Best regards - Janet Newton
The points he made in 1999 are as true today given that there has been no research on RF effects on children in the intervening years.
Janet Newton, President
The EMR Policy Institute
P.O. Box 117
Marshfield VT 05658
Tel.& FAX: 802-426-3035
From the on-line macOpinion journalhttp://www.macopinion.com/columns/roadwarrior/99/12/09/index.html
Charles Moore is a freelance journalist and commentator by profession, and has written for 40 or so different magazines and newspapers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia over the past dozen years. He has syndicated columns with Continental News Service of San Diego, California, and with Barquentine Ventures Newsfeatures in Canada. Charles is also an associate editor (freelance) with a couple of monthly magazines, and writes software reviews and features for MacToday magazine.
Charles writes regularly about computers/politics/culture/religion/philosophy; powerboating and sailing/the marine design, shipbuilding, and commercial fishing industries/health and wellness/and other topics. He does his best to plug the Macintosh platform wherever and whenever he can in his writing.
How Safe Is Wireless Computer Networking?
09 December 1999
by Charles Moore
"That which is looked upon by one generation as the apex of human knowledge is often considered an absurdity by the next, and that which is regarded as a superstition in one century, may form the basis of science for the following one!" Paracelsus
I have a feeling that I'm going to get yelled at for bringing this subject up, but with all the hype and enthusiasm over wireless local area computer networking, especially Apple's new AirPort technology in the Macintosh orbit, I'm concerned that virtually no attention is apparently being paid to the issue of possible health hazards associated with long-term-routine exposure to the radio frequencies generated by these systems.
In hope of pre-emptively quenching at least some of the flames, let me say that I'm not staking out a strong advocacy position that RF emissions from these systems are harmful. I'm an ignoramus as far as radio transmission engineering goes, and I'm not a health care professional or expert.
However, I am suggesting that the issue of wireless networking ought to be addressed with a lot more prudent caution than seems to be the case. The thought of classrooms full of schoolchildren using AirPort-equipped iMacs or iBooks day in and day out, being exposed to radio frequency emissions at close range, makes me distinctly uneasy given the level of ignorance on this issue.
To anyone who suggests that saying this amounts to "fearmongering," I reply that I do not know whether this sort of radio frequency exposure is a significant health hazard or not, but neither do you know for sure that it is NOT a significant health hazard. One thing I do know is that I take rote assurances of safety from industry and government regulatory sources with a large grain of salt. I want to see the research data and the methodology behind it on which such assurances are based.
I do not appreciate reflexive and patronizing affirmations by persons with conflicted interests in this issue that any such speculation is irresponsible hysteria, and that there is "nothing to worry about." There indeed may be nothing to worry about, but I don't think they or anybody else can make that categorical assurance given the current level of knowledge on these matters.
Whenever public concern surfaces over any health safety concern involving industrial activity or products, a knee-jerk denial that there is anything to worry about can be counted on from both industry and government. Think about the British mad cow disease crisis, the international AIDS-tainted blood crisis, the Dutch pig plague crisis, the Belgian chicken dioxin crisis, the Belgian Coca-Cola crisis, the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, etcetera and so on. In all cases the first reflex of both industry and government was to deny. In all cases, the denials were at best mistaken.
One thing I quickly discovered after deciding to write this column, is that precious little unbiased research data on the health effects of radio frequency exposures is available, which means either that little has been done, or findings of studies that have been done are not being widely disseminated. There is certainly pent-up demand for hard information on the topic, as evidenced on various Internet forums on the topic that I ran across, but not a lot of peer-reviewed scientific data by independent researchers. Much of what I did turn up is related to cellphone use, and it should be noted that wireless networks operate a lot lower power than mobile phones, because their range is 150 - 300 feet or so, while the range of mobile phones is several miles.
A recent article by The Register's Linda Harrison cites evidence of a link between mobile phones and Alzheimer's Disease. Ms. Harrison notes that researchers in Sweden have found that radiation emissions from cellphones could lead to conditions such as Alzheimer's Disease.
The immune systems of rats exposed by scientists at the University of Lun to as little as 2-minute zaps of microwave pulses similar to those from a mobile phone were found to be damaged, which in turn "allowed dangerous toxins and proteins to travel from the blood and enter the brain. Once in the brain tissue, there was a higher risk of developing brain or nerve diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis."
The neurologist who carried out the study is quoted saying that: "We saw the opening of the blood-brain barrier even after a short exposure to radiation at the same level as mobile phones."
