07/09/2009 - August 2009 - Science Update
The following is a quick summary of another twenty papers that have come out over the last few months related to effects of electromagnetic radiation. Some of the papers are from the March 2009 issue of Pathophysiology that had a number of very important papers published (including the material that made up some of the chapters of the BioInitiative report). There have been a large number of relevant EMF papers published this year, and we are trying to catch up with as many of them as possible - we'll hopefully have another 20 before the end of this month.
, (March 2009) Cell phone radiation: Evidence from ELF and RF studies supporting more inclusive risk identification and assessment
, Pathophysiology. 2009 Aug;16(2-3):205-16. Epub 2009 Mar 4 [View Author's abstract conclusions
Past president of the Bioelectromagnetics Society Carl Blackman published a paper in March 2009 assessing the comprehensiveness of existing guidelines. Criticising the SAR methodology used in some countries of averaging absorbed power over 10 grams of tissue (other countries use 1g), he states that this removes the ability to recognise "hot-spots", where small sub sections of the exposed tissue receive a much higher dose. He also goes on to cite that the only advice/guidance that has considered the existence of non-thermal effects (NTE) was the National Council of Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) advice given in a publication in 1986 [National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, 1986, 400 pp.], where he comments that this review and guidance explicitly acknowledge the existence of non-thermal effects (NTE), and included provisions for reduced maximum-allowable limits should certain radiation characteristics occur during the exposure. The conclusions he gives are that "the international reviews of the research area since the 1986 report have not included scientists with expertise in NTE, or given appropriate attention to their requests to include NTE in the establishment of public-health-based radiation exposure standards. Thus, those standards are limited because they are not comprehensive", highlighting the possibility that the personnel involved in committees such as ICNIRP and SCENIHR are fundamentally handicapped by not having members that have sufficient understanding of non-thermal effects to give the relevant research due consideration.
Alfonso Balmori, author of the "storks" paper we covered 5 years ago (where storks nesting and behavioural patterns considerably changed for those attempting to nest in close proximity to a mobile phone base station in Spain), has published a further paper covering a much broader collection of wildlife findings. Collating the literature on a number of bird species (white storks, house sparrows and urban park bird life) and a number of health, reproduction, behaviour and nervous system disorders in mammals, he creates a strong case the modern mobile telecommunication systems are severely affecting wildlife, the full effects of which we are not able to fully predict.
Viel JF et al
, (March 2009) Residential exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile-phone base stations, and broadcast transmitters: a population-based survey with personal meter
, Occup Environ Med. 2009 Mar 30. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions
This topic of research into what we are actually exposed to is one that needs to get much more attention. However, this paper really seems to add nothing significantly useful to the debate and may just confuse matters. They had trouble with the instruments (unreliable and knowingly giving incorrect results for some combinations of signals), carrying it in different places on the person (on waist or over a shoulder) or on a table next to people would have added enormous uncontrollable variability. In addition, they admit that most of the time the readings were below the measuring instrument base level sensitivity (0.05 V/m). Looking at the brief results Table 1, we see that the medians were almost at or below this threshold and only 2 or 3% of the means were slightly above it. So almost all the data was right down "in the noise" which is always considered extremely unreliable. In our opinion the maximum levels recorded were also too low - certainly as regards the levels we find in the UK. We suspect that this is because they are maximum RMS values rather than actual peak levels. We expressly disagree with the UMTS/3G findings which they found were fairly uniform with distance from the mast and did not seem to get higher when close to their masts. UMTS signals are not easy to assess and we suspect most of the values used were actually due to the noise floor of the instrument rather than proper measurements of actual signals. The trend lines drawn on their graphs are just nonsensical.
Following on the paper from the same group of authors that we listed in April's science update, Gurer Budak has published another paper assessing the effects of GSM like RF radiation on inner ear function in female rabbits. The study consisted of 36 thirteen month old New Zealand rabbits, of which exactly half were pregnant, that were split into four equal groups of 9 (pregnant exposed, pregnant non-exposed, non-pregnant exposed, and non-pregnant non-exposed). Their findings were that RFR exposure affected hearing function in the rabbits, and that the effect was more pronounced in the non-pregnant group, and concluded that "GSM-like RFR caused decreases in DPOAE amplitudes mainly in non-pregnant adult rabbits. Prolonged exposure may affect the DPOAE amplitude. Recommendations are given to prevent the potential hazardous effects of RF in humans."
Lloyd Morgan has published the information he has been researching over the last few years covering the 11 flaws in the Interphone study protocol, and the likely effect that the flaws would have on the results. He also raises the comparison with the often criticised Hardell studies, which have only 3 of the flaws, and concludes from his findings that "The data from the Swedish studies are consistent with what would be expected if cellphone use were a risk for brain tumors, while the Interphone studies data are incredulous. If a risk does exist, the public health cost will be large. These are the circumstances where application of the Precautionary Principle is indicated, especially if low-cost options could reduce the absorbed cellphone radiation by several orders of magnitude."
