EMF Exposure and Potential Health Effects

“In today’s world, everyone is exposed to two types of EMFs: (1) extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF) from electrical and electronic appliances and power lines and (2) radiofrequency radiation (RF) from wireless devices such as cell phones and cordless phones, cellular antennas and towers, and broadcast transmission towers.  In this report we will use the  term EMFs when referring to all electromagnetic fields in general; and the terms ELF and RF when referring to the specific type of exposure.  They are both types of non-ionizing radiation, which means that they do not have sufficient energy to break off electrons from their orbits around atoms and ionize (charge) the atoms, as do x-rays, CT scans, and other forms of ionizing  radiation.

“Main Reasons for Disagreement among Experts: There may be no lower limit at which exposures do not affect us.  Until we know if there is a lower limit below which bioeffects and adverse health impacts do not occur, it is unwise from a public health perspective to continue “business-as-usual” deploying new technologies that increase ELF and RF exposures, particularly involuntary exposures.

1) Scientists and public health policy experts use very different definitions of the standard of evidence used to judge the science, so they come to different conclusions about what to do.  Scientists do have a role, but it is not exclusive and other opinions matter.
2) We are all talking about essentially the same scientific studies, but use a different way of measuring when “enough is enough” or “proof exists”.
3) Some experts keep saying that all studies have to be consistent (turn out the same way every time) before they are comfortable saying an effect exists.  
4) Some experts think that it is enough to look only at short-term, acute effects.
5) Other experts say that it is imperative we have studies over longer time (showing the effects of chronic exposures) since that is what kind of world we live in.
6) Some experts say that everyone, including the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with illnesses have to be considered –others say only the average person (or in the case of RF, a six-foot tall man) matter.
7) There is no unexposed population, making it harder to see increased risk of diseases.
8) The lack of consensus about a single biological mechanism of action.
9) The strength of human epidemiological studies reporting risks from ELF and RF exposures, but animal studies don’t show a strong toxic effect.  
10) Vested interests have a substantial influence on the health debate.

“Today’s public exposure limits for telecommunications are based on the presumption that heating of tissue (for RF)  or induced electric currents in the body (for ELF) are the only concerns when living organisms are exposed to RF.

“In the last few decades, it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that bioeffects and some adverse health effects occur at far lower levels of RF and ELF exposure where no heating (or induced currents) occurs at all; some effects are shown to occur at several hundred thousand times below the existing public safety limits where heating is an impossibility.

“It appears it is the INFORMATION conveyed by electromagnetic radiation (rather than heat) that causes biological changes – some of these biological changes may lead to loss of wellbeing, disease and even death.

“Effects occur at non-thermal or low-intensity exposure levels thousands of times below the levels that federal agencies say should keep the public safe. For many new devices operating with wireless technologies, the devices are exempt from any regulatory standards. The existing standards have been proven to be inadequate to control against harm from low-intensity, chronic exposures, based on any reasonable, independent assessment of the scientific literature. It means that an entirely new basis (a biological basis) for new exposure standards is needed.  New standards need to take into account what we have learned about the effects of ELF and RF (all non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation and to design new limits based on biologically demonstrated effects that are important to proper biological function in living organisms.   It is vital to do so because the explosion of new sources has created unprecedented levels of artificial electromagnetic fields that now cover all but remote areas of the habitable space on earth.  Mid-course corrections are needed in the way we accept, test and deploy  new technologies that expose us to ELF and RF in order to avert public health problems of a global nature.

“There may be no lower limit at which exposures do not affect us.  Until we know if there is a lower limit below which bioeffects and adverse health impacts do not occur, it is unwise from a public health perspective to continue “business-as- usual” deploying new technologies that increase ELF and RF exposures, particularly involuntary exposures.

Childhood Leukemia and Other Childhood Cancers

“The evidence that power lines and other sources of ELF are consistently associated with higher rates of childhood leukemia has resulted in the International Agency for Cancer Research (an arm of the World Health Organization) to classify ELF as a Possible Human Carcinogen (in the Group 2B carcinogen list).  Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children.

“There is little doubt that exposure to ELF causes childhood leukemia.

