A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

News Center: Short Takes Archive

Senior FDA Radiation Official Challenged Adequacy of RF/MW Exposure Limits in the 1970s

October 10, 2020

“A safe level of microwave exposure was arbitrarily established —no dissent from the arbitrary safe standard was tolerated— in a largely thermal (i.e., high-exposure level) microwave research program … [It] and the averaging provisions … may represent a directed verdict rather than a culmination of objective and unbiased scientific judgment.”  

Does that sound familiar?      

Actually, it’s from a paper delivered more than 40 years ago by Moris Shore, the former director of the Division of Biological Effects at FDA’s Bureau of Radiological Health. Yesterday the Washington Post revealed that Shore died of kidney disease on July 1 at the age of 92.

In the quote above, Shore was referring to the U.S. 10 mW/cm² ANSI standard adopted in 1974, which, in turn, was an update of the 1957 and 1966 limits. He charged that it “ignored a substantial body of published scientific findings that documented low-level biological effects.”

The current IEEE standard evolved from these same 1957/1966/1974 standards. It is a direct descendant.

Shore also pointed out that the 1974 standard was much weaker than those adopted by two large corporate contractors. For example, GE’s limits were 10 times more stringent and those of Bell Telephone Labs were 100 times stronger. Both companies had set their internal standards in the 1950s, but later accepted the looser limits under pressure from the military, even though there was little new research.

Shore made these remarks in a paper presented at the 10th Annual National Conference on Radiation Control, held in Harrisburg, PA, in the spring of 1978.

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Here is the full text of the announcement in the Post:

Moris Shore, FDA scientist

Moris Shore, 92, a retired Food and Drug Administration public health scientist who studied biological effects and health implications of radiofrequency and microwave radiation exposure, died July 1 at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. The cause was kidney disease, said his son, Michael Shore.

Dr. Shore helped establish industry performance standards on electromagnetic radiation emissions from electronic products and conducted research on the association between prenatal diagnostic X-ray exposure and childhood leukemia. He worked for several federal agencies during his career, including the FDA from 1971 to 1985, when he was deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

He also helped organize a visiting scientist program at the FDA and, in retirement, served as a consultant to the Pan American Health Organization and the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson in Washington.

Ken Foster & Niels Kuster Disagree on Averaging Times

September 25, 2020

Very little has been written in the popular media about the waveforms used in 5G signals. Two outstanding questions are: How fast are the pulses? How powerful are they?

In 2018, Esra Neufeld and Niels Kuster of the IT’IS Foundation in Zurich issued a warning in a paper in Health Physics, urging that existing exposure standards be revised with shorter averaging times to address potential thermal damage from short and strong pulses:

“Extreme broadband wireless devices operating above 10 GHz may transmit data in bursts of a few milliseconds to seconds. Even though the time- and area-averaged power density values remain within the acceptable safety limits for continuous exposure, these bursts may lead to short temperature spikes in the skin of exposed people. ... [Our] results also show that the peak-to-average ratio of 1,000 tolerated by the ICNIRP guidelines may lead to permanent tissue damage after even short exposures, highlighting the importance of revisiting existing exposure guidelines.”

In a letter to the journal, Kenneth Foster* of the University of Pennsylvania countered that their claims do not hold up:

“Because real-world communications technologies produce pulses of much lower fluence than the extreme pulses considered by Neufeld and Kuster, the resulting thermal transients from them will be very tiny in any event.”

Neufeld and Kuster’s response to Foster is here.

(Keep in mind that as the averaging time increases, radiation peaks smooth out and compliance with exposure limits becomes easier.)

FCC Proposes Shorter Averaging Times

In its proposed revision of its own RF rules, issued last December, the U.S. FCC appeared to side with Kuster, expressing concern over the many wireless devices that “transmit in short bursts.” Here is part of what the FCC stated:

FCC NPRM Graph 136, 2019

The FCC put forward shorter averaging times for signals at higher frequencies —dropping down to 1 second above 95 GHz. These are detailed in the table below. In contrast, the averaging times in the ICNIRP and IEEE standards are as high as 25 minutes.

Table 3, FCC NPRM 2019

Now, the wireless industry is asking the FCC to favor Foster’s views over Kuster’s. Last week, a team from the Mobile & Wireless Forum (MWF) —formerly known as the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF)— held a virtual meeting with members of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) and lobbied for the withdrawal of the proposed new averaging times.

The PowerPoint slides of MWF’s presentation are here and its cover letter to the FCC is here. (Chuck Eger, who signed the letter, was formerly in Motorola’s Washington office. He mistakenly used old MMF letterhead.)

