The Invisible Pollution
© Robert Anderson PhD
We all seem to be mesmerized by magical gadgets. We have cell phones, singing bedside clocks, microwave ovens: a plethora of electromagnetic gadgetry surrounds our lives. In short, we live in a sea of electromagnetic radiation – EMR - but it is a sea in which we may be in danger of drowning. We cannot see it, smell it or hear it. It is truly invisible.
When you listen to the radio, watch TV, or use a microwave oven you are using part of the electromagnetic spectrum. All these devices make use of electromagnetic waves. Radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and x rays are all examples of electromagnetic waves that differ from each other in wavelength. Electromagnetic waves are produced by the motion of electrically charged particles. These waves are also called ‘electromagnetic radiation’ because they radiate from the electrically charged particles. They travel through empty space as well as through air and other substances - substances such as our brain in the case of cellphones.
There is now a growing body of evidence showing the use of cellphones causes brain tumours, particularly in children.[i] It appears from research that a call lasting just two minutes can open the ‘blood-brain barrier’ in children as well as adults, allowing toxins in the bloodstream to cross this blood brain barrier and attack brain cells. The same two-minute cell phone exposure also disrupts the natural electrical activity of a child’s brain for up to an hour afterwards. It is suggested that their use also contributes to aggressive behaviour.[ii] Indeed, Blake Levitt, author of Electromagnetic Fields, says that when it comes to cellphones, “a worse frequency could not have been chosen for the human anatomy.” The Stewart Report, carried out in the UK in 2000,[iii]showed that the use of mobile phones is associated with cancer in adults, including brain tumours, acoustic neuroma, cancer of the salivary glands, leukaemia, or malignant melanoma of the eye, [iv], [v] Not surprisingly, the industry is currently very dismissive of such dangers.[vi]
It should not surprise us that we are affected by EMR. After all, our bodies are awash with electrical signals from nerve cells to brain functions. Our blood and body fluids carry electrolytes around our body as messengers conducting essential electrical and biological signals. We are talking of tiny values, micro-volts or less in the case of nerves impulses. We should not be surprised, therefore, that our bodies are affected by external electrical fields. Professor Robert Beck,[vii]a world expert in electrobiology and author of The Body Electric, said: “The two most important biological effects of EMR on, or in, living systems are their effects on growth and development. There is potential for producing disturbances in growth processes in the body that can lead to the presence of malignancies. And, in that regard, for a long time the National Institutes of Health (in the US) had studiously insisted there was absolutely no evidence that there was ANY affect of such fields upon any cancer system in the human. I think this is absolute nonsense. And last year, the NIH - without any fanfare and rather quietly in the dark of the night - issued a little report that says there is a relationship between electromagnetic effects and childhood leukaemia. Period. End of story, as though that was all. That’s not true. Absolutely not true.” Dr Beck went on to say there is much more in the area of abnormal growth, the production of malignancies, the production of cancers and in the operation of the central nervous system, the brain. If Dr Beck is correct, and it seems he is, those of us living beneath or at least in close proximity to power pylons need to revaluate the situation.
New Zealand country looks like a spider’s web from the air. Power pylons criss-cross the country from one end to the other carrying essential power supply to both industry and our homes. Are these also having an effect on our health? Unfortunately, it seems that they are. The latest proposals from Transpower to establish a 220 km corridor of giant 70 metre pylons up the centre of North Island to feed Auckland’s ever-growing appetite for power has caused a wave of alarm, especially for those destined to live under them.
There is now a growing body of scientific evidence that, among other illnesses, childhood leukaemia is linked to electrical and magnetic fields below the pylons.[viii] Most power pylons carry around 25 kV, but in the case of this project we are talking extremely high voltages, 400 kV (400 000 Volts). Transpower has a considerable vested interest in the project, which makes it highly inappropriate that they should be allowed to make such major decisions. Their vested interest is in direct opposition to the interests of the community and, as such, the government should act to protect the public against such conflict of interest.
