• 25 SEP 07
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    #805: Cloud of worry gathers over wireless health risks

    From Cindy Sage:

    Here is Doreen Carvajal’s article in the International Herald Tribune that includes mention of the BioInitiative Report and the EEA support for this issue.

    International Herald Tribune
    Cloud of worry gathers over wireless health risks
    By Doreen Carvajal
    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    PARIS: While major cities around the world rush to blanket neighborhoods with free wireless Internet access, critics are questioning the health risks that might be created by a wired London or a Paris transformed from the City of Light to City of Hot Spots.

    The nagging fear is that electromagnetic waves emitted by wireless technology could become the tobacco smoke of the 21st century. Some environmentalists are already demanding restrictions, and government officials in some countries are issuing warnings to limit use and seeking reviews of the long-term health impact of exposure to wireless networks and mobile telephones.

    “The exposure to electromagnetic fields is rising, and it’s widespread,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environmental Agency, a European Union institution. “So, come what may, we should be anticipating that even with a low dose, but with wide exposure, this will require much more inspection.”

    The agency, which last week issued a statement urging caution, is paying close attention to the results of an ongoing World Health Organization study called Interphone that is evaluating cellphone use by almost 7,000 brain tumor patients in 13 countries, among them Japan, Canada, Germany and France.

    For the most part, national studies have detected no consequences from the use of mobile phones for a period of up to 10 years. But last spring, Interphone published the results of studies of 1,500 brain cancer patients in the south of England and Nordic countries.

    “They found a significantly increased risk of brain cancer for use of a period of more than 10 years on the same side of the head where the tumor developed,” said Elisabeth Cardis, Interphone coordinator and director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France. She said that larger numbers of long-term users needed to be studied to give the findings greater validity.

    Wireless-network technology developed too recently to be included in existing major studies of the health impact from exposure to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones, say scientists, who note it is likely to be less harmful because it emits less electromagnetic energy than mobile phones placed directly on the ear.

    But school officials are looking for reassurance. Teacher associations in Britain are demanding further analysis before schools introduce wireless computer networks, and the city of Frankfurt is being even more cautious – school officials there decided last year not to install wireless systems until there was more health research.

    This month, the French Health Ministry ordered the country’s Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety to prepare a review of available scientific information about the effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields from cellphones and Wi-Fi.

    Members of the Green Party in the German Parliament have also pressed the government with similar questions this summer. In response, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection advised limiting use of mobile phones and wireless networks as a precaution until more is known.

    “Our main concern is to keep the total exposure of electric magnetic fields as low as possible, especially in schools and kindergartens,” said Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, a member of the German Bundestag and spokesman for the Green Party on the issue. “We will force the government to take their own warnings seriously and to favor cable-based technology.”

    Scientists are pressing for more information about the impact of heavy usage and also on the effect on children, concerned that developing brains may react differently to exposure.

    This month, Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research, an £8.8 million, or $17.8 million, study funded by the British government and the telecommunications industry, ruled out short-term adverse effects of mobile phone use on the brain and cell functions of adults who were the subjects of the study.

    But these researchers also cautioned that further study was needed of children and people who have been exposed for more than 15 years, a critical period because brain cancer symptoms typically take that long to emerge.

    The group is helping to start a long-term surveillance study called Cosmos, looking at 200,000 cellphone users, beginning this year. It will track light and heavy users of mobile phones in Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Finland over the next 25 years.

    Its earlier study, which was paid for by the British government and the mobile phone industry, was coordinated by an independent group so as not to be influenced by its backers.

    Scientists note that mobile phones have not been around long enough to find a sufficient number of consumers who have been exposed for more than 15 years, a hurdle that is even greater when it comes to Wi-Fi networks.

    “You’re restricted by reality,” said Joachim Schuz, a German researcher with the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen who is participating in the Cosmos study. “So the reason that there are no studies on long-term users is because at the moment the long-term users are just becoming a bigger group.”

    Schuz, who also participated in the Interphone study in Germany, said that researchers in the Cosmos study would have access to telephone records, health records and questionnaires filled out by telephone users. With that information, researchers will be looking for associations between phone use and a wide range of illnesses, including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, migraine headaches, depression, sleep disturbances and tinnitus, the clinical name for ringing in the ears.

    The Interphone study, which is expected to be released next year, focuses in particular on people with brain and neck tumors. Nearly half of the electromagnetic energy is absorbed by the tissues on the side of the head closest to the handheld phone, scientists say.

    While cancer researchers look for answers, others are growing impatient. In August an international group of cancer researchers and public health experts issued a review of available studies on electromagnetic fields called BioInitiative that urged precautions.

    The European Environmental Agency contributed a chapter about historical lessons learned from asbestos that showed that exposure could be harmful even before there is convincing evidence of harm.

    “We don’t want to wait until you have definitive proof before you start taking actions,” said David Carpenter, who helped write the report and a physician and professor of environmental health and toxicology at State University of New York at Albany, where the report was issued.

    Thus far, Carpenter noted, most of the discussion and research on the issue is taking place in Europe and not in the United States.

    “Our concern is that the health risks are rarely part of the debate” in the United States, he said. “If there’s a downside, that needs to be put on the table.”

    The French environmental group Priartém decided not to wait. This month, it successfully pressed two French supermarket chains, Carrefour and Auchan, to shun a special telephone, Kiditel, with GPS tracking technology, that is marketed for young children.

    “We were concerned that these are telephones that have to be illuminated all the time,” said Jeanine Le Calvez, president of Priartém.

