Ringing the alarm
Ralph Mills first knew something was seriously wrong with his brain when he began to get lost in his garden. As a long-distance driver he had spent years navigating his way across Europe without difficulty; suddenly he could not leave his house without someone to guide him.
Baffled, he visited his GP. Within an hour he was in hospital, where doctors found a brain tumour the size of a tennis ball above his right ear.
Mills, from Harlow in Essex, had never been seriously ill before and has no history of cancer in his family. Was his tumour mere chance? Or could it, he wondered, be related to his constant use of a mobile phone? His company had given him a mobile in 1985 and for 12 years he had used it, often for about an hour and a half each day.
"I never thought my mobile phone could ruin my health," said Mills, who is no longer able to work. "But now I believe they are a real hazard."
He is preparing to sue the manufacturers of the phone for failing to warn him of alleged health risks. More than 20 other people who believe they have suffered brain tumours, memory loss or damage to their immune systems caused by mobile phones are also lining up to seek legal redress.
"A year ago the health risks associated with mobile phones looked very speculative," said Martyn Day, of Leigh Day and Co, a firm of solicitors that has 24 clients who want to sue mobile phone companies. "But the evidence is mounting up."
This weekend one of the field's leading scientific researchers has accused the mobile phone industry of failing to publish new evidence of a link between phone radiation and health. He alleges he was asked to rework his results, which are not yet publicly available, in a more favourable light. Another researcher claims his funding was stopped after he unearthed findings a mobile phone company preferred not to see publicised.
As concerns intensify, the industry maintains there is no risk. "Our position is that there is no substantive evidence to link the use of mobile phones to any adverse health effect," said Tom Wills-Sandford, from the Federation of the Electronics Industry, which represents mobile phone companies.
To many independent observers, the language of the debate and the battle lines being drawn are all too reminiscent of the arguments over smoking and cancer. After 40 years of research, while the tobacco companies still maintain no link between smoking and cancer has been proven, most doctors believe cigarettes pose a serious risk to human health. Will the same happen with mobile phones?
The image phone companies like to project is of dynamic people revelling in the freedom of mobile communications. Though concerns about the health effects surfaced at least five years ago, the novelty and convenience of the phones drowned out any dissenting voices. As isolated lawsuits claiming health damage began to emerge in the United States, Britain lagged behind, ignoring them in the excitement of developing its own cellular networks.
But in America, Australia and Scandinavia, scientists were beginning to uncover worrying evidence that microwave radiation could cause physiological damage. One of those at the forefront of the research was Dr Henry Lai, an expert in non-ionising radiation and a professor at the School of Medicine and College of Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, America.
Two and a half years ago The Sunday Times disclosed for the first time scientific research pointing to the possible threat that mobile phones posed to health. Three studies, one by Lai, had found evidence of potentially damaging changes to brain cells linked to radiation. It was the first insight into the risk of mobiles "cooking" the brain based on well-founded scientific evidence.
Lai and a colleague, Dr Narendra Singh, had discovered that low-level microwave radiation could split the DNA molecules in the brains of live rats; such splitting is associated with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and cancer.
From March to August this year, Lai continued his work, funded by Wireless Technology Research, a body that has received more than £25m in backing from mobile phone companies. His latest study seems to confirm and expand upon his earlier findings.
"Our work has shown that there is an increase of 50% in damage to DNA when it is exposed to mobile phone radiation," he said. Memory loss is another damaging effect.
He delivered his report to WTR in August. It has not been published. Last week he revealed it was sent back to him twice with requests for alterations.
"They are asking me to change my whole interpretation of the findings in a way that would make them more favourable to the mobile phone industry," he said. "This is what happened in the tobacco industry. They had data in their hands but when it was not favourable they did not want to disclose it."
WTR could not disagree more. Its chairman, Dr George Carlo, flatly denied any attempt to manipulate Lai's findings. "It is unequivocally untrue," he said. "The report was amateurish and unprofessional. We have had to try to bring his report up to a level where it can be peer-reviewed and published."
Lai is not alone in his concerns. Professor Ross Adey, a biologist specialising in radiation effects, has carried out two large studies on animals for Motorola, one of the biggest mobile phone companies. He discovered that microwave radiation had a physical effect on the animals, although it did not necessarily cause brain damage.
