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08/05/2012 - Misleading IET press release on phones

In our opinion, the Institution of Engineering and Technology has issued another well spun and misleading press release stating that "there is no persuasive evidence that normal mobile phone use or adult exposure to pylons and powerlines causes harmful effects such as cancer". Its Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group (BEPAG) says that "the overwhelming majority of the evidence does not indicate that normal exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields has harmful health effects".

However, if you read their full Statement, it reports: "The searches revealed 726 relevant papers in 2010 and 2011 combined, 11% lower than in 2009/2010." ... "An analysis of those papers which contain new experimental data shows that, at electrical power frequencies (50 or 60 Hz), 80% (previously 81%) of the 113 papers report biological effects, whereas at mobile phone frequencies the figure is rather lower, 59% (previously 54%) of 170 papers.... Overall 75% of experimental studies report the detection of field effects, unchanged from 2009/2010."

So, in fact, 75% of the peer-reviewed published scientific studies continue to report biological changes following EMF/RF exposure. BEPAG apparently can't map these onto health effects so they effectively dismiss them and say to the public "carry on as usual, please don't worry your little heads about such matters". They justify this by saying that most studies cannot be replicated. Whilst replication is important, the very fact that, over many years, far more papers are reporting biological effects than not reporting biological effects, actually makes quite a strong case that long-term health effects may result from these exposures.

BEPAG has now been in existence for 20 years. It has been Chaired for most, if not all, of that time by Professor A Barker. That is most unusual for such a committee - it is normal for Chair people to be changed every 3 to 5 years to stimulate a good and open debate and prevent incestuousness. In fact BEPAG, like ICNIRP, is run as a private club with the Chair "inviting" selected people to join, rather than by using an open election-type process. This is unlikely to lead to full and open debate and is a poor process for generating good public advice. It is disappointing that the IET condones it.

In the past, Professor Barker has done important original work on stimulation of the human nervous system by extremely strong magnetic pulses being applied to the brain and other regions of the body. He has stated that he believes that the immediate effects from such exposures are all that matter and that these stimulate the nerves to re-grow / re-synchronise and re-connect. He has always (in our experience) spoken out against the possibility of EMF/RF exposure causing cancer, electrical sensitivity, Alzheimer's Disease, etc, etc. That is his view and it is genuinely held. It seems that he takes care to surround himself on BEPAG by people who do not disagree agree with his views.

We look at the same evidence of 75% of studies showing biological effects and conclude, quite differently, that we should be being far more precautionary about our exposure to EMF/RF fields.

Alasdair Philips

» cc2012See and hear important other views - watch video presentations by Professor Elisabeth Cardis (on IARC 2B classifications of ELF and RF EMFs), Professor Dariusz Leszczynski (on possible RF mechanisms), Professor Richard Stevens and Professor Denis Henshaw (on ELF EMFs, light, circadian rhythms and health) in sessions 7 and 8 at the Childhood Cancer 2012 conference held in Westminster, London, on 24-26th April 2012.

» IET BEPAG 2012Download the 2012 IET BEPAG Statement (1.31 MB PDF file).