possible risks.

Takenori Ueda, of the Japan Offspring Foundation which reported the finding earlier this year, added that IH devices emit the highest level of radiation among all household electric appliances. Microwave ovens are more powerful, but their emissions are countered by stronger shielding. The Foundation tested the hobs with a radiation measuring device placed right next to the cooker set on maximum heat with a 12-cm pan on it. All products registered incredibly high radiation levels, some as high as 101 microtesla. The highest level was more than 16 times the limit [for 18-23 kHz frequency] set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection for short-term exposure to such fields. The companies accepted the Foundation's findings but insisted that the ICNIRP guideline can be interpreted differently and that radiation levels do not exceed the limit when measuring devices are placed 30 cm away from the device. The Japanese government says that the industry or individuals should do something about it. The Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association say that if there is to be a framework for more stringent safety measures regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields, the government should take the lead in drawing it up. A spokesman agreed that manufacturers have failed to provide consumers with sufficient information on electromagnetic fields. Koya Ogino, a Kyoto University lecturer who specializes in electromagnetic fields, and the potential adverse health effects from long-term exposure, criticized both the government and industry for not taking further precautions. "If the companies are profiting by selling the products, they should first confirm their safety," he said. The Japanese Government's defence is that they are awaiting "more proof" of possible harm -- which is expected to be the result of "current research" between the WHO (World Health Association) and the ICNIRP...... The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is shortly to take on the task of writing a new ELF exposure standard for Australia. If they just incorporate the ICNIRP limits, which is very likely, will this then make the sale of induction cookers in Australia illegal?

Skin rashes and chemical / EMF exposure

A person in Australia takes medication for a hypertensive condition. A chronic side effect of this medication is eczema. She has found that the itch from her eczema is aggravated whenever she uses the landline phone located beside the fuse box, and a refrigerator in her apartment. Another person with eczema as a drug side effect finds symptoms exacerbated by an electric blanket and radio beside the bed. In both cases cortisone treatment was the only effective treatment. A baby with infantile eczema barely responded to the removal of known allergens from the mothers diet/milk. A survey of the home for EMFs revealed a magnetic field level of 0.5 - 0.6 microtesla 24 hours a day from overhead powerlines and underground cables. A detectable electric field had been induced in his metal cot stand where he slept. When the child slept in the mother's bed - on the innerspring mattress in which an induced electric field was also detected - his eczema flared up. Once the mother changed the metal stand for a wooden one and kept the child off the innerspring mattress his eczema subsided, and in about ten days his skin was healed. A school child has developed a mild, raised, itchy, blistery rash that defies explanation. Due to the child's history and current exposure to artificial chemicals and power frequency EMFs, it is thought that her sensitivity to fabric containing polyester, the school uniform, may be involved. Betty Venables. Co-ordinator EMR Safety Network-International.