"Motorola were not happy that there were any health effects," claimed Adey. "Their line is that there are no effects." He said the research had been transferred to another group.
According to Motorola, Adey has his wires crossed. "Our contract was not with Adey personally but with the institute at which he worked. He left the institute and so we were forced to reassess and sever our contract with them," said Norman Sandler, head of corporate affairs for Motorola in Illinois. "It has nothing to do with his past research. All research to date has shown there is no evidence to support or substantiate any health risks associated with mobile phone radiation."
That remains the industry's view in Britain, but the public are becoming disillusioned. The entrepreneur Richard Branson has asked staff at his Virgin Group to fit protective earpieces to their mobile phones after a close friend, who was a heavy mobile phone user, died of a brain tumour.
A 27-year-old British woman, thought to be a senior executive with a mobile phone company, is preparing to sue a phone company after suffering a brain tumour. The woman, so far unnamed, used a mobile for more than an hour a day for two or three years.
The mood is beginning to turn from one of surprise and scepticism to one of suspicion. Next month an epidemiological study of cancer rates among 11,000 mobile phone users will be released. Though companies claim phones do not heat up the brain, the temperature of the debate is rising fast.
SIR RICHARD DOLL, the scientist who found the first strong evidence of a link between smoking and cancer, remembers the problems well.
Though he does not draw similarities between his research into smoking and the potential risks of mobile phones, he does believe the health effects of radiation are worth studying.
"There is some suggestive evidence, which is difficult to dismiss, that radiation emitted from power lines can have adverse effects on human health. So it is imperative to establish whether or not there is a causal link," he said.
He was the proposer of a study launched last month by the National Radiological Protection Board to establish whether mobile phone and telecommunication radiation can cause cancer. Hundreds of telecommunication engineers will have their health monitored. Doll believes radio masts present a more likely risk than phones.
Research has linked radiation from the aerials - of which there are 8,000 in Britain - to various health risks. America and Australia are so concerned they have banned masts from all schools and residential areas.
In public, the phone companies dismiss such concerns, but some of their less obvious actions suggest they are worried. Six leading manufacturers have taken out patents for phone components aimed at reducing health risks. Several of these applications were made more than five years ago - suggesting the companies have long considered there was at least a potential hazard.
Patents for microshields, which are designed to reduce the radiation received by the mobile phone user's head, go back as far as 1993. Shields are now available from at least one independent company, including a British firm called Microshield Industries. They do reduce radiation - the question is whether that radiation is harmful.
Put simply, the case for the prosecution is that mobile phones emit low levels of microwaves that may affect the brain in the way a microwave oven cooks food, though at a much higher power.
Recent independent research has suggested an increase in cancer rates among mice exposed to mobile phone radiation; another recorded memory loss in humans; and a large epidemiological study showed an increase in fatigue and headaches among people subjected to the frequency of radiation similar to that used by mobile phones.
The industry denies the findings, claiming the research is flawed, inaccurate and fails to reflect the everyday realities of how people use phones.
As the war of words intensifies, at stake is an industry worth about £6 billion a year. More than 12m people now use mobile phones in the UK, and the numbers are growing fast.
"It is impossible to predict how devastated the market would be if an adverse health link were found," said Alan Lyons, a telecommunication analyst at the City bank ABN Amro. "But the whole industry is adopting an ostrich approach to whether or not there are any serious health risks."
Ringing the alarm
Mobile phones emit microwave radiation whenever calls are made. The brain is made up of watery tissue good at absorbing microwave radiation. Scientists believe there may be two main effects: 1. heating tissue 2. altering cell membranes. Microwaves can make membranes more permeable to potassium and calcium ions, which are important to cell functions. Changes may cause damage.
A research project conducted by Dr Alan Preece at Bristol Royal Infirmary, to be published next year, is expected to show that exposure to mobile phone radiation affects short-term ability to perform simple mental tasks.
Earlier this year, a study of 11,000 mobile phone users carried out by Dr Kjell-Hansson Mild, at the National Institute of Working Life in Umea, Sweden, suggested an increase in fatigue, headaches and skin irritation for regular users.
Phone companies also dispute a 1997 study by Dr Michael Repacholi at Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, which recorded increased cancer rates in mice exposed for an hour a day to electromagnetic fields of the kind emitted by digital mobile phones.