    But industry groups like CTIA, an international association for wireless telecommunications based in Washington, steadfastly maintain that the “overwhelming majority of research studies that have been published in scientific journals around the globe show that wireless phones do not pose a health risk.”

    Le Calvez, though, remains wary. This month, her group met with French Health Ministry officials to push for a ban on telephones marketed for children. She also takes a dim view of the free wireless hot spots in Paris, which number at least 400.

    “A catastrophe,” she declared. “The new system increases electronic magnetic pollution and we have such insufficient knowledge of the health risks.”

    See:
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/23/news/wireless24.php
    and
    http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/09/23/business/wirelessbox.php

    SIDEBAR
    Exposure to the invisible cloud of energy called electrosmog is rising
    By Richard Latker
    Published: September 23, 2007

    If you are an urban knowledge worker, keen to take advantage of the conveniences of information technology, your exposure to the invisible cloud of energy called the electromagnetic field – EMF, or electrosmog – may be considerably higher than that of your low-tech, old-media peers.

    It’s 1 a.m. Is your neighbor’s refrigerator behind the wall you sleep against? Is your mobile phone alarm set for 6 a.m., positioned strategically within arm’s reach on the night table? Is the Wi-Fi laptop in the living room programmed to download movies (public domain, of course) during the night? Are you warm and toasty, thanks to an electric comforter? Did your landlord rent the roof to a cellular phone or Wi-Fi provider for a transmission mast?

    If any of this rings true, you’re slumbering in a thick blanket of electrosmog.

    Power lines, electric generators and motors, electric appliances, electronic devices and wireless communication systems all generate electric and magnetic fields, which together constitute EMF – fields of energy created by any electrical system.

    Taking the underground train system to work? Factor in a large EMF dose from the train’s propulsion system and the electricity coursing through the third rail. It shouldn’t be high enough to corrupt the data on your laptop hard drive (although such complaints have been levied against Shanghai’s Maglev train). But try watching a DVD on the platform and you’re likely to see waves of interference on your screen as the train pulls away.

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    At the office, you might sit within a meter of several power adapters, each kicking out EMF of varying strength. Then there’s the wireless office network, the microwave oven in the canteen, scores of mobile phones and the 11-kilovolt power main running under the sidewalk next to the building – all of which contribute to an invisible but readily measurable balance of electromagnetic haze.

    If you work in a hospital, you have the added EMF bonus from magnetic resonance imaging machines (remove those credit cards, please – an MRI scanner will erase the magnetic data in a heartbeat if you’re within a few meters, even on the floor below), X-ray machines (which generate non-ionizing EMF as well as X-rays) and hundreds of other high-power medical appliances.

    Few people believe low-level electric fields are dangerous. They are easy to shield against, in any case – any conducting material, like a metal screen or a human being, will do the trick. But the magnetic component in EMF, linked more frequently to health problems, is far more difficult to mitigate. The only sure protection against magnetic field is distance. Materials that are high in nickel, like good quality stainless, can divert magnetic field but do not eliminate it.

    EMF comes in two basic flavors: microwave frequency and power frequency. Both are nonradioactive and often measured in milliGauss (mG). Simple Gaussmeters are available over the Internet for less than $100.

    Power frequency: Modern electricity grids use alternating current, which oscillates back and forth along the power line. This oscillation generates magnetic power frequency at 50 or 60 hertz, depending on the country. Typical sources include appliances, power lines, and the power adapters used with computers, printers and modems.

    Ironically, most electronic devices use direct current, not AC. Because grid power is AC, you need a power adaptor – the heavy square plug weighing down your laptop bag.

    Sitting 50 centimeters away from an AC/DC adaptor for a laser printer exposes a user to 1 to 6 mG of EMF. By comparison, the Swedish government recommends child care centers keep ambient EMF levels to 2 mG or below.

    Some electronic devices – certain DSL modems, for example – use AC power, although the voltage from the socket still must be lowered, usually to 12 volts, from 110 or 220 volts. AC/DC power adapters emit a lot of EMF – as much as 16 mG at 50 centimeters.

    Microwave frequency:Microwaves are at frequencies falling between 300 MHz and 30 GHz on the electromagnetic spectrum. On Earth, almost all microwave radiation is man-made. Microwave sources include mobile phones and transmission masts, Wi-Fi systems and cordless phones. Microwave ovens generate power frequency but little microwave. They are heavily shielded to stop leakage and shut off automatically if the door is opened. (Nonetheless, microwave ovens use a lot of grid electricity and produce high levels of power frequency EMF – as much as 200 mG at 50 centimeters.)

    Mobile phones use microwave energy at a slightly lower frequencyof 800 to 900 MHz. Can something that cooks your dinner heat your brain as well? Yes, although the output from mobile phones varies depending on the model and its distance from the nearest relay station.
    Most mobile phone makers publish the amount of radiation particular models pump into the brains of the users, using a standard called the Specific Absorption Rate. Comparing SAR values allows users to reduce their exposure. The SAR number is found buried deep in the user manual – it is worth insisting on a peek at the manual before buying the phone. In the United States, the maximum permissible SAR is 1.6 watts per kilogram; in most European countries, it is 2.0 W/Kg. Phones can be purchased with SAR values as low as 0.20 W/Kg.

    There is far less consensus on the need for people to protect themselves from microwave Wi-Fi signals, which are transmitted at very low power – usually less than 0.1 watt. But as Wi-Fi systems proliferate, so too will electrosmog. One way to reduce your exposure is to turn off your Wi-Fi device when you’re not using it.

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