Newsletter (11 February 2004)

It’s Genetics, Stupid

Dear Colleagues:

We have recently posted a commentary, "It's Genetics, Stupid," on our Web site. It's on EMFs and breast cancer and was prompted by a new paper from Wolfgang Loescher's group in Germany.

Excerpt from a message from Don Maisch

February 2004

Wolfgang Löscher has suffered numerous personal attacks for his work on EMFs and breast cancer. But, he struggled on and now he may have resolved a fundamental problem in EMF research: Why different labs doing what appear to be identical experiments, get different results.

First a little history. Beginning in 1993, Löscher and Meike Mevissen at the Hannover Medical School in Germany published a series of studies in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals showing that EMFs can promote breast cancer in Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats after being initiated with the known carcinogen DMBA. The work begged to be repeated, and Gary Boorman of the U.S. NIEHS, who at the time was in the midst of running the EMF RAPID research program, asked Larry Anderson at the Battelle labs in Richland, WA, to give it a try. But they botched the job.

In the first two of three experiments, the dose of DMBA given to the rats —although the same as the amount used by Löscher— had a much stronger effect in Anderson’s lab in Washington state than in Löscher’s. Without any EMF exposure, 92-96% of Anderson’s SD rats developed tumors, compared to about 40% among Löscher’s SD rats in Hannover. The DMBA had caused so many breast tumors in the Battelle rats that there was no room to see any possible increase brought on by EMFs. These two experiments should have been tossed out, but Boorman refused, no doubt because, in his own mind, they suppported his conviction that EMFs are benign. A third Battelle experiment using less DMBA, did not show any EMF promotion.

With only one reliable experiment —one that did not agree with the much larger body of work carried out by Löscher— Boorman decided that Anderson was right and Löscher was wrong. NIEHS’ Christopher Portier, who would later take over as the head of the Environmental Toxicology Program, sided with Boorman and counted all three experiments as showing no EMF effect. In the NIEHS report to Congress on the EMF RAPID program, Portier wrote that the Battelle studies provide “strong evidence” that EMFs do not promote breast cancer. [emphasis added]

But Boorman was not satisfied with simply championing Anderson. He began a dirty tricks campaign to discredit Löscher. Other EMF skeptics joined in the attacks. At the 1998 NIEHS working group meeting to evaluate EMF health risks. Jerry Williams of Johns Hopkins University prepared a minority report —with NIEHS’ blessing— arguing that Löscher’s work was “fundamentally flawed.”

Fed up with the way he was being treated, Löscher wrote to Boorman saying that he had never been treated so shabbily during his 25-year scientific career (MWN, N/D98). George Lucier, the then head of the Environmental Toxicology Program, later apologized on behalf of NIEHS.

Löscher may have been beaten up but he was not giving up. He still wanted to know why he was seeing EMF effects with his DMBA–treated SD rats while Anderson did not. To his credit, Anderson joined Löscher’s quest. Together they explored the possible reasons for the divergent findings. Meanwhile, Löscher sought and received funding from the German Research Foundation to continue his search.

Back to the present

Löscher’s new paper presents a logical and elegant explanation as to what had happened. It is a tour de force and should be required reading at the NIEHS. (We ran an editorial applauding this work when it was first presented in 2002.) Löscher has shown that two substrains of SD rats (one in Germany and one in the U.S.), while apparently very similar, responded very differently to both the DMBA alone and to the combined DMBA–EMF exposures. Small genetic variations in the rats determined the way their breast tumors developed.

Löscher had been busy not only in the lab but also in the library. For instance, he found a paper, published back in 1984 by a team at TNO (the same TNO that recently implicated RF radiation from mobile phone towers with health complaints). TNO reported that two different lines of SD rats responded very differently to both DMBA and to ionizing radiation. Back then, TNO wrote that, “inherent differences exist between [SD] rats obtained in the U.S. and The Netherlands with respect to their mammary responses to DMBA, and also in their responses to radiation.

Sound familiar? Simply replace “radiation” by “EMFs” and “Germany” for “The Netherlands” and that same sentence could have been the conclusion of a Battelle–NIEHS investigation —if NIEHS had had any interest in doing such study.

In his new paper appearing in the January 1 issue of Cancer Research, Löscher also suggests that differences in genetic susceptibility may account for what transpired in another ugly chapter of EMF research.

In the early 1990s, Reba Goodman of Columbia University and Ann Henderson of Hunter College, both in New York City, published a number of papers showing that weak ELF EMFs could modulate gene expression. Adam Lacy-Hulbert working in James Metcalfe’s lab at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. and separately, Jeffrey Saffer at Battelle (yes, the same Battelle) could not repeat the Goodman-Henderson work (see MWN, J/A94 and M/J95). At the time, some observers suggested that genetic variations in the cell lines used by the various research groups might explain the different results.

But that possibility was never examined the way Löscher has done for EMFs and breast cancer. He writes: “[T]he cell preparations used in such studies may determine whether or not cells respond to [EMF] exposure. This may finally explain why so many biological experiments with [EMF] exposure yield contradictory results.

None of this should be surprising. The more we learn about diseases and the drugs used to fight them, the more we understand that genetic variations among individuals can lead to very different biological responses.

This story is about more than one scientist being right and another being wrong. If Löscher is correct and EMFs can indeed promote breast cancer, his animal data would support the epidemiological assocation linking EMFs to cancer and bump up the classification of EMFs from a possible to a probable human carcinogen. And, as a result, force utilities and government agencies to take this health risk seriously rather than continue to ignore it the way they do now.