The scientific evidence that points to increases in childhood leukaemia and other problems associated with the EM fields from pylons[ix]is generally dismissed by the industry as inconclusive. To some extent, the industry can assert this because it is a very difficult area in which to work. Added to this problem is governmental reluctance to allocate funding for such essential research. However, using the International Agency for Research on Cancer criteria for classifying potential carcinogens, an international working group, convened by the US National Institutes of Health Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), rated exposure to power-frequency fields as a possible human carcinogen.[x]
One of the most notable studies carried out in the field, often referred to as the California EMF Study,[xi]involved three scientists who worked for the California Department of Health and had scientific and medical training in this area. They were to review studies about possible health problems and EMF from power lines, wiring in buildings, and appliances. (It is important to note that this study excluded cell phones and radio towers.) Their report stands out because the investigators stated firmly that EMF can cause an increased risk, rather than might possibly cause risk as other - particularly industry financed - studies have maintained. In their report,[xii]the scientists maintained that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukaemia and adult brain cancer. In fact, they quoted the relative risk as a doubling of the risk for leukaemia. Although they were divided on whether EM fields caused adult leukaemia, they did find a strong relationship for other illnesses such as Lou Gehrig’s disease[xiii]and miscarriage.
Over the years, there have been numerous reports in scientific journals of brain and other cancers related to EMF as occupational hazards. These include radar research workers, military radar[xiv]operators, and police.[xv] What tends to support the dangerous nature of these exposures is that the cancer clusters observed are (a) in quite young people and (b) the time between exposure and onset of the disease is often short. With exceptions, cancer usually takes some time to develop and is usually seen later in life.
Some of the most encouraging work on electromagnetic exposure has been carried out in Sweden.[xvi] As early as 1990, Sweden carried out studies on exposure to EMF’s and quickly recognized that there were possibly associated health issues. Their research showed that there was an association between EMF and cancer in children and in adults.[xvii] Similar studies in Finland and surrounding countries supported their findings and these became known as the Nordic Studies.[xviii] Childhood leukaemia ranged from 3 per 100,000 to 11 per 100 000 the closer to power lines they were. Sweden strongly promoted the need to adopt prudent measures to reduce exposure, and continues to do so.
The Swedish Radiation Protection Authority (SSI) commissioned an independent study of electromagnetic field effects.[xix] They emphasized concerns over vulnerable populations, such as children, and stated in their current report:
* Given the paucity of data indicating a particular vulnerability of children to EMF, there is an urgent need to develop policies in the face of uncertainty and to design and implement studies that can provide direct and relevant information on the potential susceptibility of children.
* Guideline-setting bodies often recognize that children might be more susceptible to EMF than adults, that EMF dosimetry is different in children, and that behaviour, and thus exposure, might be different in children.
Another burgeoning problem, which increases EMR exposure, are microwave towers. New Zealand is suffering a telecommunications tower blitzkrieg. The medical implications that derive from where these towers are situated are crucial. A large body of evidence now exists that warns of health effects. Despite what industry says, no safe level of radiofrequency radiation has ever been determined. As Dr Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said: “Radio frequencies emitted from mobile telephone towers will have deleterious medical effects to people within the near vicinity according to a large body of scientific literature. Babies and children will be particularly sensitive to the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of this radiofrequency radiation. It is therefore criminal to place one of these aerials on or near a school...”
Many doctors and scientists now suspect that - like tobacco smoke, DDT and asbestos - we could have another serious public health problem emerging. What we have is the proliferation of cellphone towers, a new technology, in close proximity to the human population for the first time in our evolutionary history. And we have no clear understanding of the bio-effects of these towers. No one wants 24-hours of involuntary exposure near an antenna array. What investigations there have been on exposure do not bode well for human health.
