We are unwittingly living in an increasing “noisy” world, full of powerful electromagnetic radiation (EMR) fields, generated by mobile and cordless phones, wireless technology, personal digital assistants (PDAs), computers, power lines, mobile phone base stations and other transmitting masts, and microwave ovens – all of which release a constant bombardment of EMR.
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. Having been brought up on Star Trek, I believe that any technology that can make living and communicating easier is to be welcomed – but not at the expense of health. So when microwave ovens, cordless phones, and mobiles came on the market, I bought them all with barely a thought to the background noise of concern. But in the past several years, I’ve read several worrying reports on the potential hazards of EMR.
I grew so concerned with what I was reading that I did two things. First, I bought a device called an Electrosmog Detector, which turns EMR into sound. The louder and dirtier the sound, the more aggressive the EMR signal. I turned on my microwave oven and the Electrosmog Detector howled, and only stopped howling 15 feet away, even if I stood behind a solid brick wall. Before I entered the room where my cordless phone base is located, the signal was strong. And close up, it was as strong as the microwave oven. My mobile phone howled when I turned it on and it found its signal, and howled every time I made or received a call – even from several feet away. It was just as bad when I attached my earpiece and held it close up. Turning this invisible energy into sound made a huge difference to me.
Next, I did additional research. I read well-respected medical journals. I looked into safety regulations in a wide variety of countries, including the UK, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand. I also delved into the technological and biotech publications.
In this report, I’d
like to share with you the evidence I have found for the potentially harmful
effects of EMR. Though there is conflicting evidence on the subject – and there
is still much that we don’t know – I’m concerned about the situation enough to
let you know what you can do to reduce your risk.
Fortunately, there are some simple precautions you can take to radically reduce your EMR exposure, without substantially altering your lifestyle.
Much like the colour spectrum, there is also a spectrum of different kinds of electric radiation, going from high frequency to low frequency. At the high-frequency end, there are gamma rays in deep space, then x-rays, ultraviolet radiation (UV), visible light, infrared, microwaves (the stuff that cooks your dinner and powers your mobile phone), radio waves, then finally extremely low frequencies (ELFs) that radiate from your computer and other similar electrical devices. The higher the frequency, the more energy the signal has, and the greater the potential to damage you. Hence the danger of gamma rays, x-rays, and UV radiation.
The frequencies at the lower end of the spectrum (radio waves and ELF) don’t have the potential to ‘cook’ you in the same way those at the higher end do – they don’t have the same penetration power. For example, computers, televisions and other household gadgets give off ELF, all of which can generate heat when used for long periods of time. However, there really isn’t a concern with these appliances, unless you are very close to them for several hours at a time.
So, what is EMR (electro-magnetic radiation)? Anything that radiates – from the sun to your radio – has a certain amount of electricity. This travels as a frequency, and from this traveling electricity emanates a magnetic field.
While electric radiation is measured in Volts and Watts, magnetic radiation is measured in microTesla (µT). Throughout this article, I will be referring to microTesla when discussing levels of magnetic radiation and Watts when referring to electric radiation.
Researchers are Saying
As long ago as 1990, Dr Neil Cherry – a recognized world expert in EMR from New Zealand – conducted a large review of all available research and published a report. This recommended that power line ELFs be declared a probable carcinogen, and that microwaves and radio waves be declared possible carcinogens.
In July 2001, the California Health Department issued a major EMR report for public discussion, citing an added risk of miscarriage, childhood and adult leukemia, adult brain cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a form of motor neuron disease) as just a few of the health risks associated with exposure to electric and magnetic fields, such as those that radiate from power lines. (1)
Similarly, there are several surveys showing that people who work in environments with high levels of EMR exposure are at greater risk for breast cancer. One study in particular found increased breast cancer in women, as well as men, working in the electrical industry. (2) Other studies have shown that EMR exposure reduces the effectiveness of the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen. (3)
While we don’t yet know why EMR is causing these increases in cancer, most experts agree that there is a correlation. In fact, three major health organisations – the UK National Radiological Protection Board Advisory Group on Non-Ionizing Radiation (AGNIR), the US National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – all agree that magnetic fields are in fact a possible carcinogen for humans. Their conclusion is based on the pooled analyses of large-scale studies which show a doubling of childhood leukemia risk associated with magnetic field exposures above 0.4 µT. , (4, 5)
Mobile phones are used by 70% of people in Britain. Many report minor symptoms, such as headaches and brain fog, from frequent use. If you use it a lot, you can certainly feel the heat. But is anything more sinister going on? Well, according to a study published last year in the journal Oncology, there is.