Löscher has taught us all an important lesson, not only about how to do science, but also how bias can poison the scientific process. Wolfgang Loescher has suffered numerous personal attacks for his work on EMFs and breast cancer. But, he struggled on and now he may have resolved a fundamental problem in EMF research: Why different labs doing what appear to be identical experiments, get different results.


Louis Slesin, PhD, Editor & Publisher, Microwave News, e-mail:


Not in our backyard!

Residents want Digicel tower removed

Claudienne Edwards, Observer staff reporter

Friday, January 23, 2004

The Digicel tower, designed to look like a palm tree, on Hope Road in Kingston [Jamaica]. The tower has earned the ire of more than 100 residents from seven surrounding communities who want it removed. It may look like a palm tree but more than 100 residents from seven surrounding communities want the Digicel cell tower at 49A Hope Road removed.

The issue will go before the Supreme Court on March 3.

According to Digicel CEO, Seamus Lynch, his company would never erect a site without approval. The tower had been given the go-ahead, he said, by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) as well as the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC). The KSAC's building committee approved the tower on December 3, 2003.


Thursday, January 29, 2004

Dear Editor,

I write regarding your article last week on the tower erected by Digicel over the Christmas holidays. I remain amazed at the role of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) as, while we all know that cellular phones (and hence transmission towers) are a reality, the question is:

Where are these towers to be located? It is in this area that NEPA comes in as it is their responsibility to ensure that these facilities are built in areas least likely to be harmful to health, if long-term studies eventually conclude that radiation from such towers is  dangerous.

Amazingly, Mr Franklin McDonald, head of NEPA, is quoted in your article as saying that the tower was merely a replacement for one on Maeven Avenue that was being relocated, hence he apparently did not consider consultation with the residents to be necessary. Having lived on Maeven Avenue for the past 55 years - long before the invention of cellular phones - I have never seen a tower of any sort on this avenue, and challenge Mr McDonald to identify the spot where this tower ever was. When Mr McDonald stated that the area is "commercial", one wonders if he has seen the area himself as, had he done so, he would no doubt have seen the over 150 residences in the immediate surroundings, along with new residences under construction, all well within the possible danger zone of radiation rays from this site.

NEPA should also have noticed that there happens to be a kindergarten near the tower and, considering that children under the age of five absorb radiation at a much higher rate than adults, this site should not have been recommended to the KSAC Building Committee.

While the plan was a requirement when erecting such a tower, it's of note that, of the residents spoken to after the tower was built, not one had known of it. Indeed, 154 residents signed the petition objecting to its location, and confirming that they had never been consulted.

I think that the head of NEPA should remember that he and his staff are paid for by us, the taxpayers, to protect our lives and future, not the profits of multinational corporations. As such, he should exhibit at least as much interest in the protection of our health, safety and the well-being of our children and grandchildren as he does for the lizards in the Long Mountains, or the crocodiles in the Black River morass!

Philip A Azar, 47a Hope Road, Kingston 10


Saturday, January 31, 2004

Dear Editor,

I read your article on Friday January 23 regarding the cellular tower in the heart of our neighbourhood which was put up by Digicel in December.

Your article quotes the head of NEPA, Mr Franklin McDonald, as stating that the reason for the residents not having been contacted about the plans to put up this tower was that it was a replacement for one previously erected on Maeven Avenue. The only tower that I am aware of was on Hardie Terrace last year but was taken down by the KSAC on the basis of a court order, yet, it was re-erected just a few yards away.

On another note, was NEPA aware of a pre-school right beside this tower when recommending its approval to the KSAC? Were they aware of two homes for the elderly in the community? I ask these questions as it is known that both the very young and very old absorb radiation at a fast rate. Is it true that the KSAC was informed by NEPA that all the residents had been contacted and had no objection? If so, how come we have all signed a petition not only objecting but stating that we were not aware of the planned tower?

I thank your reporter for bringing this matter to the fore informing the public of our plight.

"Concerned Senior Citizen", Maeven Avenue, Kingston 10

Informant: Gotemf


Re: High voltage, animals mix to produce ozone

In a letter published in IEEE Spectrum, I suggested that ozone was a more likely cause of harm than 60 Hz power: "Cancer from 60 Hz Power Lines:  Not an Open Issue", IEEE Spectrum, 2000, v. 37(10), pp. 6 - 8, (November issue).

Ozone also commonly is produced by the ultraviolet light in sunlight: Drying clothes in the open air gives them a "fresh" smell; this is the ozone. I believe the oxygen in water is ionized by the UV, and some combines to ozone.

It isn't surprizing that the moisture in the fur of animals also would create ozone in a high-voltage field or in sunlight.

People get fixed ideas that something is harmful; this causes others to get oppositely fixed ideas. Everyone gets dumbed-down, and everyone loses.

Message from John Michael Williams


Cloud forests, water source to millions, face risk

A warming climate threatens tropical mountain forests that strip moisture from clouds and supply water to millions of people in Africa and Latin America, experts said in a U.N. report released on Monday.


Halting species loss in Europe

Scientists believe that the extinction rate of modern species is thousands of times higher than it would have been without human activities. In Europe, at least 40 percent of all bird and butterfly species are threatened.


Austria Raises Hell over GM Safety