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04/10/2007 - European Environment Agency calls for new guidelines

The EU's European Environment Agency (EEA) has called for questioning over the scientific basis for the present EMF exposure limits, based on the latest report by the BioInitiative Working Group.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA's executive director, said: "Recent research and reviews on the long-term effects of radiations from mobile telecommunications suggest that it would be prudent for health authorities to recommend actions to reduce exposures, especially to vulnerable groups, such as children."

Bioinitiative Working Group

The group, set up in 2006, demolishes any argument that "the only proponents of the idea that there is significant reason for concern from electromagnetic fields" is restricted to a stereotyped "ES lobby".

Comprising from leading experts from the relevant scientific fields, including three past presidents of the world-renowned Bioelectromagnetics Society (including the founder of the organisation, Dr. Carl Blackman), the group has just released their BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF)

This is a fantastically well-sourced work encompassing much of the key literature over the last few decades on findings regarding both ELF and RF electromagnetic radiation. We highly recommend that anyone interested in the subject reads the Summary for the Public (316 KB .pdf, 28 pages), and the full report is available from the BioInitiative website.

Some tasters from the Summary for the Public are shown below:

"In the last few decades, it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that bioeffects and some adverse health effects occur at far lower levels of RF and ELF exposure where no heating (or induced currents) occurs at all; some effects are shown to occur at several hundred thousand times below the existing public safety limits where heating is an impossibility."

"...In total the scientific evidence for adult disease associated with EMF exposure is sufficiently strong for adult cancers that preventive steps are appropriate, even if not all reports have shown exactly the same positive relationship. This is especially true since many factors reduce our ability to see disease patterns that might be related to EMF exposure: there is no unexposed population for comparison, for example, and other difficulties in exposure assessment, The evidence for a relationship between EMF exposure and adult cancers and neurodegenerative diseases is sufficiently strong at present to merit preventive actions to reduce EMF exposure."

"...Studies of human breast cancer cells and some animal studies show that ELF is likely to be a risk factor for breast cancer. There is supporting evidence for a link between breast cancer and exposure to ELF that comes from cell and animal studies, as well as studies of human breast cancers."

"...Alzheimer's disease is a disease of the nervous system. There is strong evidence that longterm exposure to ELF is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease."

"Experience of widescale use of mobile phones is only about a decade old, however, and children have only started using them in large numbers even more recently. It remains just possible that longer-term studies will reveal some link to cancer, which takes at least a decade to manifest itself."

Martuzzi M (2005)
Science, Policy and the Protection of Human Health: A European Perspective
Bioelectromagnetics Supplement 7: S151-156

"...The effects of long-term exposure to wireless technologies including emissions from cell phones and other personal devices, and from whole-body exposure to RF transmissions from cell towers and antennas is simply not known yet with certainty. However, the body of evidence at hand suggests that bioeffects and health impacts can and do occur at exquisitely low exposure levels: levels that can be thousands of times below public safety limits."

"There are major unanswered questions about possible health risks that may arise from exposures to various man-made electromagnetic fields where these human exposures are intermittent, recurrent, and may extend over a significant portion of the lifetime of the individual.

"Epidemiological studies have evaluated ELF and radiofrequency fields as possible risk factors for human health, with historical evidence relating rising risks of such factors as progressive rural electrification, and more recently, to methods of electrical power distribution and utilization in commercial buildings. Appropriate models describing these bioeffects are based in nonequilibrium thermodynamics, with nonlinear electrodynamics as an integral feature. Heating models, based in equilibrium thermodynamics, fail to explain an impressive new frontier of much greater significance...... Though incompletely understood, tissue free radical interactions with magnetic fields may extend to zero field levels."

Dr. Ross Adey (2004)
Potential Therapeutic Applications of Nonthermal Electromagnetic Fields:
Ensemble Organization of Cells in Tissue as a Factor in Biological Field Sensing.