Members of the MWF include Apple, Huawei and Samsung. Foster’s research has been supported by the MWF.

Will the FCC formalize the new averaging times in its final RF rules, or follow the MWF request and scrap them? Stay tuned.

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* For more on Ken Foster’s work on this issue, see these two recent papers; both are open access:

• Kenneth R. Foster, Marvin C. Ziskin, Quirino Balzano and Akimasa Hirata, “Transient Thermal Responses of Skin to Pulsed Millimeter Waves,” IEEE Access, 2020;
• Kenneth R. Foster, Marvin C. Ziskin, Quirino Balzano and Akimasa Hirata, “Thermal Analysis of Averaging Times in Radiofrequency Exposure Limits Above 1 GHz,” IEEE Access, 2018.

Each paper acknowledges the support of the MWF.
Q. Balzano, a coauthor of the two papers, is a member of the board of the IT’IS Foundation. In their 2018 Health Physics paper, Neufeld and Kuster acknowledge Balzano for his “insights and guidance on emerging wireless communication systems.”

This article is adapted from a thread of seven tweets posted by Microwave News yesterday. If you are not yet following Microwave News on Twitter, give us a try, @microwavenews.

DARPA’s New ICEMAN Project Seeks Answers

September 15, 2020
Updated September 16, 2020

Spatial disorientation among U.S. Air Force pilots has been linked to 72 severe accidents between 1993 and 2013, resulting in 101 deaths and the loss of 65 aircraft. Now DARPA, the defense department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, wants to know whether RF radiation in the cockpit of combat aircraft may be at least partly to blame.

Under the new initiative, with the acronym ICEMAN, DARPA is seeking a contractor to measure the electromagnetic fields inside cockpits, especially signals between 9 kHz and 1 GHz and then determine whether they might affect the performance of pilots. ICEMAN is short for Impact of Cockpit Electro-Magnetics on Aircrew Neurology.

In its request for proposals, DARPA states that, “Current cockpits are flooded with RF noise from on-board emissions, communication links, and navigation electronics, including strong EM fields from audio headsets and helmet tracking technologies.” The agency notes that current tactical audio headsets project magnetic fields that are up to 10 times the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field —that is, approximately 5 G (0.5 mT). DARPA continues:

“Recent DARPA-funded research has demonstrated that human brains sense magnetic fields, like those used by animals for navigation, and that this process is ‘jammed’ (i.e., disrupted) by radio waves (RF), impacting brainwaves and behavior. Furthermore, recent findings were the first to show that even weak RF fields and ‘Earth strength’ magnetic fields have measurable, reproducible effects on human brainwaves and unconscious behavior in a controlled environment.”

The “recent research” refers to work carried out under DARPA’s RadioBio program, announced in 2017. One of its objectives was to see whether living cells can communicate with neighboring cells using EM signals and, if so, what the cells are telling each other and how they do it.

Joe Kirschvink at Caltech, a RadioBio contractor, has reported that human brain waves respond to changes in magnetic fields on the order of the Earth's field.

According to DARPA, the objectives of the ICEMAN project are:

1) Measure and manipulate the ambient EM field and RF noise in a typical cockpit;

2) Measure potential effects of EM stimuli on brain activity, physiology, behavioral responses and physiological sensing systems;

3) Demonstrate potential strategies to mitigate negative effects on aircrew neurology and sensory function.

The deadline for proposals is October 5.

More on the how DoD defines major aircraft accidents, here.

Iceman was the nom de guerre of a fighter pilot played by Val Kilmer in the movie Top Gun.

Provided 70-80% of Its Support in Each of Last Three Years

June 25, 2020

The German government is the main sponsor of ICNIRP, the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), which is the bureaucratic parent of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), has contributed 70-80% of ICNIRP’s annual income in each of the last three years. This does not include revenue from the sale of books and fees to attend workshops.

German Support for ICNIRPSources: BMU and ICNIRP

The BMU/BfS has been known to support ICNIRP, but the extent of its funding has only now emerged.

Details of Germany’s support for ICNIRP was provided to Microwave News by the BMU following an information request.

ICNIRP also receives an “in-kind-contribution” from the BMU: “free” office space in the BfS premises in Oberschleiβheim, near Munich, according to Bastian Zimmermann, a BMU spokesperson.

Among the other agencies that support ICNIRP are: European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation “EaSI” (2014–2020), International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA), Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and New Zealand Ministry of Health.

ICNIRP, originally an offshoot of IRPA, was launched in 1992, at the initiative of Michael Repacholi, who at the time was with the Australian Radiation Laboratory (see MWN, J/A92, p.12). He served as ICNIRP’s first chairman until 1996, when he moved to become the head of the WHO EMF Project, which he also helped set up (see MWN, J/A96, p.14).