“The exposure levels for increased risk are quite low –just above background or ambient levels and much lower than current exposure limits.

“There is some evidence that other childhood cancers may be related to ELF exposure but not enough studies have been done.

Brain Tumors and Acoustic Neuromas

“Radiofrequency radiation from cell phone and cordless phone exposure has been linked in more  than one dozen studies to increased risk for brain tumors and/or acoustic neuromas (a tumor in the brain on a nerve related to our hearing).

“People who have used a cell phonefor ten years or more have higher rates of malignant brain tumor and acoustic neuromas.   It is worse if the cell phone has been used primarily on one side of the head.

“For brain tumors, people who have used a cell phone for 10 years or longer have a 20% increase in risk (when the cell phone is used on both sides of the head).  For people who have used a cell phone for 10 years or longer predominantly on one side of the head, there is a 200% increased risk of a brain tumor.  This information relies on the combined results of many brain tumor/cell phone studies taken together (a meta-analysis of studies).

“People who have used a cordless phone for ten years or more have higher rates of malignant brain tumor and acoustic neuromas. It is worse if the cordless phone has been used primarily on one side of the head.

“The risk of brain tumor (high-grade malignant glioma) from cordless phone use is 220% higher (both sides of the head).  The risk from use of a cordless phone is 470% higher when used mostly on only one side of the head.

“For acoustic neuromas, there is a 30% increased risk with cell phone use at ten years and longer; and a 240% increased risk of acoustic neuroma when the cell phone is used mainly on one side of the head.  These risks are based on the combined results of several studies (a meta-analysis of studies).
“For use of cordless phones, the increased risk of acoustic neuroma is three-fold higher (310%) when the phone is mainly used on one side of the head.

“The current standard for exposure to the emissions of cell phones and cordless phones is not safe considering studies reporting long-term brain tumor and acoustic neuroma risks.

Other Adult Cancers

“There are multiple studies that show statistically significant relationships between occupational exposure and leukemia in adults (see Chapter 11), in spite of major limitations in the exposure assessment.

“The evidence for a relationship between exposure and breast cancer is relatively strong in men (Erren, 2001), and some (by no means all) studies show female breast cancer also to be elevated with increased exposure (see Chapter 12).  Brain tumors and acoustic neuromas are more common in exposed persons (see Chapter 10).  There is less published evidence on other cancers, but Charles et al. (2003) report that workers in the highest 10% category for EMF exposure were twice as likely to die of prostate cancer as those exposed at lower levels.

“In total the scientific evidence for adult disease associated with EMF exposure is sufficiently strong for adult cancers that preventive steps are appropriate, even if not all reports have shown exactly the same positive relationship.  This is especially true since many factors reduce our ability to see disease patterns that might be related to EMF exposure: there is no unexposed population for comparison, for example, and other difficulties in exposure assessment, The evidence for a relationship between EMF exposure and adult cancers and neurodegenerative diseases is sufficiently strong at present to merit preventive actions to reduce EMF exposure.

Breast Cancer

“There is rather strong evidence from multiple areas of scientific investigation that ELF is related to breast cancer.  Over the last two decades there have been numerous epidemiological studies (studies of human illness) on breast cancer in both men and women, although this relationship remains controversial among scientists.  Many of these studies report that ELF exposures are related to increased risk of breast cancer (not all studies report such effects, but then, we do not expect 100% or even 50% consistency in results in science, and do not require it to take reasonable preventative action).

“The evidence from studies on women in the workplace rather strongly suggests that ELF is a risk factor for breast cancer for women with long-term exposures of 10 mG and higher.

“Breast cancer studies of people who work in relatively high ELF exposures (10 mG and above) show higher rates of this disease.  Most studies of workers who are exposed to ELF have defined high exposure levels to be somewhere between 2 mG and 10 mG; however this kind of mixing of relatively low to relatively high ELF exposure just acts to
dilute out real risk levels.  Many of the occupational studies group exposures so that the highest group is exposed to 4 mG and above.  What this means is that a) few people are exposed to much higher levels and b) illness patterns show up at relatively low ELF levels of 4 mG and above.  This is another way of demonstrating that existing ELF limits that are set at 933-1000 mG are irrelevant to the exposure levels reporting increased risks.

