• 25 OCT 08
    • 0

    #970: Sense about Science – Misleading on Radiation, EMFs, Health

    From Powerwatch:


    Sense about Science – Misleading on Radiation, EMFs, Health

    Article from http://www.powerwatch.org.uk

    Sense about science have recently published a very one-sided report entitled
    “Making Sense of Radiation” on the associations between EMFs and health. Not
    only did this report only present one side of an argument that has multiple
    conflicting opinions (both of which are based on peer-reviewed science), but
    it also contained a number of factual errors and omissions.

    Below, we have separated and explained our reasoning for 11 factual issues
    we have with the report into “factually incorrect”, and “factually
    misleading” (i.e. facts spun in a misleading manner).

    Factually incorrect statements

    1. “Non-ionising radiation does not have enough energy to damage or kill the
    cell, and so cannot cause cancer.” (“The general picture”, section 2,
    paragraph 2 – page 5)

    This is a factually incorrect statement as it is infers that the ability to
    cause cancer is based entirely on radiation having sufficient energy to kill
    or damage the cell. Firstly, and importantly, killing the cell will have no
    impact on cancer, as dead cells are not cancerous. Secondly, and equally
    importantly, there is supportive evidence to suggest that cell damage can be
    caused by non-ionising radiation without needing sufficient energy break DNA
    strands via the production of reactive oxygen species [Friedman 2007, Yao
    May 2008(1), Yao May 2008(2)].

    Professor Gerald Scott, an authority on polymer chemistry and free radicals,
    comments: “To distinguish between ionising and non-ionising radiation on the
    grounds that only ions cause biological damage is both simplistic and
    misleading. UV radiation is damaging because it produces neutral free
    radicals that are a major cause of disease in biological organisms.
    Furthermore there does not seem to be one chemist among the contributors who
    might understand the mechanisms of free radical formation, which as we have
    discussed previously frequently involves low energy excitation of atoms
    (particularly in transition metal complexes such as haematin) from a ground
    to an excited state that is quite different from breaking a carbon-carbon
    bond by high energy irradiation but can be equally damaging to cells.”

    2. “… it [the term Electrosmog] suggests that RF radiation is harmful when
    there is no evidence that it is.” (“The general picture”, section 5,
    paragraph 1 – page 5)

    This is a quite unbelievable statement in a document attempting to clarify
    issues on science, and verges on irresponsible. To claim that there is no
    evidence that RF radiation is harmful is ignore a plethora of literature
    supporting quite the opposite. From in vivo effects such as
    carcinogenisis[Lonn Nov 2004, Hardell 2007, Hours 2007] and fertility[Erogul
    2006, Agarwal Jan 2008, Baste 2008], to in vitro effects such as DNA
    damage[Friedman 2007, Yao May 2008(1), Yao May 2008(2)] and cell death
    [Ferreira 2006, Panagopoulos 2007, Yan 2008], the overall balance of papers
    is about 55:45 in the favour of those finding some form of effect. Not that
    this in itself is sufficient for any claims of causality, but the statement
    that the evidence is not there is simply wrong.

    3. “Some campaigners suggest that corona ions can attach themselves to
    pollutants in the environment making them more likely to accumulate in the
    body. Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National
    Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) concluded that this effect is small and
    does not cause harm.” (“Radiation and health effects”, section 10, paragraph
    1 – page 7)

    This is both misleading and incorrect. Firstly, the campaigners they are
    referring to are unclear, but the work done to date by Professor Denis
    Henshaw and his department[Fews 1999a, Fews 1999b, Henshaw 2008] supports
    other literature[Cohen 1998] suggesting that the impact of corona ions has a
    strong and replicable effect on pollutant deposition in the lung. Neither
    WHO nor the NRPB have published any original research on corona ions. It may
    be that the impact of corona ions is not substantial, but there is currently
    insuffient evidence to say one way or another, and claiming that corona ions
    conclusively “aren’t harmful to health” is premature and scientifically

    Factually misleading statements

    1. “Non-ionising radiation … has not been shown to have longer-term ill
    effects.” (“The general picture”, section 2, paragraph 1 – page 4)

    If “not been shown” is meant to imply “not been found”, then it would be a
    false statement. There is steadily mounting evidence, especially with mobile
    phone base stations, that there may well be chronic ill effects associated
    with non-ionising radiation exposure[Bortkiewicz 2004, Yurekli 2006,
    Abdel-rassoul 2007]. This has not been shown to be causal, but to imply that
    the evidence does not exist is misleading.