Among the first indications of a risk was work conducted by Dr Henry Lai and Dr Narendra Singh on rats in 1996 which found microwave radiation can split DNA molecules. Breakages are linked with illness that include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and cancer.
Scientists say that cordless phones do not pose any health risks because they use one fifth of the power of most mobile phones.
Everybody has been wondering how the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) would handle the designation, last summer, of EMFs as "possible human carcinogens" by one of its own working groups.
NIEHS' strategy became crystal clear on December 14: the NIEHS plans to ignore it.
At the last meeting of the National EMF Advisory Committee (NEMFAC), held jointly with the EMF Interagency Advisory Committee in Washington on December 14th, the NIEHS staff distributed a 352-page document, titled: "EMF RAPID: Program Report." This report, which details research results from studies sponsored by the NIEHS, neglects to even mention the conclusions of the NIEHS Working Group. It only states that the Working Group had issued its own report. Nor is there a single word about the three science review symposia that the NIEHS organized to prepare for the Working Group meeting held last June in Minneapolis.
The report does specify that the NIEHS spent $2,569,064 to run the science symposia and the Working Group meeting -- which is close to 10% of **all** the moneys spent on research by the NIEHS under the EMF RAPID program. Nevertheless, none of this work was seen as important enough of being included in NIEHS' own "Program Report."
This is how the four authors of the NIEHS report --Drs. Gary Boorman, Michael Galvin, Christopher Portier and Mary Wolfe-- began their overall conclusion:
"The results of the research supported by this program provide substantial evidence that there is not a robust biological effect of EMF exposure at environmentally relevant levels. These data when taken together with the National Academy of Sciences [NAS] report provide a basis for concluding that environmental EMF exposures at the levels to which human exposure occurs in the environment do not demonstrate an effect on critical biological processes and functions that could be expected to adversely affect human health...."
Note that the NIEHS cites the NAS EMF report but not its own Working Group report --even though the latter is more recent, and Portier himself has said that the two reports are **not** inconsistent.
The members of NEMFAC could not believe what the NIEHS was doing --and said so openly. It's "shocking" said NEMFAC Chair Shirley Linde. "Stunning," said Margaret Seminario of the AFL-CIO. And Dr. Peter Bingham, who recently retired from Philips Electronics, commented that, "You would think we were in a different universe."
The December 14 meeting was surreal even by Washington standards. NIEHS' Portier, who had organized the Working Group meeting as well as the science review symposia, refused to say whether he stood behind the conclusions of the report, which bore his and Boorman's names. When asked directly whether he agreed with what was written, he replied "I have no comment." He then left the meeting.
When Congress established the EMF RAPID research program in 1992, it required that the Director of the NIEHS, Dr. Kenneth Olden, report back at the end of the program on "the extent to which exposure to EMFs produced by the generation, transmission or use of electric energy affects human health."
Many of those at the meeting observed that Boorman's report could easily have been mistaken for Olden's report. After all, it was titled, "Program Report" and it included a cover letter from Olden, which began: "I am pleased to provide this report on the Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) research and communication activities that have been conducted over the past six years..."
But, in fact, Olden's official report to Congress is separate and will be issued later. Portier stressed that the Boorman Program Report "does not reflect the overall conclusions of Dr. Olden's report." But he and others from NIEHS declined to be specific as to what Olden will tell Congress.
Boorman's report, with its bright yellow cover, was given out with a rubber stamped "DRAFT," in small type on the front cover. But that draft stamp seemed almost an afterthought. Most government reports that are still in draft form have the words "draft: do not cite or quote" printed on the top of every page.
In response to NEMFAC criticism, Boorman said he would make some changes before issuing his report.
Last summer in its press release announcing the Working Group's decision to classify EMFs as possible carcinogens, the NIEHS included a quotation that if EMFs did in fact present a health risk, it would be a small one -- even though the subject of risk assessment was never discussed by the Working Group. At the time, some observers suspected that the press release was an early indication of how NIEHS would try to bury the EMF question. The new Boorman report appears to confirm these suspicions.
Portier said that NIEHS Director Olden will send **his** report to Congress sometime in February. At that time, it will also be released to the public.
Editor, Microwave News
P.S. I should note that I am a member of NEMFAC and I too was amazed by Boorman's brazen report.