ICNIRP develops exposure guidelines which are the basis for many national standards, including Germany’s. It releases an annual report, but specifics about its finances are sketchy at best.

First Update Since 1998

March 11, 2020

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has issued updated guidelines for exposures to RF/microwave radiation.

“The guidelines have been developed after a thorough review of all relevant scientific literature, scientific workshops and an extensive public consultation process. They provide protection against all scientifically substantiated adverse health effects due to EMF exposure in the 100 kHz to 300 GHz range,” according to Eric van Rongen, the chairman of ICNIRP.

“We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease,” he said. Van Rongen is with the Health Council of the Netherlands.

The new guidelines are published in Health Physics and are open access. A copy is available here. They were last updated in 1998.

The ICNIRP press release is here.

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See also our recent article on the links between the World Health Organization (WHO) and ICNIRP:
“Will WHO Kick Its ICNIRP Habit?”
and
“How Much Is Safe?: Radiation Authorities Rely on Controversial Group for Safety Advice” from Investigate Europe,

 

First Federal Officials To Take a Stand on Cell Phone Safety

January 17, 2020

NTP scientists have decided to follow the science.

In a recent revision to the information it offers the public on cell phone radiation, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) revealed that its scientists are now taking precautions by spending less time on cell phones and, when on a call, increasing the distance between their heads and the phones.

The NTP released the final report on its $30 million animal study that showed “clear evidence” of a link between cell phone radiation and cancer in late 2018. But until now NTP scientists have downplayed the implications of their findings in public statements.

Indeed, John Bucher, the former associate head of the NTP and the leader of the NTP cell phone project, was asked —at each of the three press conferences held at various stages of the release of the NTP results— whether the cancer findings had changed the way he used his cell phone or the advice he gave his family. In the first two instances, he replied no, and in the third —on issuing the final report— he again said no except when “on a conference call for an hour or two.”

That has now changed.

In an email to Microwave News, Bucher confirmed that he is following the precautionary steps offered on the NTP website. In a separate exchange, Michael Wyde, who managed the study and continues to run the follow-up work, wrote that he too is taking these precautions.

They and other NTP scientists are, at present, the only ones working for the U.S. government to publicly endorse precaution to reduce microwave exposure from wireless devices.

CDC Once Endorsed Precaution and Then Backed Away

For a brief time in 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) endorsed precaution. It quickly reversed direction under pressure from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, better known by its acronym, NCRP

Up to now, government scientists have left individuals to make their own decisions to take precautions, favoring the phrase, “if people are concerned about their exposure…” That conditional used to be on the NTP website but has now been removed.

The FDA website continues to suggest precautions only for those who are “concerned.”

Here are screenshots of this particular Q&A from the NTP’s FAQs before and after the change.

Before:NTP on precaution before
After:
NTP on precaution after

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A note of appreciation to the followers of Microwave News who send me tips about news and other developments. This story is a case in point: An eagle-eyed reader spotted this change in the NTP FAQs and wrote to me about it. Thank you!

Wants SARs Measured Without 5 mm Separation from Body

October 28, 2019

French health officials want cell phone users to be better informed of potential risks and are urging them to take precautionary steps to limit their radiation exposures.

The move comes after an government health and safety agency (ANSES) issued an October 21 advisory warning the public not to carry phones in shirt or trouser pockets.

The French government wants the European Commission to require measurements indicating how much energy is absorbed (SAR) when the phone is next to the body —that is, with the phone in simulated contact with the user. Current protocols allow a 5 mm separation.

On October 25, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health issued a statement with these key points*:                   

1. France will ask the European Commission to reinforce the requirements for new mobile phones put on the market. As recommended by the National Agency for Safety, Environment and Labor (ANSES), the Government will request that the approval tests be carried out in contact with the apparatus, and not 5 mm away as is currently the case. This will be more representative of actual exposures;
2. The National Frequency Agency (ANFR) will develop tools to improve user information:

 • The mobile application “Open Barres” will be completed by the end of the year to allow each user to know the emissions of his mobile phone model; 
•  The recommended usage distance will also be indicated on the ANFR website, which already cites distances for the telephones checked, as well as the “Open Barres” application. If there is cooperation from manufacturers, they will be available by the end of the year.

3. The Government will bring together major manufacturers to take voluntary steps to update the software of their models already on the market, before the adoption of recent, more restrictive emission standards;
4. ANFR’s monitoring of products placed on the market will be increased by 30% in 2020.