Researchers from the Department of Oncology, University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden selected 1,617 people who had been diagnosed with brain cancer, and compared that to a similar number of people matched for age and anything else relevant. They then surveyed the two groups for mobile phone use. They found that those who spent more than an hour a day on a mobile phone increased their risk of a brain tumour by about 30%. The greatest risk was found for a particular kind of brain tumour called an astrocytoma. After comparing the location of the tumour (left or right side of the brain) with the left or right side use of mobile phones, researchers found that there was indeed a connection. Mobile phone users had an 80% higher risk of having an astrocyte on the side of their head that they most often held their mobile phone to. They found a comparable 20% increased incidence in cordless phone users. (6)
A large international case-control study is currently underway, coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is expected to include 6500 cases of brain tumour from 13 countries, as well as 1000 cases of acoustic neuroma.
Previous animal studies have found an increased risk of cancer. An experiment at the Royal Adelaide Hospital funded by Telstra, an Australian phone company, involved mice that were genetically engineered through a gene tending to increase lymphomas in the immune system. In one group, 22% developed lymphomas. In another group of mice, exposed to a mobile phone signal for one hour per day, the rate of lymphomas increased to 43% – almost double.
Currently, there are 25 patents at the US patent office for anti-cancer shields for mobile phones, but nobody wants to blow the whistle before they have to. One patent filed with the US patent office states “continued exposure to radio frequency irradiation could lead to a development of malignant tumour”!
Mobile Phones and Other Health Concerns
Most of the studies mentioned earlier are based on old-style analogue phones. Today, we use more and more digital signals. To transfer more information faster, the trend is towards using higher frequencies. To achieve this, masts are being placed closer and closer to population centres, often on street lamps. What’s more, the digital signals are pulsed, which may be much worse for your health.
Let me explain why. Imagine being in either a lit room or a dark room. No problem with these two scenarios. Now turn the lights on and off every second. This creates massive biological stress. Well, the same thing is happening with these digital signals, and we really have very little idea what effect this is having.
The reason this may be such bad news is that the light-sensitive cells in your brain can’t tell the difference between light and microwave signals. Lights turn off melatonin production in the pineal gland. (Melatonin acts as an antioxidant, cleaning up your cells and hence reducing cancer risk.)
At night, when there is no light, melatonin production goes up. If you have a clock radio (which contains a transformer) – or even worse, a base station for a cordless phone – next to your bed, your pineal is receiving what it thinks is a light signal. The net result is worse sleep, less REM dream sleep, and less health-promoting melatonin.
Of course, these are the more serious and physically measurable effects. The thin edge of the wedge, so to speak, are effects on memory and a possible later contribution to Alzheimer’s disease, fatigue, headaches and suppressed immunity. Roger Coghill, a committee member of the Institute of Biology from Wales, took blood from healthy people and exposed their blood to a signal similar to what one would receive from mobile phone radiation. He found that white cells became damaged within hours. (7) Rats exposed to equivalent mobile phone signals have been found to have neuronal brain damage, suggesting a possible link to dementia. These effects are less easy to measure and may accumulate in the long term. However, EMR-sensitive individuals frequently report these symptoms.
Also of concern is recent evidence linking mobile phone use with decreased sperm counts in men. Research from the University of Szeged in Hungary found an average 30% reduced sperm count, and less health sperm, in frequent mobile phone users compared to non-users. (8) While the mechanism that would explain this association isn’t yet known, this does not bode well for men who carry their mobile phones in their trouser pockets.
What Levels Are Safe?
While some experts do agree that magnetic fields are likely to be carcinogenic, they don’t agree as to what level of electric or magnetic exposure is unsafe. Evidence is now accumulating that exposure to magnetic fields measuring 0.2 microtesla (µT) could have harmful effects to health. Swedish advisory authorities recommend no more than this, as do three regions in Italy. In Switzerland, the limit for new installations and appliances is 1.0 µT. In Australia, a civil court case against an energy company led to a court ruling of a limit of 0.4 µT, due to evidence that levels above this could lead to twice the number of cases of leukemia.
