While the ICNIRP Guidelines are being promoted internationally as the final word in expert EMF standard setting, – as an “unprobabilistic body of sure and certain knowledge” that is beyond question, doubts continue to be expressed about the validity of these guidelines, such as by the Canadian Sierra Club (previous message).
In response to the public’s concerns internationally, the Telcos and government health agencies, always refer back to adherence to the ICNIRP guidelines as the ultimate evidence of safety – for both ELF power frequency EMFs and RF/MW telecommunications.
The Telco’s deficit model of public understanding
Against the supposed infallibility of ICNIRP, public concerns are viewed by the Telcos and national health agencies through the “deficit model” of public understanding of the science. That is, members of the concerned the public are assumed to be deficient in their understanding of the science and safety of EMF / EMR whereas the “science” is sufficient to counter their worries if only they would listen to the experts. Along with this idea is the belief that once the public is ‘scientifically literate’ they will euthusiastically embrace the technology and be good consumers of everything offered up to them.
This technological viewpoint considers that the concerned public, lacking a proper understanding of their scientific facts, fall back on irrational, and even paranoid fears of the new and unknown – or as the French Telcos call it, a “local conflicts of ignorants”.
Therefore the job of the Telco’s public relations spin doctors is not to listen to public concerns, but to mount PR campaigns to convince the ignorant public that the technology is really safe after all, as long as it conforms to the international guidelines (ICNIRP). As a Telstra representative in Australia once stated at a standards meeting there was a need to “comfort the community”.
So, is ICNIRP an “unprobabilistic body of sure and certain knowledge”?
I have written previously about ICNIRP’ assurances of safety being based on a biased interpretation of the science, using the critiques of Prof John Goldsmith (deceased) in Israel, and Dr. Neil Cherry(deceased) in New Zealand, as examples of some of weaknesses in ICNIRP’s risk assessment. That paper will now be re-written in light of of a recent re-evaluation of the RF epidemiological literature by ICNIRP’s Standing Committee on Epidemiology(Dec 2004) .
ICNIRP’s paper essentially comes to a similar conclusion that any assurance of safety from telecommunications is unfounded. The importance of ICNIRP’s below statement means that adherence to ICNIRP limits cannot be quoted as proof of safety. More to the point it is more of a proof of uncertainty that justifies public concerns and calls for a real precautionary approach in line with those concerns.
This means that the public’s concerns cannot be simply dismissed as ignorance but as valid concerns of safety in an area of very real scientific uncertainty.
In the words of ICNIRP
According to ICNIRP’s Standing Committee on Epidemiology (abstract conclusion):
“Despite the ubiquity of new technologies using RFs, little is known about population exposure from RF sources and even less about the relative importance of different sources. Other cautions are that mobile phone studies to date have been able to address only relatively short lag periods, that almost no data are available on the consequences of childhood exposure and that published data largely concentrate on a small number of outcomes, especially brain tumor and leukemia.”
And the final paragraph:
“Another gap in the research is children. No study population to date has included children, with the exception of studies of people living near radio and TV antennas. Children are increasingly heavy users of mobile phones. They may be particularly susceptable to harnful effects (although there is no evidence of this), and they are likely to accumulate many years of exposure during their lives.”
Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 112, Number 17, pp 1741 – 1754, December 2004.
For community groups attending meetings with Telcos and public health agencies I would recommend taking along ICNIRP’s latest paper to counter claims of ICNIRP infallability.
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