Microwave and Radiofrequency Radiation Exposure: A growing environmental
health crisis? (15/10/02)
Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens'
San Francisco Medicine
A Journal of the San Francisco Medical Society. March 2001
Prepared by Cindy Sage, Sage Associates
1225 Coast Village Road, Suite G
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
RADIOFREQUENCY RADIATION EXPOSURE: A GROWING ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Can radiofrequency radiation RFR) adversely affect vital processes
in the human body? The answer is clearly yes. Can this occur
at environmental levels of exposure? The answer is clearly yes.
Which processes? What levels? This short paper is an introduction
to what we know (and do not know) about RFR.
Bioeffects that are reported to result from RF exposure include changes
in cell membrane function, major changes in calcium metabolism and cellular
signal communication, cell proliferation, activation of proto-oncogenes,
activation of HSP heat shock proteins as if heat ing has occurred when
it has not, and cell death. Resulting effects which are reported
in the scientific literature include DNA breaks and chromosome aberrations,
increased free radical production, cell stress and premature aging, changes
in brain function including memory loss, learning impairment, headaches
and fatigue, sleep disorders, neurodegenerative conditions, reduction
in melatonin secretion, and cancer. The virtual revolution in science
taking place now is based on a growing recognition that non-thermal or
low intensity RF exposure can be detected in living tissues and result
in well-defined bioeffects.
The most rapidly growing environmental pollutant in today's environment
is probably electromagnetic fields (EMF) including radiofrequency radiation.
Public exposure to electromagnetic radiation (radiofrequency and microwave)
is growing exponentially worldwide with the introduction and use of cordless
phones, cellular phones, pagers and antennas in communities designed to
transmit their RF signals. Cell phone exposures can be intense
enough to cause DNA damage and/or failure to repair DNA damage in the
brain. Its not necessarily the heating that causes damage.
It appears to be exposure to non-thermal levels of RFR that interferes
with normal body processes in the brain, skull, ear, and nerves of the
head, neck and face. Casual use (a few hours per month) has not
yet been linked to increased brain tumors, But heavy users
like some business travelers, realtors and physicians have not yet been
studied as a group so any reassurance given to cell phone users in recent
media coverage of the Muscat study, for example, is false reassurance.
The Muscat (JAMA, 2001) study compared infrequent users (less than
one hour per month) to frequent users (greater than 10 hours per month)
effectively blurring any effect for users who may bill 1000 or 2000 or
even 2500 minutes per month. However, even this study did report
a doubling of risk for neuroepithelial tumors. And a tripling of
eye cancer (uveal melanoma) was recently reported in cell phone users.
The first cancer related to cordless phone use was reported in Sweden
where such use was linked to development of an angiosarcoma. Some
oncologists and brain cancer surgeons report they have excised brain tumors
positioned along the antenna alignment and on the side of the head as
the cell phone has been used in heavy cell phone users. Although the US
media has been relatively silent on reporting studies linking RFR to health
effects, this is not true of western European countries, Australian, Israel,
the former USSR and China.
Chronic long-term exposure to lower-level RFR from wireless antennas is
also linked to some of these effects, particularly on the immune system,
mental function, sleep interference and on DNA. These exposures
are reported in the range of 0.1 to 10 or 20 micrwatts per centimeter
squared exposure (a measure of power density in the air). An alternate
measure is SAR or specific absorption rate which tells how much energy
deposition occurs inside the body (how much RFR is absorbed by different
tissues). SARs as low as 0.0024 watts/kilogram whole body
exposure at cell phone frequencies are reported to cause serious
interference with body processes (in this case DNA damage and/or DNA repair
Long-term and cumulative exposure to such massively increased RF has no
precedent in history. These exposures simply did not exist 150 years
ago. Life on earth evolved with vanishingly small RF exposures,
most of that from natural lightning. We have increased the background
nonionizing radiation by 1012. There is no conclusive scientific
evidence on the safety or risk of such exposures, but a growing body of
scientific evidence reports such bioeffects and adverse health effects
are possible, if not probable. The weight of the evidence that bioeffects
occur with RFR exposure is beyond argument and some of the evidence suggests
that serious health effects may result, particularly from cumulative or
chronic exposure. Scientific study on cumulative effects is
very incomplete, and some studies report that low-intensity chronic exposure
may produce permanent adverse health consequences.