P.P.S. The full text of the Working Group report is available on the
The initial act of those present was to ratify "The Vienna EMF Resolution", a scientific opinion on EMR, rendered by 16 scientists who convened in Austria during October 1998. Among those present was Dr. Carl Blackman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington and Dr. Neil Cherry, of Australia. The resolution states that "biological effects from low-intensity exposures are scientifically established...the current state of scientific consensus is inadequate to derive reliable exposure standards"...and calls for additional research to evaluate possible health impact and on an adequate exposure and dose assessment". The EMR Network stated that they are "encouraged by" this resolution and urge policy makers to "seek more stringent standards immediately."
This network brings together more than 70 individuals and grassroots organizations from around the country. The founding board members are Bill Curry, Mary Beth Freeman, Virginia Hines, Mark Hutchins, Libby Kelley, Carol Lomond, Dale Newton, Janet Newton and Michael Worsham. Advisors include Cathy Bergman, David Fichtenberg and Blake Levitt.
Libby Kelley, the Executive Director, advises. "Together we represent diverse ways of life -- farming, physics, engineering, finance, public policy, medicine, teaching, law and journalism. Most importantly, we are someone's parent and someone's child. We want to preserve and protect life. We together urge public policy makers and industry to act responsibly in determining current and future wireless communications technology applications."
The EMR Network's bold mission is:
Anger, shock, depression, frustration. It's hard to understand unless you experience a 36-metre-high cellular-phone antenna being slammed down in your quiet neighbourhood.
Why did we want the tower out? Our reasons could become your reasons. In Calgary, as in other towns and cities, strip-mall owners are Restricted by municipal regulations and cannot erect anything higher than 10 metres. But they are allowed to lease space to a federally regulated business that can erect a structure 36 metres high. Industry Canada allows cellular carriers to ignore city laws enacted to protect residents. These phone companies do not need a building or development permit to put up a tower, yet we would need a permit to put up a fence.
City Hall verified what common sense told us: Cellphone towers hurt property values. Residents close to the Oakridge tower recently had been granted a reduction in property taxes.
For many in Oakridge, the tower became the view. A silver voyeur, blinding us with reflected sun and strobe light (20,000 candellas in intensity), blinking hello hello hello like a tap dripping all day.
Concerned families dug up health information. One article, titled "World Health Organization Backs Research Into Mobile Phone Risks," appeared in the Calgary Herald on Dec. 20. "The World Health Organization has recommended further research into a possible connection between exposure to high-frequency radio fields and brain and other cancers, as well as leukemia and lymphoma."
A magazine excerpt from Radio Communications Report (March 3, 1997), titled "The Towering Cell Site Debate: Who'll Answer the Health, Safety Call?" reads: "Consumers have asked for credible scientific data that responds to their concerns that radio frequency (RF) and microwave (MW) radiation emanating from wireless facilities may promote or initiate the development of serious adverse health effects that range from learning disabilities to leukemia. "The consumer doesn't know the threshold at which hazard begins and safety ends -- but that's not their burden. Unfortunately, industry doesn't know the threshold levels either. The burden is on industry to prove safety -- not on the consumer to prove hazard."
During my research, I was referred to Safety Code 6, or its less catchy title, "Limits of Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields at Frequencies from 10 kHz -- 300 GHz," a mishmash of graphs, formulas and technical jargon by Health Canada's Radiation Protection Bureau. The fact that such a document exists outlining levels not to be exceeded suggests that health is affected by these emissions. Page 7 says: "Exposure to excessive levels of RF energy over prolonged periods can cause adverse health effects."
On Dec. 27, the Herald reported: "On a per capita basis, Alberta has the highest cellphone use in Canada and is believed to have the highest percentage of cellphone users in North America." The failure of the federal and municipal governments to prevent the tower's installation doesn't bode well for trusting them with safeguarding our health. Our battle to remove the Oakridge tower began last October. Getting nowhere by phone or letter, we booked a room at our community centre and hand-delivered flyers announcing a meeting. More than a hundred people responded. Our spokesman, Stan Cichon, corralled the anger and helplessness and focused the group on efforts to remove the tower. CANT, Communities Against Neighbourhood Towers, was formed. Our slogan: "Say CANT to Cantel." We were not against cellphones, but we believed the community should have been consulted about the tower's location.