The work of Dr Stanislaw Szmigielski in Poland, on microwave and radar personnel, found sharp increases in cancers - including lymphomas, melanomas, leukaemias and brain tumours - as well as high blood pressure, headaches, memory loss, and brain damage. Also noted were immune system abnormalities. Some ten other studies have also found immune-system suppression. As early as 1975, Dr William Bise, using ten human test subjects, found severe alterations in human brain waves at microwave and RF (radio frequency) power levels now common in most urban areas due to ambient RF. His study documented radical changes in mood and behaviour. There are also indications that some frequencies may be unsafe at any intensity. This is a crucial point when the telecommunications industry tells us that their installations are merely equivalent to 100-watt light bulbs. What they omit to point out is that it is 100 watts of effective radiated power per channel. There can be dozens of channels on one antenna, and dozens of antennas on one installation. This is not the same thing.
Whatever the scientific findings, one thing is for sure, that - with the burgeoning growth of pylons, cellphone towers and other objects that produce electromagnetic fields - it behoves the government to at least use the Precautionary Principle and seek alternatives where possible. It took our government years to adopt measures that would reduce the public’s exposure to passive cigarette smoke. Only after years of records showing that it caused cancer did it eventually bring forth any real action. What is the chance of getting cancer from passive smoke? It is 1-2 in 100 000. Is this significant? Indeed it is, because this is the same, or even slightly less, than the risk for getting leukaemia from exposure to EMR.
We cannot afford to ignore this problem. We now have schools, churches and hundreds of homes situated under or near to pylons and cell towers. We have school children spending countless hours chatting to their friends on cellphones or working/playing on computers. We cannot help living in this sea of electromagnetic radiation if we want the conveniences of modern life. However, as this sea is becoming more and more concentrated, it is crucial that its effects on the New Zealand population, particularly on children, are fully investigated. The death of physicist, Dr Neil Cherry, was a sad loss to the New Zealand scientific community. His life-long interest and specialist knowledge of the effects of EMR was recognised worldwide. The important fact remains that his work should be funded and continued for the benefit of us all.
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons) PhD
4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility:
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[ii] EMF Health Report March/April, 1995
[iv] 2005 Cell phone use raises cancer risk. Swedish researchers demonstrate the first small link between cell phones and tumours, but is it time to panic? Health News 11:3.
[v] Hardell L, Mild KH, Carlberg M 2002 Case-control study on the use of cellular and cordless phones and the risk for malignant brain tumours. Int J Radiat Biol 78:931-936. ALSO Kundi M, Mild K, Hardell L, Mattsson MO 2004 Mobile telephones and cancer--a review of epidemiological evidence. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev 7:351-384.
[vi] Ahlbom A, Green A, Kheifets L, Savitz D, Swerdlow A 2004 Epidemiology of health effects of radiofrequency exposure. Environ Health Perspect 112:1741-1754.
[vii] Robert O. Becker, M. D., Retired Prof. of Medicine at Upstate Medical Centre, Syracuse , Director of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Veterans Hospital, Syracuse, New York and author of Cross Currents and The Body Electric.
[x] Portier, C.J., Wolfe, M.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Working Group Report. Assessment of health effects from exposure to power-line frequency electric and magnetic fields (NIH publication no. 98-3981). Research Triangle Park: NIEHS, 1998.
[xiii] Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
[xiv] Richter ED, Berman T, Levy O 2002 Brain cancer with induction periods of less than 10 years in young military radar workers. Arch Environ Health 57:270-272.
[xv] van Netten C, Brands RH, Hoption Cann SA, Spinelli JJ, Sheps SB 2003 Cancer cluster among police detachment personnel. Environ Int 28:567-572.
[xvii] Feychting M, Ahlbom A 1994 Magnetic fields, leukaemia, and central nervous system tumours in Swedish adults residing near high-voltage power lines. Epidemiology 5:501-509.
[xviii] Verkasalo PK, Pukkala E, Hongisto MY, Valjus JE, Jarvinen PJ, Heikkila KV, Koskenvuo M 1993 Risk of cancer in Finnish children living close to power lines. BMJ 307:895-899.
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons), PhD (4 February 1942 to 8 December 2008)
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (now Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility) He authored The Final Pollution: Genetic Apocalypse, Exploding the Myth of Genetic Engineering and several other publications on environmental, health and social justice issues.
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