Public policies to address the issue of decision making in the face of
this scientific uncertainty are evolving but are far behind the growth
curve of wireless communications. The global infrastructure will
be in place before we know what the health risks will be. The precautionary
principle (erring on the side of conservatism) is frequently promoted
by public health advocates given the massive public health risk that is
possible if such exposure is carcinogenic or has other adverse bioeffects.
Even if the risk to an individual is slight (which is at present suspected
but not conclusively proven), the sheer number of people around the globe
who may be at risk makes this policy choice of utmost importance. At present,
no US agency systematically monitors health effects from radiofrequency/microwave
radiation. The wireless industry was recently required to provide
mobile phone buyers with the SAR (specific absorption rate or a
measure of energy absorbed into the brain from mobile phones). The
industry has stated it will not post SARs on the box, but place it hidden
inside to prevent comparison shopping. The FDA is allowing this
as compliance with its recommendation to provide meaningful information
to the public.
The United States has a de facto policy of "post-sales surveillance"
with respect to mobile phones. That means mobile phones can be sold
to the public, and only after years of use might there be studies to characterize
what health consequences, if any, have arisen as a result. In shorter
terms, "we are the experiment" for health effects. "Post-sales
surveillance" is inadequate to protect existing users.
And given that the US has no research funding for RF exposure, there will
be no systemmatic look at what mobile phone use does to people.
WEIGHT OF THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE FOR NONTHERMAL
RADIOFREQUENCY/MICROWAVE RADIATION HEALTH EFFECTS
While the scientific community continues to study and understand the physical
(and quantum mechanic) basis for electromagnetic effects on living systems,
there is little to protect or inform the public about consequences of
unlimited reliance on these new technologies. For all the potential
good which such inventions bring to us, including the immeasurable benefit
of the telecommunications/internet revolution, we must be vigilant about
what consequences may come uninvited.
The evidence for an association between RFR and bioeffects in living systems
spans the entire range from effects on individual atoms (calcium) and
molecules (DNA or the genetic code in each living cell) to humans and
other mammalian species. In the past 50 years, experimentation across
the electromagnetic spectrum of frequencies has found replicable bioeffects
on everything from mice to humans. The cascade of biological, chemical
and physical events that occur in living systems in response to RFR is
better understood as the multi-disciplinary scientific community and its
science matures. Disease is not the only endpoint of this research.
The potential medicinal applications of RFR treatment may also offer
an unparalleled opportunities for healing and wellness as we gain understanding
of how the body receives, processes and responds to this subtle
information contained in radiofrequency/microwave energy.
SYMPTOMS OF ELECTROSENSITIVITY/ELECTROSTRESS
The environmental illness is sometimes termed electrostress or technostress,
electrosensitivity or electric allergy. Patients may comment on
minor, annoying symptoms or they may be severely debilitated. EMF/RFR
exposures can interfere with sleep, work and normal life. What kinds
of symptoms might a physician hear from a patient? The most common
. headaches, dizziness and nausea
. failing memory, confusion and spatial disorientation
. pain and burning feeling in the eyes
. parched, thirsty or dry feeling that is not quenched with
. ringing in the ears (tinnitus or similar chronic ear-noise)
. irregular heartbeat and palpitations (shaky stressed feeling)
. fatigue or exhaustion
. insomnia and sleep difficulties
. skin rashes and sunburn-like redness and swelling of face
. burning or tingling of face and extremities
. light sensitivity
Symptoms quickly improve when away from EMF/RFR sources, particularly
when the patient moves away from computers, interior fluorescent lighting,
transformers, wireless antenna exposures, cell phones and cordless phones,
appliances and out of proximity to freeways, electrical substations and
powerlines, airports, military bases and doppler or other radar installations.
All these are potential sources of higher than normal EMF/RFR exposure.
Symptoms return very quickly on returning to the original environment.
Over time, it appears that sensitivity is increased to smaller and smaller
EMF/RFR exposures. Chemical sensitivities (to paints, pesticides,
heavy metals, etc) may preceed
electrostress symptoms and patients are often both chemically and electrically
sensitive. Around the world and particularly in the Scandinavian
countries, there are growing populations of electrosensitive people
who have abandoned normal urban/suburban lifestyles because of incapacitating
symptoms. In Sweden it is estimated that several thousand people
live in remote areas without electricity and away from wireless antenna
RFR in order to avoid these symptoms.