Ms. Harrison also reports that similar evidence from UK research was found this year. Mobile phones have also been accused of causing certain cancers, memory loss, and even loosening the bowels.
Last January, The Register cited a Daily Mail report that a link between mobile phone use and memory loss had been established in a controlled study by a hospital in Bristol, England. Richie Blackmore, a professor of physiology at Oxford University and former lead guitarist for the '60s rock group Deep Purple, was quoted saying that "There is evidence of an adverse effect on cognitive function, memory and attention [when using mobile phones.]"
Apple's new AirPort networking system operates in the 2.4 GHz Frequency band at an output power of 15 dBm, while cellphones use the 800MHz to 1.9 GHz band. The power output level of cellular phones can range from 0.006 of a watt to 0.6 of a watt for handheld units and three to six watts for portable units. 2.4 GHz is even farther into microwave territory than the cellphone frequencies, and people will be exposed to emissions from wireless LANs for much longer periods of time than all but the most addicted cellphone users. Could the cumulative effect ultimately be as bad or worse? I'd like to know before I invest in wireless networking capability.
Last month, PC Computing published a piece by Gordon Bass entitled "Is Your Cell Phone Killing You?"
Bass notes that there is now more data suggesting possible health hazards related to radiation from cell phones than the FDA had when it banned silicone breast implants.
The problem as it specifically relates to cellphones is that they transmit radio frequency (RF) radiation in the 800MHz to 1,990MHz range, which Mr. Bass notes is "right in the middle of microwave territory" (actually, it's at the lower end of the microwave spectrum). Microwaves are generally known to be unfriendly to living tissue, and it occurs that zapping yourself with them an inch from your brain is not the brightest plan.
In 1993, in response to a Florida lawsuit by a man who claimed his wife developed a brain tumor as a result of her intensive cellphone habit, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) formed Wireless Technology Research (WTR) to study possible health risks of cellphone use.
Gordon Bass quotes WTR chairman George Carlo saying: "We found evidence of genetic damage in human blood.... We have suggestions of excessive mortality from brain cancers among wireless phone users, and we have very clear evidence of a statistically significant higher risk of neuroepithelial tumors."
Why hasn't this information hit the front pages, or even the back ones? Bass speculates that being a cellphone industry body, "The CTIA hasn't exactly encouraged publication of the results."
On the other hand Bass notes that CTIA member Motorola, which produces most of our beloved PowerPC processor chips, and which is also the world's No. 2 manufacturer of cellphones, claims that its research on the devices' possible health effects "meet established guidelines [and] pose no known health risk,"
However, Bass also cites biochemist Jerry Phillips, who worked in Motorola-funded research in the early '90s, and who told Bass that things began to get unpleasant when unwelcome data emerged indicating that RFR exposure could be linked to brain tumors in rats. According to Phillips in the Bass article, Motorola insisted that DNA damage and RF radiation never be mentioned "in the same breath." A senior Motorola spokesman "vehemently denies this claim," says Bass.
What Jerry Phillips and other independent researchers want is "for the industry to accept their findings, allow them to be made public, and then let consumers decide how to react," Bass reports, quoting George Carlo's observation that: "What's wrong is keeping information from the public."
What indeed? As noted above, how many times have we been told by the establishment -- industry and/or government -- to "don't worry, be happy" only to find out later (much too late for some folks) that, sorry: there had been a slight miscalculation and yes, in fact there really was something to worry about?
Again, I don't know who's right in the controversy cited by Mr. Bass, but I personally subscribe to the philosophical dictum that "where there's smoke there is very likely at least some fire," and I would personally not use a cellphone on a regular basis. The idea of my brain cells being heated in the same way as a hamburger in the kitchen food nuker does not appeal.
Dr. Neil Cherry of Lincoln University in New Zealand says that people are being disempowered by being told, "This is too complicated. Trust us. We know what we are doing." His opinion is that is that in many ways those making decisions often don't know what they are doing. "Strong claims by industry representatives and their consultants that there is no scientific evidence to justify the public's fears is scientifically demonstrably wrong," says Dr. Cherry.
Environmental levels of background radio frequency and microwave background radiation have been rising by factors of thousands in the general population since the Second World War -- and according to EPA estimates are increasing at about 15% per year, including radio waves from radio and TV towers, microwaves from cell phones, cell sites, mobile phones, cordless phones, computer LANs and microwave ovens (the latter being a minor problem compared with the others).