Another paper published in the Pathophysiology journal, this time by Paavo Huttunen and colleagues from the University of Oulu in Finland, has found a most interesting and novel finding regarding some people's sensitivities and physical reactions to RF standing waves from a FM broadcast transmitter. This is a short paper and lacks details of the transducers used. If the results are really due to the person's body physically reacting to the signals, then they are dramatic and very important. The equipment needs to be tested for artefactual responses (e.g. a spurious change in output from the hand position sensor directly due to RF signals impacting on it).
Hallberg O, Johansson O
, (March 2009) Apparent decreases in Swedish public health indicators after 1997-Are they due to improved diagnostics or to environmental factors?
, Pathophysiology. 2009 Jun;16(1):43-6. Epub 2009 Feb 10 [View Author's abstract conclusions
Orjan Hallberg and Olle Johansson have again teamed up to publish a paper assessing the general health of the Swedish population. Finding that population health generally improved during the early 1990s but suddenly started to deteriorate from 1997 onwards, deciding that the change is too dramatic to be explained away by improved diagnostics, indicating that there are new physical causes of the health ailments that need urgently searching for. They continue to indicate that the possibility that the decrease in health may be attributable to modern wireless communication technologies cannot be ruled out - this is one of the biggest changes to the environment since 1995.
Aris Pourlis, of the University of Thessaly Karditsa Veterinary School, assessed the literature data regarding the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF), in the reproductive organs as well as in prenatal and postnatal development of vertebrate animals. Including review work and experimental studies, he concluded that "according to the majority of the investigations, no strong effects resulted regarding the exposure to EMF of mobile telephony in the animal reproduction and development", but commented that "further research should be done in order to clarify many unknown aspects of the impact of EMF in the living organisms".
Jerry Phillips, Narendra Singh and Henry Lai have also teamed up again to review the literature on electromagnetic fields and DNA damage. Starting with the understanding that many studies have found that EMFs are able to create single and double strand breaks in DNA and other forms of cellular damage, the review assesses the usefulness of Comet Assays in identifying DNA damage, and discusses the important lessons that have been learned in this area.
Hans Ruediger, one of the lead authors in the REFLEX project work, has responded to the criticisms of his work and the fact that there is really little other evidence showing an impact of RF EMFs on DNA damage by publishing a review paper in the journal Pathophysiology. From a collection of 101 papers assessed, he summarised that "... 49 report a genotoxic effect and 42 do not. In addition, 8 studies failed to detect an influence on the genetic material, but showed that RF-EMF enhanced the genotoxic action of other chemical or physical agents. The controversial results may in part be explained by the different cellular systems. Moreover, inconsistencies may depend from the variety of analytical methods being used, which differ considerably with respect to sensitivity and specificity. Taking altogether there is ample evidence that RF-EMF can alter the genetic material of exposed cells in vivo and in vitro and in more than one way. This genotoxic action may be mediated by microthermal effects in cellular structures, formation of free radicals, or an interaction with DNA-repair mechanisms."
Davanipour Z, Sobel E
, (March 2009) Long-term exposure to magnetic fields and the risks of Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer: Further biological research
, Pathophysiology. 2009 Mar 9. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions
Two more authors involved in the BioInitiative report have published a paper in the same issue of the Pathophysiology journal, Zoreh Davanipour and Eugune Sobel, assessing the literature showing an association between EMFs (ELF and RF) and Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer. Their findings were quite strong, stating that "The evidence indicates that long-term significant occupational exposure to ELF MF may certainly increase the risk of both Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer. There is now evidence that two relevant biological processes (increased production of amyloid beta and decreased production of melatonin) are influenced by high long-term ELF MF exposure that may lead to Alzheimer's disease. There is further evidence that one of these biological processes (decreased melatonin production) may also lead to breast cancer. Finally, there is evidence that exposures to RF MF and ELF MF have similar biological consequences" and that mitigation tactics are important to minimise human exposure to EMFs from electrical equipment.
Orendacova J et al
, (March 2009) Immunohistochemical Study of Postnatal Neurogenesis After Whole-body Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields: Evaluation of Age- and Dose-Related Changes in Rats
, Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2009 Mar 21. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions
A Slovakian team of researchers have investigated cellular effects from whole body exposure (rat) to 2 mW cm-2 2.45 GHz pulsed EMFs. This equates to a signal strength of approximately 0.8 V/m, very similar to that experienced by those using WiFi in a WiFi enabled classroom. In their findings they state that "the EMF induces significant age- and dose-dependent changes in proliferating cell numbers within the RMS. Our results indicate that the concerns about the possible risk of EMF generated in connection with production, transmission, distribution, and the use of electrical equipment and communication sets are justified at least with regard to early postnatal neurogenesis". This is yet another paper, approaching from a different angle and different laboratory, finding statistically significant differences in a form of cellular expression from exposure to digitally modulated radiofrequency radiation.
