04/11/2014 - Europe starts to take EHS seriously
Please note that this story has had several updates over a period of a couple of days.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has held a public hearing on electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS/ES) on 4th November 2014, attended by about 50 people, followed by a working group meeting in the afternoon to decide on how best to move forward on the EHS issue. The idea of the hearing was apparently their own, submitted by Bernardo Hernández Bataller. The group think the European Commission should pay more attention to this issue.
Who are the EESC?
It is an EU advisory body acting as a bridge between Europe and organized civil society. "The European Parliament, the Council and the Commission shall be assisted by an Economic and Social Committee and a Committee of the Regions acting in an advisory capacity." (Treaty on European Union, Article 13.4). It is an assembly of 353 members representing civil society from the 28 Member States of the EU. Members are appointed for a renewable five-year term by the Council of Ministers on the basis of lists drawn up by the national governments. It sends its opinions to the EU Parliament, the EC and Consilium.
What they are saying so far:
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is causing distress and loss of quality of life to a growing number of Europeans. The most common sources of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) pollution are mobile phone masts, cordless phones and Wi-Fi routers installed in the homes. All these emit microwaves permanently (24/7) in the places where they are installed.
Each day the number of EHS sufferers increases, and they often have to deal with the scepticism of doctors and misdiagnoses. According to new estimates, between 3% and 5% of the population are electro-sensitive, meaning that some 13 million Europeans may suffer from this syndrome, which has various names (electro-sensitivity, Wi-Fi syndrome, microwave syndrome, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, etc.).
Ever since the adoption of its opinion on the EU GSM Directive (TEN/308) in 2008, the EESC has been concerned with the ongoing protection of the public against electromagnetic radiation from electronic communications, such as internet usage, and other household equipment that forms part of the information society.
As part of the opinion work, local authorities, transport services, as well as cultural, sports and leisure centres will be consulted on their practices to install wireless internet connections. In recent technological developments, WiMAX environments (similar to Wi-Fi but longer-range), have started to emit constant electromagnetic pollution. The opinion might also advocate enhanced efforts at EU, Member State, regional and local level to identify, minimise and prevent exposure both at home and in the workplace, allowing citizens to live in places free from electromagnetic pollution, so-called white areas. The EESC can act as trusted adviser towards these stakeholders.
What is the time-scale?
4-Nov-2014: Working Document
5-Dec-2014: Preliminary Draft Opinion
7-Jan-2015: Draft Opinion
21-22-Jan-2015: Plenary Opinion
We are pleased at this initiative to take EHS issues seriously across the EU. Powerwatch and other EMF and EHS organisations were taken by surprise, hearing about this meeting only 9 days before it happened. That led to a large number of emails, Skype and telephone calls to find out who had the time (etc) to attend and present information to the hearing. Somehow the organisation had failed to invite any of the many EHS/ES groups across Europe. We believe this was a genuine administration error rather than an effort to keep us away!
Short presentations, by the following people, were made on why the EU should deal with EHS, and the best approach to use.
- Susana Galera Rodrigo, Professor of Administrative Law, King Juan Carlos University Madrid
- Isaac Jamieson, Member of the group of stakeholders on electromagnetic fields for DG SANCO
- Olle Johansson, Professor of Neuroscience, The Experimental Dermatology Unit, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
- Marc Cendrier, Robin des Toits (Association Nationale pour la Securité Sanitaire dans les Technologies sans fil), France
- Inés Ayala Sender, Member of the European Parliament
The presentations were followed by a debate with the audience and the rapporteur's notes taken to the afternoon meeting of the EESC study group on electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Isaac Jamieson gave a very informative presentation which showed that that whilst many studies indicate impacts as a result of exposure, there were others that showed no impact or were neutral/inconclusive. This included the results of the review of 919 studies by Rahmani et al (2011) documenting the percentages of EMF studies that revealed either impact, no impact or were neutral/inconclusive. He also mentioned Cucurachi et al (2013) obtaining similar results in their review of 113 studies, with the majority revealing impacts as a result of exposure. He discussed the potential costs that may arise if individuals are detrimentally affected by EMFs and best practice measures that could be applied to reduce risk.
Olle Johansson concentrated on the difference between treating EHS as a functional impairment, as in Sweden, as opposed to as a disease, and he was really quite eloquent and made some good points, not really about EMFs as such but about societal attitudes to disability and equality - which is the angle the EESC is going for - i.e. to prevent social exclusion due to the almost universal electrosmog now present around us.
Marc Cendrier gave a good presentation and he also presented a formal statement on behalf of the EHS of Europe . Electrosensibles Derecho Salud and UneTerrePourLesEHS had rushed to prepare this joint statement for submission to the EESC TEN study group on EHS by presentation at the meeting.
Many people there were asserting the "there is plenty enough evidence to conclude that EMFs cause EHS" position, but the debate felt less heated than is often the case. However, at the end two people from the mobile industry's MMF accused one pro-precaution speaker of misrepresentation but also ridiculously claimed that there is no point in reducing exposure because existing exposure levels are already 100% safe. One said that you can't apply the precautionary principle because there is already no risk, and you can't label equipment with emission values because they are all already "safe" and you can't have "safer than safe" (a direct quote). That, predictably and understandably, provoked some reaction from other people, but the meeting was running out of time by then so the argument didn't really develop.
So, for most of the time, the main issues in play were exploring appropriate measures to take, and doing so in a fairly constructive way, barring a few extremes. There was some arcane but probably quite important discussion about what the various articles of the various treaties allow the EU to do; broadly, the Commission or Commission-aligned voices were arguing that the responsibility lies with member states, but other people were saying there is more that the EU can do, for example using single-market rules to require common provisions for equipment, or requiring public consultation, and which it has done in other areas.
There seems some hope that the Committee might well come up with something reasonably balanced, in that they seem to be aware both of the amount of public concern and the seriousness of the issue for sufferers, and also of the need for proportionality and for a sense of the realistic; but one person's "proportionality" is another person's "disgraceful failure to take sufficient action" and another person's "throwing the science away on a tide of hysterical emotion", so we'll have to see what they actually say in their published Opinion which is due in January.
However, the European Commission will take quite a lot of persuading to take any new action unless their own processes (primarily SCENIHR) give them a justification or a push, which is unlikely. However, the current signs at the EESC are suggesting that their opinion will support a more precautionary stance to help EHS people from being excluded from being able to take part in modern public life.
- Full details: EESC EHS web-page
- Letter defending the rights of EHS people of the EU to the EESC EHS letter
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