According to Dr. Cherry, evidence is very strong that electromagnetic radiation damages cells in a way that is potentially cancer causing.
He cites research where human breast cancer cells, were exposed to an infusion of melatonin, which is a natural neurohormone that helps us sleep at night and which circulates through the bloodstream scavenging free radicals which damage DNA and cause damaged cells which increases cancer risk. By applying a very low level of varying electric field, 50 cycles field, the oncostatic (cancer-fighting) effect of melatonin was totally eliminated.
Dr. Cherry says that the experiment was repeated in three other laboratories with similar results. The strength of the signal used was two to twelve milligauss - a very low level magnetic field magnitude in that wave. The European standard for safety for ELF fields is "20,000 milligauss is safe", while this experiment showed that 2 milligauss causes a significant reduction in the cleansing effect of melatonin on cancer cells.
Another experiment cited by Dr. Cherry found that cellphones held next to the brain caused changes in the brainwaves in 70% of subjects. This test was done at a level of about 2 microwatts per sq. cm., which he says is only a fraction of the actual exposure experienced from cellphones. He also notes research done at the University of Washington where rats' brains were exposed to a microwave signal and showed breaks in DNA associated with increased free radicals and increased cell deaths -- at levels of exposure about what a cell phone produces next to people's heads.
Dr. Cherry also mentions a U.S. National Cancer Institute study of people exposed to microwaves in the workplace, which found that in seven industries in the Eastern U.S. there has been a tenfold increase in brain tumors among employees who have worked there for twenty years.
Neil Cherry's recommended public health protection standard for RF microwaves is 0.1 microwatts per sq. cm. "In my opinion, and in the opinion of many scientists, anyone who uses a mobile telephone for more than 20 minutes at a time needs to have their brain tested," says Welsh bio-electromagnetics scientist Roger Coghill, quoted by Reuters.
The "free radicals" that Dr. Cherry mentions are uncharged groups of atoms containing an unpaired electron, that are very chemically reactive. According to Cyril W. Smith and Simon Best in their book, "Electromagnetic Man, " living organisms need free radicals in order to be able to use oxygen to get energy, but also require means of getting rid of them when no longer required. Free radicals may be produced by either chemical or electrical processes, and can give rise to unwanted chemical reactions that may lead to disease.
Under normal circumstances, the body's free radical scavenging mechanisms work well enough, but increased biological stress caused by emotional factors, physical trauma, chemical toxicity, or infection can simultaneously increase free radical production while inhibiting the body's free radical defenses. Long-term consequences may include various inflammatory degenerative disease conditions often associated with immune system dysfunction, or even cancer.
Free radical reactions are only harmful when they get out of control, say Smith and Best -- this risk being "the price organisms must pay for evolving beyond the anaerobic single cell by using oxygen to increase their efficiency in converting nutrients to available energy."
However, they note that our environment is increasingly polluted with synthetic chemicals and electromagnetic fields which contribute to the biological stress that increases free radical production and overloads the body's free radical regulatory systems.
Microwave News reports that data from ten studies of EMFs and childhood leukemia indicate that the association with measured magnetic fields is "remarkably consistent across studies," according to Dr. Sander Greenland of the University of California, Los Angeles.
An article by Lita Lee, PhD. published by IG Hawaii, Inc. cites a Russian study on thousands of workers who had been exposed to microwaves during the development of radar in the 1950's. Their research indicated health problems so serious that the Russians set strict limits of 10 microwatts for workers and one microwatt for lay people.
Ms. Lee notes that Robert O. Becker's book, "The Body Electric," describes research of the Russians on health effects of microwave radiation which they called microwave sickness. She quotes Becker (page 314) "its first signs are low blood pressure and slow pulse. The later and most common manifestations are chronic excitation of the sympathetic nervous system (stress syndrome) and high blood pressure. This phase also often includes headache, dizziness, eyepain, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, stomach pain, nervous tension, inability to concentrate, hair loss, plus an increased incidence of appendicitis, cataracts, reproductive problems, and cancer. The chronic symptoms are eventually succeeded by crisis of adrenal exhaustion and ischemic heart disease (blockage of coronary arteries and heart attack)."
She notes further than these are general effects of magnetic (60 hz) fields from all electronic devices -- the most common being electric stoves, TV's, VDTs (CRT computer monitors), cellular telephones, portable radio telephones, clock radios (usually placed close to the head of the bed), electric hair dryers, radar gun speed detectors, and ham radios. The list also includes residential magnetic fields from power transmission lines and distributions in the home. The effect has to do with the source of magnetic radiation, says Ms. Lee, as well as the part of the body it strikes. For example, the cellular telephones and the portable radio phones both emit high magnetic fields. When in use, they are held next to the head where the radiation strikes the pineal gland, inhibiting its production of melatonine. Melatonine is a hormone that inhibits breast cancer, among other functions.