Bioelectromagnetic Medicine. Rosch PJ and Markov MS, editors, page 1

They also used fairly hard-hitting bullet points to summarise both the evidence found and the basis for their recommendations:

  • The scientific evidence is sufficient to warrant regulatory action for ELF; and it is substantial enough to warrant preventative actions for RF
  • The standard of evidence for judging the emerging scientific evidence necessary to take action should be proportionate to the impacts on health and well-being
  • The exposures are widespread
  • Widely accepted standards for judging the science are used in this assessment


"This chapter concludes that new ELF limits are warranted based on a public health analysis of the overall existing scientific evidence... New regulatory limits for ELF are warranted. ELF limits should be set below those exposure levels that have been linked in childhood leukemia studies to increased risk of disease, plus an additional safety factor. It is no longer acceptable to build new power lines and electrical facilities that place people in ELF environments that have been determined to be risky (at levels generally at 2 mG and above)... A precautionary limit of 0.1 (µW/cm2 (which is also 0.614 Volts per meter) should be adopted for outdoor, cumulative RF exposure. This reflects the current RF science and prudent public health response that would reasonably be set for pulsed RF (ambient) exposures where people live, work and go to school... This recommendation should be seen as an interim precautionary limit that is intended to guide preventative actions; and more conservative limits may be needed in the future."

"Gene mutations, cell proliferation and apoptosis are caused by or result in altered gene and protein expression profiles. The convergence of these events is required for the development of all chronic diseases.
"Genotoxic effects and a modified expression of numerous genes and proteins after EMF exposure could be demonstrated with great certainty.
"RF-EMF produced genotoxic effects in fibroblasts, HL-60 cells, granulosa cells of rats and neural progenitor cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells.
"Cells responded to RF exposure between SAR levels of 0.3 and 2 W/Kg with a significant increase in single- and double-strand DNA breaks and in micronuclei frequency."
"In HL-60 cells an increase in intracellular generation of free radicals accompanying RF-EMF exposure could clearly be demonstrated.
The induced DNA damage was not based on thermal effects and arouses consideration about the environmental safety limits for ELF-EMF exposure.
"The effects were clearly more pronounced in cells from older donors, which could point to an age-related decrease of DNA repair efficiency of ELF-EMF induced DNA strand breaks."

REFLEX, 2004
Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods.


[Bioinitiative working group website]
[European Environment Agency press release]
[Story coverage in the Independent]

Also in the news

German Government recommend wired networks where possible

The Federal Government in Germany has recommended that, where practical, people should used wired connections and keep exposure to RF EMFs as low as possible. The following is taken from a translation of the question transcript:

What precautionary measures are recommended by the Federal Government and/or in other European Union states, in order to keep the load of the population as small as possible from WLAN?

Direct precautionary measures are not recommended by the Federal Government. Nevertheless the Federal Government does generally advise that the personal radiation exposure from high frequency electromagnetic fields be kept as low as possible. So people should use conventional wired systems rather than radio-based solutions if this is practical. We do not have records of what is recommended in other EU countries.

This is the first time we are aware of any advice at national governmental level to the effect of not using wireless networking technologies when a wired network is perfectly feasible. It seems to us like a sensible, non scare-mongering application of the precautionary principle.

Carmarthenshire County Council have also now drawn up a code of practice for schools using Wireless technology in light of recent increasing concern.

Related Links

[Transcripts of questions (.pdf in German)]
[Coverage of council's code of best practice]

French INTERPHONE finds further hints of increased tumour risk

Another Interphone study has been released, and whilst statistical significance was not reached (France had a generally very slow takeup of mobile telephones, and as with the other studies there were simply not enough heavy users for significance) the trend of increased tumour risk for extended use was marked enough that the authors felt it worthy of attention in the study abstract.

Results: Regular cell phone use was not associated with an increased risk of neuroma (OR = 0.92; 95% confidence interval = [0.53-1.59]), meningioma (OR = 0.74; 95% confidence interval = [0.43-1.28]) or glioma (OR = 1.15; 95% confidence interval = [0.65-2.05]). Although these results are not statistically significant, a general tendency was observed for an increased risk of glioma among the heaviest users: long-term users, heavy users, users with the largest numbers of telephones.

Conclusion: No significant increased risk for glioma, meningioma or neuroma was observed among cell phone users participating in Interphone. The statistical power of the study is limited, however. Our results, suggesting the possibility of an increased risk among the heaviest users, therefore need to be verified in the international INTERPHONE analyses.

The evidence is steadily mounting that there may well be a genuine long erm brain cancer risk from extended usage of mobile phones.

Related Links

[View Abstract on PubMed]
[View coverage on Microwave News (September 19th article)]
[View coverage in the Guardian]

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