Treatment is not well established, but "radiofrequency illness"
is recognized to be a true medical syndrome in many countries around the
world. Patients report that eliminating exposures to EMF/RFR is
the primary way they deal with their symptoms. Occupational exposures
that result in chronic symptoms generally cannot be treated without a
change in work environnment. Some researchers find anti-oxidents
can retard or eliminate RFR effects in cellular studies (probably by reducing
free-radical damage or cellular stress known to occur with RFR exposure).
WHAT EFFECTS HAVE BEEN REPORTED WITH USE OF MOBILE
PHONES AND OTHER NONTHERMAL EXPOSURES TO RADIOFREQUENCY/MICROWAVE RADIATION?
. Sleeplessness/impaired sleep patterns/decrease in REM sleep
. Memory loss (short-term memory deficit)
. Slowed motor skills and reaction time
. A 4-fold increase in motor vehicle accidents
. A 9-fold increase in deaths from motor vehicle accidents (highest fatality
rate under 20 years age)
. Spatial disorientation
. Headaches, facial and tooth pain
. Blood brain barrier changes (pathological leakage in BBB)
. Loss of concentration and 'fuzzy thinking'
. Suppression of the lymphocyte effectiveness (immune function)
. Increase in serum cortisol (stress hormone)
. Increased heart rate
. Increased blood pressure
. Change in the brain's electrical activity
. DNA damage
. Cell proliferation
. Neuroepithelial tumors
. Acoustic neuromas
. Angiosarcoma of the scalp (with cordless phone)
. Salivary tumors
. Uveal melanomas (rare cancer of the eye)
. Lymphoma (doubling of risk with chronic exposure)
. Increased HSP gene activity (heat shock protein response)
. Decrease in melatonin production
. Decrease in testosterone and insulin
. Calcium efflux in cells (calcium is a critical component to cellular
communication and proper growth regulation of cells).
AND NOW FOR SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE: WHAT
ABOUT CORDLESS PHONES IN YOUR HOME (AS OPPOSED TO MOBILE OR MOBILE PHONES)?
Cordless phones that you use around the house have far lower levels of
RFR, but they still produce RFR that a land line does not. In preference,
use a land line, then a cordless, then a mobile phone for continual use,
particularly for children.
.A land line produces no RFR .A cordless phone produces about 10 microwatts/cm2
.A mobile phone produces about 150 microwatts/cm2
WHAT DOES THIS SAY FOR DRIVING AND USING A CELL
PHONE AT THE SAME TIME?
Cell phone use by a driver of a car increases the risk of accident by
4 X (a four hundred percent risk) which is equivalent to driving under
the influence of alcohol. This may be due both to the distraction
and to physical effects of cell phone RFR on the brain, eye and body of
the cell phone user.
ARE CHILDREN AT ANY GREATER RISK?
Probably yes, since children are growing, and their cells are turning
over faster than adults. Many of the studies linking power lines
and cancer show that children are particularly sensitive to low EMF levels
from chronic exposure, and develop leukemias in response. The use
of "kiddy mobile phones" with a button for mom and a button
for dad are terrible ideas at this point.
SECOND HAND RADIATION
If you are sitting or standing near a person using a mobile phone, be
aware that you are within their radiation pattern for a few feet in all
If you are using a mobile phone in the car, your passenger and very possibly
your kids in the back seat are within the radiation pattern of the mobile
Involuntary exposure to RFR may ultimately be viewed as unacceptable as
to "second-hand smoke".
In other countries like Japan, there are mobile phone jammers that can
be used to kill mobile phone transmissions. They are popular in
restaurants, theaters and on the subway. They cover a large room
HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE TELECOM ADS THAT PROMOTE
THE USE OF MOBILE PHONES IN EMERGENCIES?
A mobile phone may be fine for infrequent or emergency calls, like an
insurance policy in case of trouble. But to focus exclusively on
the benefits of wireless communication, while denying any potential health
effects is disingenuous.
WHAT ABOUT THE CELL TOWERS IN NEIGHBORHOODS?