The government reaffirmed its advice that users take these safety steps:

1. Use a hands-free kit
2. Favor text messages over phone calls
3. Favor areas with good reception
4. Avoid holding your phone to the ear when in a car, bus or train
5. Pick a mobile phone with a low SAR
6. Avoid long conversations

The full announcement (in French) is here, an English version is here.

For more on phones in pockets:
Colorectal Cancer Soaring in Young Adults; Are Smartphones in the Mix? (2019)
Keep That Phone Out of Your Trouser Pocket! (2009)

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*Adapted from Google Translate.

Power Line-Cancer Links Show Consistency, Not Contradictions

September 4, 2019

Industry-funded studies have promoted false doubts about EMF cancer risks and led to the failure of the public health community to reduce exposures, argues David Carpenter in a paper published last week in Environmental Research.

Carpenter, the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany in upstate New York, shows that, over the last 20 years, findings on the link between power line (ELF) EMFs and childhood leukemia have been heavily influenced by their source of funding. Government or independently sponsored studies have “consistently” shown that higher exposures lead to the greater cancer risks, while those supported by electrical utilities “consistently” have not.

These superficial contradictions have led to unwarranted doubt and inaction, according to Carpenter: “The public is confused and many times the press declares that results are ‘inconsistent’ when in fact they are very consistent if one does not consider the results of industry-funded studies.”

He writes: 

“It is remarkable that in the 40 years after [Nancy] Wertheimer and [Ed] Leeper (1979) first reported an association between exposure to magnetic fields from residential power lines and elevated risk of childhood cancer, and the large number of subsequent investigations, that there is still controversy over the question, ‘Does exposure to magnetic fields cause cancer?’”

The main reason for the uncertainty, Carpenter maintains, is that industry studies have weakened the findings of meta-analyses by diluting the “true association” between ELF EMFs and cancer. As a result, the medical and public health communities have failed to advise people to reduce their EMF exposures. He calls the current situation “unacceptable.”

Beyond childhood leukemia, Carpenter points out that individual studies and meta-analyses have shown “strong evidence” that excessive exposure to magnetic fields increases the risks of adult leukemia, male and female breast cancer and brain cancer.

In an interview, Carpenter said that he was “a bit surprised” by the strength of the links between adult cancers and ELF EMFs, where the industry-funded bias is less apparent. This “may be simply because few have paid attention to adult cancers, and therefore the industry has chosen to discredit the whole cancer association by focusing on childhood cancer,” he said.

In the early 1980s, Carpenter led the New York Power Line Project, which sponsored the first replication of the Wertheimer-Leeper study by David Savitz, then at the University of Colorado. (See our report from 1986 when those results were announced —to the surprise of the electric utilities.)

Over a decade ago, a team of Swiss researchers showed a similar bias among studies on the health effects of cell phone radiation.

Existing Rules Will Apply to 5G Phones and Infrastructure

August 8, 2019
Updated August 9, 2019

After six years of study, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided not to revise its current safety limits for RF radiation. The rules, which were first adopted in 1996 and are the only ones governing cell phone exposures in the U.S., will continue to be based only on thermal effects.

“After a thorough review of the record and consultation with [the FDA and other health] agencies, we find it appropriate to maintain the existing radiofrequency limits, which are among the most stringent in the world for cell phones,” said Julius Knapp, the chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology.

Some had wanted the FCC to harmonize its limits with those of ICNIRP, which are considerably more permissive for cell phone exposures. The ICNIRP standard is 2 W/Kg, averaged over 10 g of tissue, while the FCC limit is 1.6 W/Kg over 1 g. The larger averaging volume alone makes the ICNIRP standard less stringent by two- to threefold (see MWN, J/A00, p.8).

In the FCC announcement, issued today, Chairman Ajit Pai cites the support of Jeffrey Shuren, the director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits…” Shuren told the FCC, adding, “No changes to the current standards are warranted at this time.”

FCC officials said at a press briefing that there’s “nothing special about 5G,” according to a report from CNET. They went on to argue that the scientific evidence to date indicates that, in terms of causing health effects, 5G is no different from any other cellular technology, including 4G or 3G. The higher-frequency signals (millimeter waves) used to deliver 5G also pose no health risk, they said, pointing out that the existing RF exposure guidelines apply to 5G.

The FCC first announced its plan to review the agency’s RF rules in March 2013 in a 200-page filing.

For more on the FCC and RF safety, go here.

Information and Misinformation Vie for Attention

June 11, 2019
Updated June 21, 2019

Hans Skovgaard Poulsen sounded the alarm seven years ago. There’s a spike in glioblastoma —GBM— in Denmark, he warned. Poulsen, the head of neuro-oncology at Copenhagen University Hospital, called it “frightening.”