Committees were formed, strategies hatched. We circulated a petition, launched a massive letter-writing campaign, explored alternate locations and sought financial pledges to pay for legal counsel. We contacted our alderman, MLA and MP.
And we warned other communities -- City Hall has a list of impending sites. We drew on strengths and connections within our group. A specialist in our neighbourhood gave us advice on bringing in the media at the right time.
That time came in January, when we got all the major players to attend one of our public meetings. Cantel's rep, Dick Hamlin, was the bull's-eye at the head table. Lesser targets included reps from the city, Industry Canada and Telus, our provincial phone company. The four local TV stations were there. This meeting was probably the turning point. Two weeks later, on Jan. 28, Cantel agreed to relocate the tower to the top of a high-rise, two blocks from where our tower stood.
Protect yourself before a tower visits you. Demand that your local politician push for policies that we secured. On March 11, Calgary's operations and environment committee adopted a formal process, the first of its kind in Canada, dealing with "residentially based telecommunications structures." A community-consultation process was agreed on that will force cellphone carriers (Cantel, Telus, Clearnet and Microcel) to follow predefined steps involving community-association executive members, city planning and building departments, local residents, alderman and MP. Our city has recognized the community's role in what goes on, or up, in a neighbourhood. But carriers in the rest of Canada are still free to put towers where they please, the decision being made by corporations and private landowners. They sign the lease and in it goes.
Two huge cranes and a swarm of workers took down our tower on July 21. Neighbours gathered to celebrate. Unfortunately, it probably will end up in another unsuspecting community.
These corporate gardeners who plant towers rely on people's apathy and their fear of doing battle with Goliath. Well, we drew our slingshots and protected our homes.
The DOE did not request funds from Congress to continue the program, which began in the mid 1970s, and Congress did not move to salvage the research effort.
"The DOE has said that as far as it’s concerned, there is no reason for its role to continue," a congressional aide told Microwave News. He noted that the final report of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) on the five-year EMF RAPID research program had not yet been delivered to Congress, and added, "Since the NIEHS is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), anything further would be more related to the HHS. I don’t see the DOE coming back to it."
The congressional staffer suggested that utilities saw less need for research now that the RAPID program was coming to a close. "I think the utilities got into this because there was consumer concern, but at some point you have to come to a conclusion," he said. "That was the purpose of the five-year program."
Shirley Linde, the chair of the National EMF Advisory Committee, spearheaded a lobbying campaign directed at high-level DOE managers to try to save the program. To date, they have not committed any of the DOE’s budget to continue health research. Last April, Linde presented the DOE with a petition signed by more than 1,000 breast cancer activists who wanted the program saved (see MWN, M/J98).
"It is reprehensible that research is stopping in the U.S. at a time when the NIEHS panel has pointed to a possible cancer risk," she told Microwave News. In June, a working group assembled by the NIEHS recommended that EMFs be classified as "possible human carcinogens" (see p.2 and J/A98). "How can we walk away when children are at risk?" she asked.
The Expert Panel will review the range of risk factors that have been associated with the radio-frequency fields used for wireless telecommunications technologies, especially the newer PCS networks, including hand-held devices, transmitter towers, and roof-top antennas. These risk factors include what are called "thermal effects," "athermal effects," and "non-thermal effects." The Panel will also examine and comment on the adequacy of Health Canada's "Safety Code 6," which regulates the exposure of Canadians to radio-frequency fields, in the light of the latest scientific studies on the range of risk factors indicated above.
Members of the Royal Society of Canada's panel were selected by the Society's Committee on Expert Panels.
The Society welcomes comments from interested parties in Canada on issues relevant to this panel's report. All comments received will be forwarded to the panel members. Please send your comments in writing by mail or facsimile to the following address no later than September 15, 1998:
Expert Panel on Radio-frequency Fields
The Royal Society of Canada
225 Metcalfe Street, Suite 308
Ottawa, Ontario K2P 1P9
``This report does not suggest the risk is high,'' said Michael Gallo, chairman of the group.
Indeed, the risk ``is probably quite small compared to many other public health risks,'' said Gallo, a professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Medical School in Piscataway.
The new report comes from a National Institutes of Health panel convened to review scientific research on the topic. The group, completing 10 days of discussions in Brooklyn Park, Minn., voted 19-9 Wednesday to accept the position that electromagnetic fields should be regarded a ``possible human carcinogen.''
