Sweden - GöteborgsPosten,  27 December 2000

A Wireless Future – at what cost?

A “Time Out” must be taken in building the 3rd generation mobile network, until health and environmental effects of the new system have been investigated. First do the research, then build, demands among others assistant professor Olle Johansson at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm.

Never before has a whole population been exposed to such an extensive microwave radiation as in the creation of the wireless IT Sweden of today. But who takes the responsibility for the long-term consequences for environment and health? The Swedish Parliament and the Swedish Government? The IT/telecom companies and their shareholders?

We are honestly and deeply worried about the explosive change of the society which now is taking place through the introduction of wireless communication within all sectors of the society. It is time to react! We have to invest in long term durable technology with no risks for environment and health.

We have to demand a safe technology to be developed and that the precaution principle of the Swedish Code of Environment is applied, and that a “Time Out“ is taken, facing the creation of the 3rd generation mobile network. It must be allowed to allocate time investigating the effects on health and environment, before a new system is put in use.

We are in a hurry! The Swedish National Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) has recently issued four new licences for the new mobile broad band network 3G/UMTS, fully subsidized by the state. The creation has already started. With blind folded eyes, we are rushing directly into the wireless IT society. Some representatives for Orange/France Telecom express that due to the IT maturity of the Swedes they are perfect for testing new mobile services“. “Sweden will be the biggest laboratory in the world“, Jonas Birgersson of Swedish Bredbandsbolaget says (Dagens Nyheter 18/8 2000). Individual ministers promise “broad band“ for everybody, politicians demand “digital rights for everybody“, and within the EU it is the desire that every child will have its own e-mail-address already when beginning school. The decision on what technology to be used is handed over to the industry. Is the vision of the IT/telecom enterprises, as Sweden being the centre of the wireless valley, already a reality that nobody dares to question?

The new wireless broad band network requires four times as many mobile phone/cell phone masts as the GSM-net of today. At worst 30 000 more microwave-radiating antennas are to be set out. The construction enterprises have already in the business papers been notified for brilliant development facing the huge expansion. But nobody has measured the total radiation from the new antennas. Nobody has analysed the environmental consequences, regarding the total amount of radiation in a long-term perspective. Nobody knows what biological and medical effects the increasing radiation will have. The new cell phone antennas will serve a number of millions of wireless Internet computers. We already have microwave transmitters for local wireless networks, and microwave links to the main network are being installed. We are promised wireless offices and homes, wireless care and the right to vote through a wireless net. Our complete new IT society is expected to be linked to the wireless net within a few years.

Do we want an IT society based on microwave technology? Who takes the responsibility for possible negative consequences? 

Who takes the political responsibility? At the end of November, the Swedish Council for Research on Working Life delivered its final report on “Electrosensitivity and health risks from electric and magnetic fields“ to the Government. The investigation did not propose any restrictions on the IT development. During the investigation the council has referred to the on-going research within WHO/EU/the telecom industry.

In “The Environment of the Future – everybody‘s responsibility“ (Swedish Government/SOU 2000:52) it is declared, that “the risks of electromagnetic fields will be so clarified by the year 2010 that the Swedish Authorities may plan to take concrete measures“ (stage 4, “Safe environmental radiation“, decision of Parliament 29/4 1999). They are consequently awaiting the research going on between ICNIRP, WHO, EU and the telecom industry – providing time for a test period of ten more years! During that time, millions of people are going to be exposed to microwaves around the clock at levels that may cause serious health effects.

Who takes the responsibility for the health effects? For the environmental consequences? Who is prepared to pay for this large-scale project, in case it fails?

Many studies have indicated serious biological effects of radiofrequent/microwave radiation. Therefore several researchers recommend microwave exposure to be kept as low as possible. In countries like Australia, Italy, Austria and Switzerland they have already lowered the total exposure limits for high frequent radiation. In June this year, 19 researchers at a conference on transmitters in Salzburg demanded that the total exposure to microwave based radiation must be lowered drastically, due to the biological effects. The recommended limits for radiofrequent/microwave radiation must be reconsidered, focusing the total, long term and biological effects.

First do the research, then build! More and more people get acute symptoms near cellular phones and cellular masts. In Sweden, already in 1999, more than 200 persons have been forced to move from their homes due to electrosensitive symptoms. Around 50 persons had to leave their homes after the installation of a mobile phone transmitter close to their houses. After the big IT expansion in 1997-98 including computerization, Internet connection and a strong expansion of the GSM net a disturbing increase in the number of people harmed at work, sick-listed and “burned out“ is seen. We think we see a very disturbing relation to the IT-environment.

To provide everyone a long term durable IT development, the environmental and health aspects have to be considered right away, before another expansion step is taken.

Apply to the principle of precaution! Those who already are electrosensitive – where are they to go when PTS promises a 99 % coverage of the mobile broad band network within no more than three years? To them, the “digital rights for everybody“ are “digital excesses against everyone“. Already now, with the current GSM system, transmitter free zones have to be provided for in every urban district.

It must be a human right being spared from microwaves – no matter if you already are sensitive or if you want to practise a private “principle of precaution“ to prevent your children from microwave exposure around the clock. We fully agree with the statement in Ericsson‘s new PR-video: “The mobile Internet will change our lives" – but at what cost?

Olle Johansson
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet
Marie-Louise Blennow
Bruno Hagi
IT Expert
Lennart Sparell
Associate Professor
Ulrika Åberg
reg. Doctor of Medicine
Per-Arne Öckerman
Professor of Clinical chemistry

Published, Göteborgsposten Dec 27, 1000. Translation FEB