On November 2, 2012, the Danish Cancer Society dutifully sent out a press advisory under the title “Massive Increase in New Cases of Aggressive Brain Cancer.” The incidence of GBM had doubled over the last ten years, Poulsen said.

Then he walked away and wouldn’t talk about it anymore. The Danish Cancer Society took down the press advisory from its Web site¹ and no one there wants to talk about it anymore.

Turns out Poulsen was not far off, just ahead of the curve.

In May, Julius Graakjaer Grantzau, a member of the Danish Parliament, requested statistics on the incidence of GBM from the government and then released them to the public. At my request, a Danish epidemiologist plotted the graph below. (The epidemiologist asked not to be identified by name.)

GBM in Denmark 1995-2017

Incidence of GBM in Denmark, 1995-2017 (blue bars); % increase relative to 1995 (orange line).
Prepared by a Danish epidemiologist for Microwave News. (click to enlarge)

Note that the rates have not been adjusted to account for the fact that an aging population will have more brain tumors. (The older you are, the greater the odds of developing one.) The larger number of older people in the population could account for up to 15% of the observed increase in GBM, according to the unnamed epidemiologist.

I asked Mette Vinter Weber, a communications advisor in the office of the director of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen, for a comment on the GBM data posted by Grantzau. Over the next ten days she tried to find someone to answer my question, but in the end, came up empty. It was, she finally told me, out of the “area of expertise” of her colleagues at the Cancer Society.

I also wrote to Christoffer Johansen, a former staffer at the Society, who is now the head of research at the Rigshospitalet, a leading hospital in Copenhagen. Johansen continues to advise the Society as a guest researcher. Back in December 2013, a year after the press advisory, Johansen told me that Poulsen was wrong, citing some unspecified computational error. Now he doesn’t want to talk about the new data. He did not reply to a request for an update.

Johansen, a coauthor of what is known as the Danish Cohort Study, has long maintained that there is no association between brain tumors and mobile phones. His epidemiological study, however, is widely considered to be flawed and unreliable. The IARC expert committee that classified RF radiation as a possible carcinogen in 2011 discounted the study as riddled with errors. (Follow the links for our coverage of the IARC decision and detailed look at the Cohort Study.)

I then tried Hans Poulsen as well as Jørgen Olsen, the former head of research at the Cancer Society. They too stayed silent. Olsen, who is now retired, has been helpful in the past while Poulsen has never replied to any e-mail messages from Microwave News since the press advisory was posted in November 2012.

Though apparently unable or unwilling to comment on GBM rates, representatives of the Danish Cancer Society, including Johansen, continue to dismiss cancer concerns over wireless radiation —notably from the upcoming 5G networks, despite the lack of available information.

Here is what the Cancer Society’s Aslak Harbo Poulsen told DR, the Danish Broadcasting Corp., at the end of May: A single study may show a link, but an overall assessment of the existing literature does not indicate any health effects, including cancer. This Poulsen is a post-doctoral researcher and he too worked on the Danish Cohort Study.²

Russian 5G Disinformation Campaign in Denmark?

The May 31 story posted on the DR Web site is headlined, “5G Opponents Spreading Russian Misinformation in Denmark,” and promotes a conspiracy theory first floated by Bill Broad of the New York Times earlier in the month.

Whether DR was aiming at Grantzau, the member of Parliament, is not known. But he, among some others, is not satisfied by the way the Danish government is handling the rollout of 5G. In an e-mail exchange with Microwave News, this is part of what Grantzau told me:

“Getting a balanced answer about the possible dangers from 5G is impossible. The minister wants to clearly state that there is nothing to be afraid of. Even though her own government (Sundhedsstyrelsen, like the U.S. FDA) has no specific information about 5G. …

The media has the same wish —to make sure, that nobody worries about 5G or electromagnetic radiation in general. So when I hosted a conference in the Parliament with critical scientists, telling about the dangers, the media writes about it in a ridiculing way. …

My thoughts about the 5G rollout is that it is being pushed without any public democratic debate and without listening to any of the critical voices. I think it’s difficult to find out what we actually need 5G for, but it’s easy to find a lot of problems with it.”

See also companion story:
“GBM Rising in Denmark, Much as in England.”
And:
“Spike in ’Aggressive’ Brain Cancer in Denmark” (2012)
“Something Is Rotten in Denmark” (2013)

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1. The press release is still accessible thanks to the Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive.

2. The Danish Cohort Study has other influential coauthors, including John Boice, until recently the director of the U.S. NCRP, and Joachim Schüz, a senior manager at IARC, as well as the Danish Cancer Society’s Jørgen Olsen.

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