• 09 AUG 06
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    #534: Ultrasound dangers to the developing fetus. Part I

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    #534: Ultrasound dangers to the developing fetus. Part I

    In this morning’s local paper a new study was briefly mentioned that was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This study found that when pregnant mice were exposed to untrasound, their developing offspring suffered brain abnormalities. There are now plans to further test on on monkeys do determine if the danger is applicable to humans. (Next message)

    This should not be new news as similar dangers were found in research by Australian CSIRO scientist Dr. Stan Barnett in over 6 years ago. However for Dr Barnett’s efforts, not only did his warnings go unheeded but he was blacklisted by the federal government, his division broken up and CSIRO ordered to do no further research on non-ionizing radiation health effects.

    If Dr Barnett’s research had been followed up we would better know the extent of the possible dangers of unnecessary ultrasound scanning of pregnant mothers. The following is extracted from my thesis, Chapter 5: CSIRO: science for the public or political policy?

    CSIRO Ultrasound research stopped

    Apparently as part of this new policy to improve the interface with industry, CSIRO management decided by 2003 to end CSIRO”ôs involvement in non-ionizing radiation research “” research that was clearly independent of industry influence over its research directions.

    This was acknowledged in September 2003 by Dr. Stan Barnett, Section Manager of the CSIRO”ôs National Measurement Laboratory”ôs Division of Radiophysics, and author of the 1994 report “Status of research on biological effects and safety of electromagnetic radiation: telecommunications frequencies”. Dr. Barnett widely circulated a letter that announced the end of all CSIRO involvement in RF health research. To quote:

    “CSIRO has chosen to stop all research into bioeffects and safety of diagnostic ultrasound and cease any involvement in safety of non-ionizing radiation in general. It seems that research for the good of the community is not considered a priority area unless it is politically attractive or able to attract funding from industry. Clearly, that is not the case for safety related research in a taxpayer-funded research organisation.”

    Dr. Barnett”ôs letter went on to describe his career studying the bioeffects of non-ionizing radiation, both in diagnostic ultrasound and the safety of mobile phones, but that he was being forced to accept “Involuntary Redundancy” from CSIRO with no realistic opportunities for his continuing research in Australia.

    It was surprising that Dr. Barnett”ôs research into the bioeffects and safety of diagnostic ultrasound was terminated considering the important implications it had for the supposed safety of Doppler ultrasound for pregnancy scans. Doppler ultrasound is used to take measurements of foetal circulation to check for adequate perinatal nutrition , check for foetal abnormalities (such as spina bifida), check the age and sex of the foetus, and monitor foetal growth and development. In the U.K. Doppler ultrasound scans are currently “considered to be a safe, non-invasive, accurate and cost-effective investigation in the foetus. It has progressively become an indispensable obstetric tool and plays an important role in the care of every pregnant woman.”

    According to current health and medical advice to consumers from the Victorian Government”ôs department of health there are no possible complications from the use of ultrasound technology, “The ultrasound scan is a safe, non-invasive procedure that doesn’t pose any known risks, side effects or complications.” (For comparison see Chapter 3, section on the early use of Diathermy)

    What would have concerned the medical establishment financially committed to promoting ultrasound technology was that Barnett”ôs ultrasound research found evidence to suggest that pulsed Doppler exposure, as opposed to non-pulsed B-mode scanning exposure, could cause significant heating, up to five degrees, in the foetus, particularly near the bone, where the ultrasound beam is fixed onto a single point tissue target. Barnett”ôs research also indicated that foetal tissue is sensitive to physical change from excessive heating, including cell differentiation, which can have significant consequences to the developing foetus. Barnett has stated that the clinical implications of possible non-thermal effects from the use of ultrasound had not been fully evaluated and that the ultrasound scientific database was incomplete and could not keep pace with technological development in modern equipment. Barnett”ôs preliminary ultrasound work raised serious questions about a widely used technology that was being increasingly promoted as a safe procedure for the unborn child. For that reason a priority should have been to continue the research in the public interest. However if further research confirmed Barnett”ôs findings, there was the potential for a substantial risk for both the ultrasound industry and medical practices using the equipment.

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