    2. “Although a government review recommended the precaution of restricting
    children’s mobile use to “essential use”, there is no evidence to show that
    they are adversely affected by radio frequency radiation.” (“Radiation and
    health”, section 7, paragraph 2 – page 6)

    Actually, due to ethical restrictions in many countries, there is no real
    research into whether children are adversely affected by radio frequency
    radiation at all. However, there is plenty of evidence supporting the
    possibility that RF radiation may affect health in general (see factually
    incorrect statement number 2 above for references), and research also
    highlights the possibility that child brain exposure to rf radiation from
    localised sources (such as using a phone) is likely to be greater to that of
    an adult [Ghandi 1996, Ghandi 2002, Christ 2005, de Salles 2006, Wiart
    2008]. This adjustment in absorbed dose may influence any magnitude of any
    health end points caused by the exposure, or it may not, but the statement
    in the report suggests there is simply no justification for concern,
    something not supported by the science itself.

    3. “There are no known biological effects from mobile phones’ RF radiation”
    (“Radiation and health effects”, section 9, heading – page 7)

    By using the term “known”, Sense about science are stating that no
    biological effects from mobile phone radiation exposure have been
    established. As we have previously covered, this requires a very high level
    of certainty to be achieved. There is certainly scientific research
    supporting the possibility of biological effects, including a number of
    neurological endpoints[Krause 2000, Koivisto 2000, Oktay 2006, Wiholm 2008].

    4. “There is no evidence that ‘pulsing’ is dangerous” (“Radiation and
    health”, section 11, heading – page 7)

    According to Sense about science, “anti-EMF campaigners” (no information to
    say who these are or when these claims were made) say “low frequency
    ‘pulsing’ might be dangerous since one research paper found that human’s
    cell functions might be affected at a frequency of 16 Hz”. We are not
    familiar with this reasoning, nor with the specific 16 Hz argument. It is
    very unclear what affect the amplitude modulation (pulsing) of RF signals
    has on any endpoints, but there is certainly some published evidence that
    they may affect genotoxicity to some degree, at frequencies designed to
    simulate GSM base station exposure (2, 8, 217, 1736 Hz and the corresponding
    harmonics) [Huber 2002, Huber 2005]. It is not known whether this adjusts
    the “danger level” of exposure, but the implication that it is irrelevent is

    5. “The final report (INTERPHONE) has not yet been published but most of the
    countries have found no causal relationship between mobile phone use and
    brain tumours” (“Debates about mobile phones, pylons and wi-fi radiation”,
    section 14, paragraph 1 – page 9)

    It is very true that a causal relationship has not been found. In reality,
    to expect any one project to find a causal relationship in itself would
    require a very consistent finding of strongly significant increases in risk.
    The typical latency of most brain tumours is at least 15 (and typically 25)
    years from exposure to the causative agent. At this point we have very
    little data from those who have used their phones for greater than 10 years,
    and we would therefore not expect to be finding an association at this
    point. Despite this, and the documented flaws in the protocol (accepted by
    the Interphone group themselves), a number of Interphone papers have found
    significant increases in risk [Lonn Nov 2004, Schoemaker 2005, Hours 2007]
    that support work done outside of the project by Lennart Hardell in
    Sweden[Hardell 2005, Hardell 2006, Hardell 2007]. The reason that the full
    results have not yet been published is due to the Interphone researchers
    being split into 3 roughly even groups. One group believes that the research
    shows sufficient evidence that there is an increase in long term risk that
    it should be highlighted with recommendations for further research, another
    believes that any increases are likely to be artefacts and there is no
    increase in risk, and another believes that the study protocol is so flawed
    that no conclusions can be drawn one way or the other (an issue covered in
    great detail on Microwave News). For Sense about science to reduce this to
    leave the impression no risk has been found is a very misleading picture of
    the science, and contradicts the “clearer picture” they state that the
    report was written to achieve.

    6. “Mobile phone masts and harmful health effects” (“Debates about mobile
    phones, pylons and wi-fi radiation”, section 16, whole section – page 10)