Professor Denis Henshaw, an expert in EMR from the University of Bristol in England and advisor to the Human Radiation Effects Group, recommends a “prudent avoidance of magnetic fields above 0.2 µT.” (9) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also endorsed avoiding exposure to elevated levels of EMR, though they have haven’t committed to a specific level.
All of this is in sharp contrast to the ‘official’ position of the UK government. The UK National Radiological Board, who advises the British government, set their limit at 1,600 µT! And the current European standard for safety is 20,000 µT!
Phone Mast Regulation
Similar vast differences in safety controls exist for mobile phone masts. If you compare the allowed power transmission for equivalent kinds of masts in different countries, Britain and America are the worst. In the UK, the allowed signal is 5,800 microwatts per cm2. In the US, it’s 580; in Australia, it’s 200; in New Zealand, it’s 50; in Italy and Russia, it’s 10; in China, it’s 5; Switzerland is 4; and in Salzburg, Austria, home of many leading EMR scientists, it’s 0.1!
In Russia, there is a 2000 metre (6560 feet) safety zone around phone masts, and in New Zealand, they have a 500 metre (1640 feet) buffer around masts where no one is allowed to live. But in the UK , the limit for base station is only 20 metres (65 feet)!
Keeping your distance from mobile phone base
stations is not necessarily the safest option however, as according to research
published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the radiation
emitted by your phone can be up to 1,000 times greater in isolated, rural locations
than in built-up areas where there are plenty of base stations, as phones seem
to have to work much harder to gain a signal.x (10) This would suggest that you
are better off away from phone masts while not using your mobile, it is in fact
better not to be too remote when you are making a call,
Mobile Phone Safety Guidelines
The current measure used to classify a mobile phone as ‘safe’ is called the specific absorption rating (SAR). The SAR level relates to the intensity of the signal, which is measured as watts per kilogram (W/kg). This means the amount of electrical power (Watt) hitting a kilogram of, eg, your brain. Each mobile phone company has to measure the SAR level of electrical radiation from their phones. The current control on mobile phones is 2 W/kg. This is soon likely to be halved, since there is undeniable evidence for changes in acetylcholine activity in the brain at about 1.0 W/kg. (Acetylcholine is the key memory neurotransmitter, so one can reasonably predict that this would cause learning and memory problems.) However, most of the experts I’ve spoken to think that a restriction of 0.1 W/kg across the board would be much more appropriate.
Currently, the best phones on the market have a SAR of less than 0.5. To discover the SAR of your personal phone, visit the Mobile Operators Association website or call your mobile phone company.
Check Your Levels
Of course, the big question is, what is your exposure to EMR? The only real way to find out is to do what I did and get a device such as an Electrosmog Detector which measures the electrical power of any signal in a wide range of frequencies including microwave (that includes mobile phones and other communication technology) – but don’t expect to hang on to it for long. My colleagues and friends at work have become serial borrowers! Within one week, eight people had borrowed my Electrosmog Detector! One work colleague found a ‘hot spot’ in their bedroom and traced it to the ceiling. It was coming from the apartment above! Another found a mobile phone mast on their street, helping them identify which houses not to buy.
But before you think you’re only safe in a wigwam, magnetic ‘pollution’ is generally only an issue when you are very close to the source. To put this in context, the average house has a background magnetic field of 0.04 µT, well below the 0.2 µT that your mobile phone (when turned on) might score if you hold it next to your head.
The good news, as least as far as magnetic radiation is concerned, is that you can cut the effect dramatically by keeping your distance. As you double the distance you are from the source, you reduce your exposure to its magnetic field to less than an eighth of the strength you’d encounter close-up. That’s why the small field from a computer or TV has little effect if you can keep some distance. The same is true with a microwave oven.
If you have a cordless phone base right by your bed or on your desk at work, you could be exposed to up to 5 µT from pulsed fields for several hours a day. If you stand three feet away from a microwave oven when it’s on, you’ll be exposed to 2 µT, but that’s only short-term exposure. However, that doesn’t take into account what it’s doing to the food. If your bedroom, living room, or office is in close proximity to a mobile phone mast or above-ground power line (especially if there’s a transformer hanging off the pole), you could be exposed to a field of up to 10 µT, depending on how close you are.