An article by Christopher Beaver entitled "The End of Innocence: Cellphones, Cellphone Antennas, Television Transmission Towers, Digital Wireless...and Cancer," cites points made by a Dr. John Goldsmith at an August 23, 1998 forum sponsored by the Ad Hoc Association of Parties Concerned About the Federal Communications Commission's Radio Frequency Health & Safety Rules, which Mr. Beaver moderated.
As summarized by Mr. Beaver, the main points made by Dr. Goldsmith were:
1. Although there may be variations or limitations in the epidemiological research conducted in the field of radiofrequency radiation exposures, these variations do not negate the basic agreement among all the studies he surveyed. There is a clear and significant health risk from exposure to radiofrequency radiation at levels well below the current American standard.
2. From the standpoint of taking immediate action to protect the health and well-being of the public, it is not necessary to understand the exact biological mechanism by which these disorders are produced.
3. The thermal/non-thermal dividing line currently used as the basis for standards of radiofrequency radiation exposures is no more than a "red herring," a distraction from our understanding of the actual health effects of radiofrequency radiation and therefore our ability to protect the public.
4. It increasingly appears invalid to distinguish ionizing from non-ionizing radiation with respect to their health effects.
5. We would be incorrect in targeting cancer as the only or primary marker of public health. There are many additional and serious health effects from overexposure to non-ionizing radiation including, but by no means limited to: Sleep disruption, nervous system disturbances, and psychological disorders. They may be indicators of more life-threatening illnesses to come or not, but they are all deserving of a public health remedy.
Beaver says that "the key point echoed throughout Dr. Goldsmith's presentation was this: Although there may be variations or limitations in the epidemiological research conducted in the field of radiofrequency radiation exposures, these variations do not negate the basic agreement among all the studies he surveyed. Cancer rates and other health problems are elevated among populations exposed to radiofrequency levels one hundred and perhaps a thousand times lower than the current American standard....
"From the standpoint of protecting the well-being of the public, he believes that the epidemiological association is so strong, we should immediately initiate a policy of prudent avoidance. This means that even prior to revising existing radiofrequency safety standards, we should immediately lower exposures to radiofrequency sources wherever and whenever possible."
And this is the point that pertains most strongly to wireless microwave frequency computer networking. Until there is a lot more research available on this issue from disinterested third parties, my own personal policy of "prudent avoidance" will include prudently avoiding wireless LANs, the same as I refuse to use cellular and cordless phones. Happily, in my case that will not be difficult. For many others who will be exposed in work or educational settings, prudent avoidance will be virtually impossible.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I expect that a lot of people who read it will be annoyed that I brought the topic up. There is understandable enthusiasm for the convenience of wireless technology (for a quite comprehensive resource on the topic, check out this Website -- http://hydra.carleton.ca/info/wlan.html), and getting rid of all those pesky wires.
It could be that I am being hyper-cautious about this, and if it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that exposure to low-level radio emissions is safe, I'm willing to listen. However, I want to hear it from sources other than those financed by industry or politically-sensitive government regulatory agencies.
A good source for information on EMF/microwave health hazards is: http://www.microwavenews.com/
Equipment for measuring electromagnetic fields is available from Wandel and Goltermann or from Microwave News.
Some peer-reviewed scientific papers cited by Dr. Neil Cherry are:
'Neurophysiologic Effects of Radio Frequency and Microwave Radiation' W. Ross Adey M.D. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine Vol. 55 No 11 pp 1079-1093, 1979
'Response of Brain Receptor Systems to Microwave Energy Exposure' Kolomytkin et al - a chapter from the book 'On the Nature of Electromagnetic Field Interactions with Biological Systems' ed. Allan Frey, pub 1994, R. G. Landes Company (This article shows the effects on brain chemistry of rats exposed to 915 MHz down to less than 10 microwatts per sq cm.)
'Effects of Pulsed High-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields on Human Sleep' Mann and Roschke in 'Neuropsychobiology' 1996 Vol 33 pp 41-47.
'Low-frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields influence EEG of man' von Klitzing in 'Physica Medica' April - June 1995 Vol 11 pp 77-80