“Laboratory studies that examine human breast cancer cells have shown that ELF exposure between 6 mG and 12 mG can interfere with protective effects of melatonin that fights the growth of these breast cancer cells.  For a decade, there has been evidence that human breast cancer cells grow faster if exposed to ELF at low environmental levels.  This is thought to be because ELF exposure can reduce melatonin levels in the body.   The presence of melatonin in breast cancer cell cultures is known to reduce the growth of cancer cells.  The absence of melatonin (because of ELF exposure or other reasons) is known to result in more cancer cell growth.

“Given the very high lifetime risks for developing breast cancer, and the critical importance of prevention; ELF exposures should be reduced for all people who are in high ELF environments for prolonged periods of time.

“Reducing ELF exposure is particularly important for people who have breast cancer.  The recovery environment should have low ELF levels given the evidence for poorer survival rates for childhood leukemia patients in ELF fields over 2 mG or 3 mG.  Preventative action for those who may be at higher risk for breast cancer is also warranted (particularly for those taking tamoxifen as a way to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer, since in addition to reducing the effectiveness of melatonin, ELF exposure may also reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen at these same low exposure levels).  There is no excuse for ignoring the substantial body of evidence we already have that supports an association between breast cancer and ELF exposure; waiting for conclusive evidence is untenable given the enormous costs and societal and personal burdens caused by this disease.

“These are just some of the cancer issues to discuss.  It may be reasonable now to make the assumption that all cancers, and other disease endpoints might be related to, or worsened by exposures to EMFs (both ELF and RF).

Changes in the Nervous System and Brain Function

“Exposure to electromagnetic fields has been studies in connection with Alzheimer’s disease, motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s disease. (4)  These diseases all involve the death of specific neurons and may be classified as neurodegenerative diseases. There is evidence that high levels of amyloid beta are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and exposure to ELF can increase this substance in the brain.  There is considerable evidence that melatonin can protect the brain against damage leading to Alzheimer’s disease, and also strong evidence that exposure to ELF can reduce melatonin levels.  Thus it is hypothesized that one of the body’s main protections against developing Alzheimer’s disease (melatonin) is less available to the body when people are exposed to ELF. Prolonged exposure to ELF fields could alter calcium (Ca2+) levels in neurons and induce oxidative stress (4).   It is also possible that prolonged exposure to ELF fields may stimulate neurons (particularly large motor neurons) into synchronous firing, leading to damage by the buildup of toxins.

“Evidence for a relationship between exposure and the neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is strong and relatively consistent.

“Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the nervous system.  There is strong evidence that long-term exposure to ELF is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Laboratory studies show that the nervous system of both humans and animals is sensitive to ELF and RF.  Measurable changes in brain function and behavior occur at levels associated with new technologies including cell phone use. Exposing humans to cell phone radiation can change brainwave activity at levels as low as 0.1 watt per kilogram SAR (W/Kg)*** in comparison to the US allowable level of 1.6 W/Kg and the International Commission for Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) allowable level of 2.0 W/Kg.  It can affect memory and learning.  It can affect normal brainwave activity.  ELF and RF exposures at low levels are able to change behavior in animals.

“There is little doubt that electromagnetic fields emitted by cell phones and cell phone use affect electrical activity of the brain.

“Changes in the way in which the brain and nervous system react depend very much on the specific exposures. Most studies only look at short-term effects, so the long-term consequences of exposures are not known.

“There is large variability in the results of ELF and RF testing, which would be expected based on the large variability of factors that can influence test results.  However, it is clearly demonstrated that under some conditions of exposure, the brain and nervous system functions of humans are altered.  The consequence of long-term or prolonged exposures have not been thoroughly studied in either adults or in children.

“The consequence of prolonged exposures to children, whose nervous systems continue to develop until late adolescence, is unknown at this time.  This could have serious implications to adult health and functioning in society if years of exposure of the young to both ELF and RF result in diminished capacity for thinking, judgment, memory, learning, and control over behavior.