Unless you happen to live or work over a power line, under a power pylon, or next to a mobile phone mast, your most likely sources of EMR radiation are primarily mobile phones and cordless phones. Professor Lawrie Challis from the University of Nottingham, an expert used by the government to evaluate risk from EMR, says radiation exposure from a mast was at most 1/1000th that from mobile phones. In fact, speaking on a mobile phone for just a few seconds was equivalent to standing in the direct beam of a mast for 24 hours.
You Can Do
In practical terms, what does all this mean for you? You can wait until everything is known and proven beyond a doubt before you take action – by which time you will probably have exposed yourself to years of radiation. Or you can take this seriously and do a few, simple, common-sense things to protect yourself from EMR. As a scientist, having spoken to many experts in this field, I am convinced there is a definite connection between adverse health effects and EMR, and that we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. If you agree, here’s what you can do:
• Get an Electrosmog
Detector and check out your appliances and hot spots in your home
and office. Don’t buy a new house without checking it out.
• Place your bed and desk in a low signal area.
• Minimise your use of mobile phones. If possible, save for emergencies only.
• Buy a mobile with a low SAR rating.
• If you use your phone in the car, install a hands-free unit.
• Make sure your cordless phone base station is neither in your bedroom or close to where you sit a lot. Ideally, don’t have one..
• Make sure you are at least 10 feet away from your microwave oven when it is on.
• Don’t keep a clock radio right by your bed.
• If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, place the monitor about two feet or more away from you. Try increasing the print size on the screen so you can read it from farther away.
For more information on electromagnetic radiation, visit www.niehs.nih.gov/emfrapid/booklet/basics.htm. To find out more about radio waves from mobile phones, cordless phones, etc., go to www.nrpb.org/understand/radiowaves/radiowaves.htm.
Mobile Phone Earpieces
Be very careful when using earpieces that attach to your mobile phone. If used properly, they can reduce your exposure to EMR. But if used improperly, they actually increase your risk.
To ensure you are using your earpiece safely, be sure the earpiece is at least three feet away from your mobile phone. An easy way to do this is to place the phone on a table or chair next to you, or on the passenger seat if you are in your car. This will help to reduce your exposure to the magnetic field.
Make sure the wire is running away from the phone, not running up the length of your phone (effectively extending in the aerial that is now hidden in most phones), as you could increase the EMR up to 300%! The reason for this is that any wire that conducts electricity to your phone acts as an antenna and doubles the incoming radiation, as well as the outgoing information.
High Risk Appliances
The following appliances are likely to be exposing you to EMR. They are listed from the highest to lowest risk. Their rating is affected, however, by how close you are to the source.
Cordless (DECT) phones, especially
the base station
Mobile phones, with or without earphones
Electric radio clocks
Electric blanket (if on)
Mobile phone masts
Underground power lines
TV or computer screens
Central heating pumps
1. Neutra RR et al. 2002. An evaluation of the possible risks from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines, internal wiring, electrical occupations and appliances. California EMF Program.
2. Caplan LS et al. 2000. Breast cancer and electromagnetic fields--a review. Annals of Epidemiology 10(1):31-44.
3. Harland JD, Liburdy RP. 1997. Environmental magnetic fields inhibit the antiproliferative action of tamoxifen and melatonin in a human breast cancer cell line. Bioelectromagnetics 18(8):555-562.
4. Ahlbom et al. 2000. A pooled analysis of magnetic fields and childhood cancer. British Journal of Cancer 83(5):692-698.
5. Greenland et al. 2000. A pooled analysis of magnetic fields, wire codes and childhood leukemia. Epidemiology 11:624-634.
6. Hardell L et al. 2003. Further aspects on cellular and cordless telephones and brain tumours. International Journal of Oncology 22(2):399-340.
7. Report from the 2000 International Committee for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Conference Proceedings in Ismaning, Germany.
8. Fejes I et al. 2004. Relationship between regular cell phone use and human semen quality. Paper presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology Annual Meeting, ESHRE, Berlin.
9. Henshaw D. 2002. Does our electricity distribution system pose a serious risk to public health? Medical Hypotheses 59:39-51
10. Kundi M. 2004. Mobile phone use and cancer. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 61(6):560-70, 487
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