It is worrisome, however, that the installation of antennas go up in neighborhood
locations, near schools, churches and homes. These wireless antennas
expose people to involuntary, chronic RFR. Low levels of RFR, which have
been shown to be bioactive and are associated with changes in cell proliferation
and DNA damage.
If you are within the first 500 feet of a cell site, you are most
probably exposed to RFR above the Salzburg limit of 0.1 µW/cm2.
For a macrocell (2000-2800 watts effective radiated power), these fields
can be elevated above 0.1 µW/cm2 for several thousand feet at equal elevation.
Therefore, siting must take into account where people live, work and go
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CURRENT SITING PROCEDURE
FOR WIRELESS ANTENNAS?
. local agencies are prevented from considering RFR health and safety
issues in siting/zoning
. the FCC is in charge of RFR , but they do not recognize athermal
or nonthermal RFR health effects
. the current FCC standard is 1000 µW/cm2
. some scientific studies show adverse health effects reported in
the 0.01 to 100 µW/cm2 range (far lower)
. cell antennas can be hidden (stealth installations) like fake
trees, bell towers, etc.
. the consumer should be able to know where they are located in
order to avoid them (buying a home, for example)
. Antenna farms on rooftops are big business
. some cities and counties are turning their collective heads away
from RFR health concerns, while collecting fat fees for leasing out their
properties for cell towers. There is a disincentive to protect the public.
. Other countries limit public exposure to 0.1 µW/cm2 in recognition
of bioeffects and potential adverse health effects of nonthermal RFR exposure
WHAT ARE SCIENTISTS AND PUBLIC POLICY RESEARCHERS
SAYING ABOUT RFR?
The Vienna Resolution (October 1998) provided a consensus statement signed
by sixteen of the world's leading bioelectromagnetics researchers.
It says there is scientific agreement that biological effects from low
intensity RF exposures are scientifically established. It also says that
existing scientific knowledge is inadequate to set reliable exposure standards.
That means, no safe exposure can be established. It also urges that
there be public participation in making decisions about setting limits,
and advises that technical information be made available for comparison
of EMF exposure in communication devices so that users can make informed
decisions for prudent avoidance of EMF.
The Salzburg Resolution (June 2000) was adopted at the International Conference
on Cell Tower Siting and would prohibit any cell site from emanating more
than 0.1 microwatt/centimeter squared. This would reduce public
exposure below 0.1 µW/cm2 in all places. It is a limit that takes into
account nonthermal RF bioeffects and reported health effects.
AT WHAT POINT DO WE ADOPT STRATEGIES THAT ARE
PROTECTIVE OF PUBLIC HEALTH? HOW MUCH SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE DO WE
NEED TO DO SO? WHO SHOULD BEAR THE BURDEN OF PROOF?
IF CHRONIC EXPOSURE STUDIES ARE NEVER DONE, OR THEY DO NOT REFELCT "REAL
LIFE" EXPOSURES, HOW CAN WE EVER KNOW?
Scientific certainty about the potential for health effects from low intensity
RF/MW radiation is not necessary for wise public health decision-making,
as long as research continues to identify what, if any, specific
exposure conditions may contribute to disease.
The basis for decision-making about a relationship between electromagnetic
fields radiofrequency and microwave radiation and adverse health effects
at low intensity exposures rests on two key areas. The first is
the "weight of the scientific evidence" pointing to a relationship
betweeen RF/MW and illness. The scientific evidence needs to be
reported to decision-makers in a format that is concise, understandable
The second is definition of the basis on which the evidence is judged
to be sufficient to take interim or permanent public health steps to reduce
risk. Conclusive scientific evidence should not be implicitly
or explicitly set as the goal required before any action can be taken
to limit public exposure to RF/MW from wireless communications. Given
the potential for a very large world-wide public health impact if even
a small health risk is present, interim public health actions should
be proportionately triggered to the weight of scientific evidence as it
grows in support of adverse health effects at low-intensity exposure levels.
Industry has been very active in setting the research agenda, funding
RF studies, choosing the researchers, interpreting the results, and providing
the media spin on findings.
Further Information: Contact Sage Associates at firstname.lastname@example.org
and visit Sageassociates, net on the web (particularly Radiofrequency)
A technical manuscript on Radiofrequency Radiation Health Studies is available
at a nominal charge for copy and shipping (ask for Testimony to the UK
and Scottish Parliaments by Sage Associates.