Soderqvist F et al
, (April 2009) Mobile and cordless telephones, serum transthyretin and the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier: a cross-sectional study
, Environ Health. 2009 Apr 21;8:19 [View Author's abstract conclusions
Fredrik Söderqvist, a student of Lennart Hardell's also at Orebro University in Sweden, has recently published a paper showing the possibility of further biological effects from extended DECT phone usage. Stating that effects on the blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier have not been investigated to the same degree as the blood-brain barrier, he has produced a pilot study designed to examine whether there is any suggestive evidence worthy of a more thorough followup. While the participation rate was very low (only 31.4% of the 1000 subjects who were sent a questionnaire), giving rise to possible selection bias issues, although >300 participants is still a large enough sample size to find statistically significant results for reasonably robust associations. They concluded that time since first use of mobile telephones and DECT combined was significantly associated with higher serum transthyretin (TTR) levels regardless of how much each telephone type had been used. Regarding short-term use, significantly higher TTR concentrations were seen in women the sooner blood was withdrawn after the most recent telephone call on that day.
A paper from STUK (Finnish radiation protection authority) has examined 99 instances gliomas in a case-case study, comparing phone users to non-phone users. The idea was to identify an area within a set distance of the location (or equivalent expected location) of the phone and to analyse how many of the tumours were within it (by use of radiological imaging records). Although summarised rather cautiously as a "slightly higher proportion", and with the caveat that there were only 99 participants in the study, the initial data seem rather striking: while only 14% of the tumours in the non-phone users were in the 4.6 cm depth phone area, the proportion in the regular phone users was double at 28%. It would seem very timely to do a bigger study assessing this with a considerably larger dataset, as it would be a very useful indicator of the responsibility of the phone. There is another difficult confounder to take into account however: right handed mobile phone users typically use their right hand on calls when the phone call is the only activity the person is involved with, but if for example the person is on a call involving note taking, the phone is typically transferred to the "off hand" to allow writing with the normal writing hand. There is also the issue of those that switch sides to the head periodically because of a hot ear or a loss of comfort from keeping their arm / neck / hand in the same place for a prolonged period of time. As both of these confounders are likely to underestimate any increase in risk (by diluting the statistical differences between regular users and non users), this study does provide evidence perhaps that the association is sufficiently strong to overcome these confounders.
Work by Kjell Hansson Mild and his team from Sweden has uncovered a potentially important confounding factor in a lot of cell culture work. With continued research demonstrating the possibility that ELF electromagnetic fields may effect cellular interactions and intercommunication, it becomes a confounder largely uncontrolled for in other cellular work - this is particularly concerning where a reasonable proportion of in vitro experiments involve electronic equipment such as incubators, which can generate fields considerably higher than background exposure levels (up to tens of µT instead of 0.05 - 0.1 µT).
Following on the back of the paper above, Santini (not the same one that did the mobile phone base station research 6 years ago) and a team from the Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, Italy, have put together a review of in vitro literature on both positive and negative effects generated by ELF fields. Their conclusions are interesting, and while not making any definitive conclusions regarding consistency of any effects, they make it quite clear that the majority of literature seems to be demonstrating some form of cellular effects in a number of ways that may be harmful, beneficial, or neither.
Using personal dosimeters, the Health Protection Agency has published research comparing measured values to exposure estimate systems currently in place (for example those based on profession). They conclude that "This report substantially expands information on adult exposure to ELF MF in the UK. The accuracy of exposure assessments based solely on job codes is improved by linking with either industry code or contextual knowledge of equipment and of power lines or substations in the work environment."
Del Vecchio G et al
, (May 2009) Continuous exposure to 900MHz GSM-modulated EMF alters morphological maturation of neural cells
, Neurosci Lett. 2009 May 22;455(3):173-7. Epub 2009 Mar 24 [View Author's abstract conclusions
Researchers from Bologna University in Italy have found that neuronal development in rats is affected by exposure to GSM 900-MHz mobile phone exposure at 1 W / kg.
Billaudel B et al
, (May 2009) Effects of exposure to DAMPS and GSM signals on Ornithine Decarboxylase (ODC) activity: II- SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells
, Int J Radiat Biol. 2009 May 12:1-4. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions
A study, published by researchers from the French University of Bordeaux, has investigated the in vitro effect of GSM exposure on ornithine decarboxylase activity in human neuroblastoma cell lines, and failed to find a significant effect.
Vrijheid M et al
, (May 2009) Determinants of mobile phone output power in a multinational study - implications for exposure assessment
, Occup Environ Med. 2009 May 21. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions
35 of the authors in the Interphone project have published another paper assessing the actual power output of a phone in comparison to it's technical maximum. From an analysis of over 60,000 phone calls across more than 500 volunteers, it was found maximum power was used for 39% of the transmission time on the phone call, and the average power output was approximately 50% of the maximum power output of the phones in question, with variations based on study centres and network operators. They concluded that further data was unlikely to be useful except in very sparsely populated areas for which insufficient data was collected for this study.