“People who are chronically exposed to low-level wireless antenna emissions report symptoms such as problems in sleeping (insomnia), fatigue, headache, dizziness, grogginess, lack of concentration, memory problems, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), problems with balance and orientation, and difficulty in multi-tasking.  In children, exposures to cell phone radiation have resulted in changes in brain oscillatory activity during some memory tasks.  Although scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship; these complaints are widespread and the cause of significant public concern in some countries where wireless technologies are fairly mature and widely distributed (Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Israel). For example, the roll-out of the 3rd Generation wireless phones (and related community-wide antenna RF emissions in the Netherlands) caused almost immediate public complaints of illness.

“Conflicting results from those few studies that have been conducted may be based on the difficulty in providing non-exposed environments for testing to compare to environments that are intentionally exposed.  People traveling to laboratories for testing are pre-exposed to a multitude of RF and ELF exposures, so they may already be symptomatic prior to actual testing.  Also complicating this is good evidence that RF exposures testing behavioral changes show delayed results; effects are observed after termination of RF exposure.  This suggests a persistent change in the nervous system that may be evident only after time has passed, so is not observed during a short testing period.

Effects on Genes (DNA)

“The European research program (REFLEX) documented many changes in normal biological functioning in tests on DNA. The significance of these results is that such effects are directly related to the question of whether human health risks might occur, when these changes in genes and DNA happen. This large research effort produced information on EMFs effects from more than a dozen different researchers.

“Both ELF and RF exposures can be considered genotoxic (will damage DNA) under certain conditions of exposure, including exposure levels that are lower than existing safety limits.

Effects on Stress Proteins (Heat Shock Proteins)

“Very low-level ELF and RF exposures can cause cells to produce stress proteins, meaning that the cell recognizes ELF and RF exposures as harmful.  This is another important way in which scientists have documented that ELF and RF exposures can be harmful, and it happens at levels far below the existing public safety standards.

“An additional concern is that if the stress goes on too long, the protective effect is diminished. There is a reduced response if the stress goes on too long, and the protective effect is reduced. This means the cell is less protected against damage, and it is why prolonged or chronic exposures may be quite harmful, even at very low intensities.

Effects on the Immune System

“There is substantial evidence that ELF and RF can cause inflammatory reactions, allergy reactions and change normal immune function at levels allowed by current public safety standards.

“The body’s immune defense system senses danger from ELF and RF exposures, and targets an immune defense against these fields, much like the body’s reaction in producing stress proteins. These are additional indicators that very low intensity ELF and RF exposures are a) recognized by cells and b) can cause reactions as if the exposure is harmful.  Chronic exposure to factors that increase allergic and inflammatory responses on a continuing basis are likely to be harmful to health.  Chronic inflammatory responses can lead to cellular, tissue and organ damage over time. Many chronic diseases are thought to be related to chronic problems with immune system function.

“There is very clear evidence that exposures to ELF and RF at levels associated with cell phone use, computers, video display terminals, televisions, and other sources can cause these skin reactions.  Changes in skin sensitivity have been measured by skin biopsy, and the findings are remarkable.  Some of these reactions happen at levels equivalent to those of wireless technologies in daily life. Mast cells are also found in the brain and heart, perhaps targets of immune response by cells responding to ELF and RF exposures, and this might account for some of the other symptoms commonly reported (headache, sensitivity to light, heart arrhythmias and other cardiac symptoms).  Chronic provocation byexposure to ELF and RF can lead to immune dysfunction, chronic allergic responses, inflammatory diseases and ill health if they occur on a continuing basis over time.

Plausible Biological Mechanisms

“Plausible biological mechanisms are already identified that can reasonably account for most biological effects reported for exposure to RF and ELF at low-intensity levels (oxidative stress and DNA damage from free radicals leading to genotoxicity; molecular mechanisms at very low energies are plausible links to disease, e.g., effect on electron transfer rates linked to oxidative damage, DNA activation linked to abnormal biosynthesis and mutation).    It is also important to remember that traditional public health and epidemiological determinations do not require a proven mechanism  before inferring a causal link between EMFs exposure and disease.

“Oxidative stress through the action of free radical damage to DNA is a plausible biological mechanism for cancer and diseases that involve damage from ELF to the central nervous system.

(1) http://www.bioinitiative.org/report/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/sec01_2007_summary_for_public.pdf

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