    This section is littered with misleading or one-sided points. Firstly, the
    section describes typical exposure levels from base stations (masts) as
    being considerably lower than typical exposures from using a phone (which is
    absolutely correct) and proceeds to make a comparison between this level and
    ICNIRP guidance levels, which are only designed to restrict exposure above
    levels where thermal effects are known to occur. The section then claims
    that in over 30 reviews, none have found evidence have harmful health
    effects. This is simply untrue. There have been no reviews explicitly on
    base station exposure, and the general RF (and mobile phones specifically)
    that have covered base station exposure have not found sufficient literature
    to draw conclusions. The real issue is that there are less than 20 papers
    that have been published on base stations and their health effects, and this
    is too small a number to draw conclusions of any kind. Thus far the papers
    that have been published are skewed heavily towards papers showing an effect
    (about 85% of papers show statistically significant increases in risk for a
    number of health endpoints) either on cancer[Wolf 2004, Eger 2004] or on
    somatic symptoms such as headaches, nausea, concentration or memory
    problems[Bortkiewicz 2004, Yurekli 2006, Abdel-rassoul 2007]. That these are
    found despite the undisputed claim that the exposure levels are
    consdiderably lower than ICNIRP guidance levels draws into question the
    possibility (should the increases in risk be found to be accurate) that
    ICNIRP guidance levels are not appropriate for the general public’s

    7. “Pylons and leukaemia” (“Debates about mobile phones, pylons and wi-fi
    radiation”, section 17, heading – page 10)

    This section does admit that the science supports an association between
    overhead powerlines and childhood leukaemia, though caveats it as a
    “non-causal” association due to a lack of animal model. However, the section
    fails to mention any of the literature supporting a possible association
    between power frequency electromagnetic fields and adult leukaemia [Tynes
    2003, O’Carroll 2008], neurodegenerative diseases (such as amyotrophic
    lateral sclerosis) [Feychting 2003, Hakansson 2003, Ahlbom 2001],
    miscarriage [Lee 2002, Li 2002, Cao 2006]. It also fails to mention the only
    existing meta-analysis looking at an association with Alzheimer’s disease,
    which found a strongly statistically significant doubling in risk (CI
    1.51-2.80) [Garcia 2008].

    8. “Someone sitting in a Wi-Fi ‘hotspot’ for a whole year, according to the
    Health Protection Agency, would be exposed to the equivalent radiation dose
    of a 20-minute call on a mobile phone” (“Debates about mobile phones, pylons
    and wi-fi radiation”, section 18, paragraph 1 – page 11)

    This is a completely unscientific statement, without any basis in science or
    physics. Originally stated by Michael Clark in 2006, he has repeatedly
    refused to answer our questions to him regarding the figures to back up the
    comparison. Our attempts (using basic physics – e.g. inverse square law –
    and specs documents of 802.11g wireless cards and access points) to
    calculate a typical equivalent exposure to 20 minutes on a mobile phone came
    to a timeframe two orders of magnitude lower, approximately 8 days at school
    if we are to make the assumption that only 2 hours of a school day actually
    involves a wifi enabled lesson. At the moment there is no published research
    into the health effects of Wifi (though measurements from the ITIS
    foundationin Switzerland, with state of the art measuring environments and
    equipment, find typical exposure levels to be very similar to those about
    60-70 metres from a mobile base station, where the main beam typically
    reaches ground level) so the only reasonable conclusion is that “it is
    unknown whether effects exists at this point as no reseach has yet been
    carried out”.

    Conclusions and Summary

    In fairness, and in credit to the report, the spectrum of electromagnetic
    radiation was well covered, giving a good background to the article. The
    fact that ionising radiation can be used in treatment was well explained,
    with some solid figures surrounding clinical treatment provided by Dr
    Stephen Keevil. He also covered the issues surrounding MRI treatment and the
    issues with inadequately considered “all-encompassing” registrictive
    legislation potentially causing more harm than good.

    However, on the the contentious and controversial issues around non-ionising
    radiation (both ELF and RF), the report was strongly biased and left out any
    argument that didn’t support the opinion of the authors. It is ironic that
    such a one-sided argument is presented by a charitable trust that aims to
    dispel misleading representation of science. Claiming that they “work with
    scientists and civic groups to promote evidence and scientific reasoning in
    public discussion”, they show a consistent trend of not mentioning evidence
    that highlights a possible health issue, not allowing for the possibility of
    scientific plurality (where multiple sides have differing opinions, both
    based on published scientific evidence but based on a difference of
    interpretation of the science), and stating areas of considerable
    uncertainty as absolute fact – something which is rarely possible on new
    areas of science. There are very few references to any published science
    within the report, only 8 papers across 20 pages, and never more than 2
    references for any given point. Instead of “Making Sense of Radiation”, as
    the title claims, very little in the demonstrates the uncertainty and
    complexity underlying the current interpretations of existing science on
    electromagnetic fields and their health effects.

    This summary and response is not intended to be the balanced article that
    the Sense about Science report should have been, but is intended to offer a
    scientifically supported alternative point of view that the report chose to


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