Eight members of the panel convened by the NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences said that, because of conflicting studies, they could not decide whether electrical fields were potential causes of cancer. One said they probably are not.
Linda Schoumacher of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents the electrical industry, said that it would be premature to comment on the report but that her organization will be studying it.
The NIH group's finding is at odds with a 1996 report by a National Research Council panel of scientists who evaluated about 500 studies on the health effects of high voltage power lines and found ``no conclusive and consistent evidence'' that electric and magnetic fields cause any human disease.
Studies of the incidence of disease analyzed by NIH group found a slight increase in childhood leukemia risk for youngsters whose homes are near power lines and an increase in chronic leukemia in adults working in industries where they are exposed to intensive electric fields.
The group said there wasn't enough evidence to link household exposure to power lines to cancer in adults or to associate electromagnetic fields to such problems as Alzheimer's disease, depression and birth defects.
They found no evidence of miscarriage from video display terminals and no evidence of illness other than leukemia in children.
The panel said it looked at hundreds of studies of animals and cells exposed to electric fields that showed little or no effect, raising some concern about the ``weak association'' found in the epidemiological studies, which look at the incidence of illness.
The earlier National Research Council report noted that some studies had found a ``weak, but statistically significant'' link between high voltage electrical transmission lines and the incidence of a rare childhood leukemia. But that committee found the research to be flawed.
Overall, that panel said, there was no conclusive evidence to link electromagnetic fields with cancer, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, learning or behavior.
A 1979 study in Denver, Colo., that found a group of children who died of leukemia were more likely to live near to electrical lines than other youngsters fueled public worry about electrical fields.
The increasing concern prompted Congress in 1992 to fund a research program into electromagnetic fields.
The findings completed Wednesday will be used by the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, Kenneth Olden, in preparing a report to Congress later this year.
Though the link between electricity and disease has long been controversial, some consumer groups have sued power companies or forced utility firms to move power lines or install shielding.
The nearest corner of the school will now be 525 feet from the power lines and the farthest part of the school will be 750 feet away. The main entrance will be 600 feet away.
Some parents had expressed concern about electromagnetic fields generated by the power lines and possible effects from EMF on the health of the children.
Patricia D. Bair, chairman of the Dudley-Charlton Regional School Committee, told the board last night that she went out Monday with representatives of Massachusetts Electric Co. who measured the field strength at various locations. She said the highest reading at the 525 foot mark was 0.9 milligauss and the reading at the front door location was 0.7. She said readings under the power lines ranged from 97 to 116 milligauss. A milligauss is a measurement of the strength of EMF. In comparison, she said, normal readings in a house range up to 5 milligauss. Of the readings around the planned school, she said “We were pleased with those readings.”
Scott Lindgren, who submitted the petition articles to try and force relocation of the school, said he “will ask to have them tabled.” Of the relocation on the site, he said, “I think that it's good that they moved the school.” He said it was “unfortunate” that parents had to “whack them over the head” to get the school moved.
One article is to rescind the approval to buy the site; another asks voters to approve buying another site not adjacent to Heritage School but also on a sewer line; and the third is to eliminate Old Worcester Road and Morton Station Road to Oxford Road from the phase 2 sewer expansion. The line on those roads would serve the planned school.
Bair said before the meeting that the school board and School Building Committee were both concerned with the safety of children and it should not have been an “adversarial” process.
Children living in areas within 100 meters of a transmission line had a leukemia rate 2.7 times higher than did children in the nation as a whole, a significant increase. Their cancer risk was 2.4 times higher than that of other children in the same neighborhoods, a finding just short of statistical significance.
Dr. Chung-Yi Li of the College of Medicine at Fu-Jen Catholic University, Taipei, and Drs. Wei-Chin Lee and Ruey Shiung Lin of National Taiwan University, Taipei, report these results in the February Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (40, pp.144-147, 1998). Formerly with the Maryland Department of Health, Lin was the first epidemiologist to link brain cancer to occupational EMF exposure (see Microwave News, O84 and J/A85).
"I tend to think that EMFs are responsible for what we observed in the study," Li told Microwave News. But he added that epidemiological methods could not do much more to clarify the EMF-cancer link. Li believes that epidemiologists should now turn their attention away from power lines and try to discover if there are any as-yet-unknown risk factors for leukemia. If a new one is found, researchers could then examine whether it is associated with power lines. "After all," he commented, "there must be something responsible for the association." If no other factors can be identified, it would strengthen the argument that EMFs are to blame.
