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A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

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News Center: Main Articles Archive

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July 14, 2009

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has released two new reviews on RF radiation: (1) Exposure to High-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields, Biological Effects and Health Consequences (100 kHz-300 GHz), and (2) Epidemiologic Evidence on Mobile Phones and Tumor Risk: A Review."

The first is a 372-page review that addresses all aspects of RF interactions, from dosimetry to in vitro and in vivo experiments to epidemiological studies. It was prepared by the full commission and its advisory committees. The full text of the report is available at no charge from the ICNIRP Web site. Here is the conclusion on the plausibility of non-thermal effects:

July 7, 2009

Last month, Margaret Hamburg, the new commissioner of the FDA, and Joshua Sharfstein, her principal deputy commissioner, published a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine under the title, "The FDA as a Public Health Agency." Here is a short excerpt:

"[O]ne of the greatest challenges facing any public health agency is that of risk communication. … The FDA's job is to minimize risks through education, regulation, and enforcement. To be credible in all these tasks, the agency must communicate frequently and clearly about risks and benefits —and about what organizations and individuals can do to minimize risk. When, like the FDA, Americans must make choices about medication, devices, foods, or nutrition in the absence of perfect information, the FDA cannot delay in providing reasonable guidance —guidance that informs rather than causes unnecessary anxiety. For these communications to have credibility, the public must trust the agency to base its decisions on science."

The full article is open access —that is, it's available at no charge.

July 6, 2009

The FDA has closed down its Web site, Cell Phone Facts: Consumer Information on Wireless Phones. In its place, the agency has posted a few Web pages to assure the public that RF radiation from mobile phones is safe.

The new text on the Health Issues page is limited to just 330 words. It opens: "Many people are concerned that cell phone radiation will cause cancer or other serious health hazards. The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems." Even in the small amount of space devoted to the topic, the FDA reiterates this no-risk message over and over again. In the second paragraph, the agency advises: "The majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to RF from a cell phone and health problems." And, does it once more in the next paragraph: "Whereas high levels of RF can produce health effects (by heating tissue), exposure to low-level RF that does not produce heating effects causes no known adverse health effects."

June 15, 2009

EMFs are hot. People are interested again and things are happening, at least for the moment. Here's some of what's going on:

• The French government is stepping up its efforts to limit the use of cell phones by children. It's not just talk. Ministers of State are now involved. Legislation and regulation are in play. Public interest in France has never been greater. An example: Sciences et Avenir, a major French science magazine, devoted a special "dossier" on EMFs: What You Really Need To Know in the May issue. It runs 21 pages, in color.

June 11, 2009

At a time when there are calls for tightening EMF power-frequency exposure standards to address cancer risks, Australia is moving in the opposite direction. In mid-May, a committee working under ARPANSA, the national radiation protection agency, distributed a draft proposal that would triple the permissible exposure levels for the general public. If these rules are adopted, children could be exposed to up 3,000 mG, 24/7 —that’s one thousand times higher than the 3 mG threshold for childhood leukemia indicated by epidemiological studies, and three times higher than the ICNIRP recommended limit of 1,000 mG.

June 3, 2009

In the mid-1970s, the U.S. EPA sent a van around the country to survey RF levels in various cities, as well as from high-power sources such as radio and TV broadcast antennas, radars and satellite uplinks. The agency generated a trove of reports which describe the electromagnetic environment before the wireless revolution took hold. Some members of EPA's RF group continue to work on health issues —Norb Hankin is still at the EPA, Ed Mantiply moved over to the FCC some years ago — but the EPA van is long gone. No one in the U.S. is doing these types of radiation surveys anymore.

May 28, 2009

Christopher Wild, the director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), announced today that the Interphone study has been submitted for publication. An advisory, "Status of the Interphone Study" has been posted on the IARC,  CREAL and UICC Web sites. Wild does not say to which journal the paper was sent.

As we reported May 11, the  submitted manuscript only addresses brain tumor (gliomas and meningiomas) risks from mobile phones. Still to be completed are the analyses for acoustic neuroma and parotid gland tumors, as well as for tumor location relative to RF radiation exposure. Wild states that, "Work is on-going to prepare subsequent manuscripts for publication."

May 15, 2009

There are many reasons not to use a cell phone in an elevator. The most obvious would be as a courtesy to other passengers. Another is that a phone has to work harder in a shielded space. It's forced to operate at higher power levels for the signal to get out and reach the nearest tower and that leads to more ambient radiation in the elevator.

What most cell phone users would never consider is that a fellow passenger absorbs some of the radiation that would otherwise bounce back off the walls. It turns out, according to some new calculations from Japan, that a lone user can get a maximum exposure of about 1.6 W/Kg, 80% of the ICNIRP standard (2 W/Kg). But be advised that exposures could exceed the current U.S. FCC standard by a wide margin, under worst-case conditions. (This is a rare —no, unique— example of an American EMF standard being stricter than those in other countries.) The FCC limit is averaged over only 1g of tissue and, as Jim Lin, a member of ICNIRP, has often pointed out, increasing the averaging volume from 1 g to 10 g could triple the allowable radiation exposure (see MWN, N/D00, p.3). These new findings appear in the May issue of the IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques.

Much Remains To Be Done

May 11, 2009

The stalemate over Interphone is coming to an end. A project of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the possible links between mobile phones and tumors, Interphone has been bogged down for over three years while its members feuded over how to interpret their results. Now, Microwave News has learned, a paper on brain tumor risks is about to be submitted for publication. Christopher Wild, the director of IARC, forced a compromise to resolve what had become a major embarrassment for the agency.

April 25, 2009

Is it possible that the precautionary principle could do more harm than good? Could the mere suggestion of a health risk bring on effects that it was intended to avoid? Such a phenomenon is known as the nocebo effect and has been much discussed in relation to EMFs in general and electrohypersensitivity in particular. For a cogent analysis of all this, check out Stuart Blackman's "Why Health Warnings Can Be Bad," in today's Financial Times Weekend magazine.

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