The Taiwan team did not measure the distance of each house from the line. Instead, they based the study on areas where most of the land lies within 100 meters of a high-voltage transmission line. While acknowledging that this is a "crude" measure, they argue that any exposure misclassification would likely underestimate the risk.
A measurement study in the same part of Taiwan by Li, Lin and Dr. Gilles Thériault of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, found that high-voltage transmission lines produced fields of about 2 mG inside houses 100 meters away, with higher fields in houses that were closer. The same group also found a link between adult leukemia and calculated historical EMF levels in the home (see Microwave News, M/J97).
Conducted under the aegis of a research grant award from the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (grant number R01-ES-07175), the studies provide conclusive evidence that inside cells electromagnetic fields can activate certain signaling pathways that have been associated with cancer. Specifically, it was discovered that the products of cancer promoting genes known as Src tyrosine kinases are rapidly activated by EMF exposure. The functions of other key cellular elements facilitating the cancer-promoting function of these tyrosine kinases also seem to be amplified five- to ten- fold. In addition, the results of these studies demonstrate that EMF may alter biochemical events inside the elements of the immune system that determine our susceptibility to infections.
These studies are the first to shed light on the possible mechanism for the long-suspected albeit controversial links between EMF exposure and cancer risk. A number of epidemiologic studies suggested the possibility that EMF radiation from power lines, household electrical wiring and appliance usage may contribute to the risk of childhood leukemia. Recent reports showed that living in homes characterized by high measured time-weighted average magnetic field levels or by the highest wire-code category does not increase the risk of leukemia in children. However, concerns regarding other forms of EMF exposure remain. It is thought that EMF may participate in the production of leukemia by influencing the proliferation, survival, and/or differentiation programs of leukemia cells.
The results of these studies reawaken concerns and urge more research, awareness and public discussion about the potential risks of electromagnetic field exposure. For technical information, contact the corresponding senior author, Dr. Fatih Uckun, Hughes Chair in Oncology, Hughes Institute, by paging him at 800-670-0268.
Kristupaitis D, Dibirdik I, Vassilev A, Mahajam S, Kurosaki T, Chu A, Tuel- Ahlgren L, Tuong D, Pond D, Luben R, Uckun FM. Electromagnetic field-induced stimulation of bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK). Journal of Biological Chemistry. in press, 1998.
Amid an explosive growth of mobile communications, concerns are mounting about cellular telephones' potential links to health problems ranging from headaches to brain tumors.
``In my opinion, and in the opinion of many scientists, anyone who uses a mobile telephone for more than 20 minutes at a time needs to have their brain tested,'' bio-electromagnetics scientist Roger Coghill said.
Coghill, who runs an independent research laboratory in Wales, plans to launch private criminal proceedings against a local cellular distributor in a test case seeking to establish a breach of consumer protection laws.
Scientists say electromagnetic radiation from cellphones warms brain tissue and that some strains of mice developed cancer in tests in Australia and Finland while others became disoriented. But, despite research around the world, it is still unproven that cellular phones pose a human health risk.
``We can't categorically prove they will not harm you but that is not the same as saying they will harm you,'' a spokesman for Britain's biggest mobile phone company, Vodafone, said. ``There is no evidence anywhere in the world that suggests there is any cause for concern.''
Coghill demands what he calls a ``responsible'' attitude from industry and, as with health warnings on cigarette packs, calls a warning label on cellphone handsets a ``reasonable, precautionary step.''
``Mobile telephones are arguably the most radiative appliance we have ever invented apart from the microwave oven and people are putting them by their heads -- arguably the most sensitive part of the body,'' he told a news conference.
HEALTH HAZARD OR HYSTERIA? The electromagnetic energy that fuels a cellphone is microwave radiation pulsing from its antenna. Human brains may absorb up to 60 percent of that energy, and although some researchers say those levels are far from hazardous, they are near the top end of international safety recommendations.
Cellphone users have reported physical symptoms ranging from lack of concentration, headaches, numb skin and memory loss to brain tumors, which they said might be linked to prolonged use of mobile telephones.
A telecommunications engineer in his late 30s, who requested anonymity, said he suffered a severe loss of short-term memory. Within months of using a digital mobile telephone up to six hours per day in 1995, he said, he started suffering from twitching eyes and numbness on the side of his head. He has since been diagnosed with brain damage.
``I have been off work for 18 months but it only seems like three or four weeks,'' he said slowly. ``Tomorrow I won't remember what happened today.''
New Zealand biophysicist Neil Cherry says artificial electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can pose a health risk. ``There is a growing body of scientific research which shows that very low, non-thermal levels of radio frequency and microwave radiation alters the basic biochemistry of cells, which have a potential to cause altered brain function, carcinogenesis and impaired immune system functioning,'' he said.
WEIGHING THE RISKS The approved level of cellphone radiation is set by international bodies. In Britain, the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) -- an independent, statutory group -- sets the standards. Recommended radiation limits are measured in ``specific absorption rates'' -- the amount of radiation absorbed averaged over one gram of tissue.
The NRPB, which says the vast majority of studies have shown radiation levels from cellphones are too low to harm humans, recommends a limit of 10 milliwatts per gram. Proposed European guidelines are five times more stringent.
Despite industry denials of any risks, public concern has prompted manufacturers to develop low-radiation phones and protective covers to shield users from much of the radiation. Some companies, such as London-based luxury gift store Asprey, already try to ensure mobile telephones used by its employees carry protective shields that cut down radiation levels.
Some scientists say drivers who hang on their phones are among those at highest risk -- and not just because they could crash. A car acts like a metal cage and kick-starts cellphones' power levels so they can blast their signals to the nearest base station.
Some car manufacturers warn in their instruction manuals against using hand-held mobile phones without a separate external aerial fitted to the vehicle. Most are more concerned that the electromagnetic emissions from cellphones not designed or fitted to comply specifically with cars might interfere with the vehicle's delicate electronics. Others report they are also working on adding a direct health warning.
THE ``LOW-TAR CIGARETTE'' OPTION But as cellphones come out of yuppie ghettos onto the mass market, some users are becoming increasingly addicted. Robby Walford, a 34-year-old flooring and carpets specialist, used a mobile phone up to four hours a day before being diagnosed as suffering from acoustic neuroma, a benign brain tumor.
That was four years ago. But he still uses a cellphone now -- albeit with a radiation shield. ``My business relies on it,'' he said.
London-based Microshield Industries Plc is among those to have developed a cellphone shield. It has a polyester-nickel layer, slips over the phone and the company says it filters out most emissions.
But having been threatened with legal action by a cellphone manufacturer over allegations in its sales brochure, the firm says it is having trouble breaking into stores and can only sell its product via mail order and in some drug stores.
Seeking to placate the cellphone industry, a spokesman said: ``People won't stop using mobile telephones. We're offering people, in effect, a low-tar cigarette.''
In a letter published in Monday's issue of the Medical Journal of Australia, Doctor Andrew Davidson said statistics charted a 50 percent rise in the incidence of brain tumours in Western Australia state between 1982 and 1992.
``It is conjectured that the rise in incidence is related to the use of (mobile) analogue phones in the late 1980s,'' Davidson wrote.
Davidson said he had suggested a joint study with Telstra Corp, two-thirds owned by the Australian government. ``What I proposed...was that we could look retrospectively and see whether any of these people who developed brain tumours used mobile phones,'' he said in a radio interview.
A Telstra spokesman said privacy laws banned the company from providing details of customer records.
The spokesman told Reuters emission levels from Telstra's mobile phone network were well below those set by the World Health Organisation and the Australian government's National Health and Medical Research Council.
Davidson said that Western Australia's cancer registry showed the rate of brain tumours in men had increased to 9.6 per 100,000 from 6.4 and for women to 6.5 from 4.0 per 100,000 between 1982 and 1992.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) last month called for more international research into whether mobile phones might cause diseases including cancer.
Doctor Michael Repacholi, WHO's electromagnetic firelds project manager, said perceived risks from such new technologies had become a serious public health issue.
The Australian government in 1996 launched a $4.5 million (US$2.9 million), five-year study to investigate potential health dangers from mobile phones and related equipment, including transmission towers.
Health Minister Michael Wooldridge has said that there was no substantial evidence of health dangers from mobile phones, but that more research was needed.