A collaboration of international scientists has identified health problems from low levels of EMR from electrical and communications technology.

Exposure to even everyday levels of radiation from electrical and communications technologies can have harmful effects on the body — and international standards are inadequate to protect public health. These are among the conclusions of the report of the BioInitiative Working Group released in late August.

It concludes that, “The scientific evidence is sufficient to warrant regulatory action for ELF; and it is substantial enough to warrant preventative actions for RF.”

The report, written by an international working group of scientists, researchers and public health professionals, documents evidence of health impacts and evaluates ways of reducing risks. It reports on a substantial body of scientific evidence showing health problems from electromagnetic fields (ELF) from powerlines and appliances and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from communications technologies including mobile phones, base stations and WiFi technology.

“Long-term and cumulative exposure to such massively increased RF has no precedent in human history,” say co-authors Dr David Carpenter and Ms Cindy Sage. “Therefore it is imperative to consider ways in which to evaluate risk and reduce exposure.”

The report contains contributions by highly qualified and experienced EMR-researchers and considers the impact of ELF/RFR on a range of health outcomes.

It concludes that international standards are not protecting public health at present and recommends new exposure levels thousands of times lower than existing levels. “What is clear is that the existing public safety standards limiting these radiation levels in nearly every country of the world look to be thousands of times too lenient. Changes are needed,” the report states.

Childhood leukemia

The report found increased risks for childhood leukemia at levels about 1000 times lower than international safety levels. Risks have been shown to double at between 1.4 and 4 milliGauss (mG).

“There is little doubt that exposure to ELF causes childhood leukemia,” the report states.

Exposures of 1-3 mG have been shown to reduce survival from childhood leukemia.

“IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] guideline levels are designed to protect from short-term immediate effects, longterm effects such as cancer are evoked by levels several orders of magnitude below current guideline levels,” says author of this section of the report, Dr Michael Kundi. “Precautionary measures are warranted that should reduce all aspects of exposure, because at present we have no clear understanding of the etiologically relevant aspect of the exposure.”

“This report stands as a wake-up call that long-term exposure to some kinds of EMF may cause serious health effects. Good public health planning is needed now to prevent cancers and neurological diseases linked to exposure to powerlines and other sources of EMF. We need to educate people and our decision-makers that ‘business as usual’ is unacceptable,” said Dr David Carpenter, Director Institute for Health and the Environment, University of Albany NY

Childhood cancers

The report found some evidence that ELF can contribute to other childhood cancers but says that more studies are needed.

There is evidence that children exposed to ELF may have a greater chance of developing cancer in later life.

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Brain tumours

More than 12 studies have shown a link between brain tumours and use of mobile and cordless phones.

There is evidence that people who use a mobile phone for 10 years or more have 200 times more chance of developing a brain tumour on the side of the head against which they hold the phone and that people who use a cordless phone for more than 10 years have 470 times more chance of developing a brain tumour on the same side of the head.

Many studies have found connections between occupational exposure to RF and brain tumours.

“…our review yielded a consistent pattern of an increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma after = 10 years mobile phone use. We conclude that current standard for exposure to microwaves during mobile phone use is not safe for long-term brain tumor risk and needs to be revised,” say Drs Hardell, Mild and Kundi.

Adult cancer

There is evidence of increased risks of adult leukemia from living near a high voltage power line and exposure to ELF during childhood.

Increased rates of brain tumours have been found in people exposed to ELF at work.

Other studies suggest connections between exposure and cancer but need to be replicated. These include studies that have found increased risks of:

  • malignant melanoma in people living near HV lines
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in electrical workers
  • breast cancer in men and women
  • prostate cancer in exposed workers.

“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.”

Breast cancer

Studies have shown that exposure to more than 10 mG increases the risk of breast cancer.

Exposure of 6-12 mG has been found to interfere with the production of melatonin (an antioxidant).

“There is no excuse for ignoring the substantial body of evidence we already have that supports an association between breast cancer and ELF exposure”, says the report.

Brain/nervous system

ELF exposure has been shown to increase risks of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease.

ELF has been found to increase amyloid beta and oxidative stress, which contribute to Alzheimer’s and to reduce melatonin, which protects against it.

Mobile phone radiation has been shown to change brain wave patterns, memory, learning and performance.

People report problems from exposure including insomnia, fatigue, headache, dizziness, grogginess, lack of concentration, memory problems, tinnitus, problems with balance and orientation and problems multi-tasking.

Effects have been observed at levels below international guidelines.

Effects were observed up to days after exposure, suggesting “a persistent change in the nervous system after exposure”.

“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 behaviour.”

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ELF and RF have been found to damage DNA at exposures below the level of international standards.

Author Dr Henry Lai writes, “since only 50% of the studies reported effects, it is apparent that there is no consistent pattern that radiofrequency radiation exposure could induce genetic damages/changes in cells and organisms. However, one can conclude that under certain conditions of exposure, radiofrequency radiation is genotoxic.”

Stress proteins

Exposure to ELF (5-10 mG) and RF have been shown to produce stress proteins that are normally produced when the cell is under environmental threat.

Dr Martin Blank, from Columbia University, says, “the stress response, by its very nature, shows that cells react to EMFs as potentially harmful.”


Exposure to everyday levels of ELF and RF have been shown to produce large immunological changes.

These include changes to:

  • mast cells (related to allergic and inflammatory conditions)
  • lymphocyte viability
  • immune function.

Associate Professor Olle Johansson concludes, “The current international public safety limits for EMFs do not appear to be sufficiently protective of public health at all, based on the studies of immune function.”


Children appear to be more vulnerable to radiation than adults, according to the report. “…since they are growing, their rate of cellular activity and division is more rapid, and they may be more at risk for DNA damage and subsequent cancers. Growth and development of the central nervous system is still occurring well into the teenage years so that neurological changes may be of great importance to normal development, cognition, learning, and behavior.”

The report also identifies risks of prenatal exposure for leukemia.


Mr David Gee, from the European Environment Agency, warns in the report about the risks of policy makers ignoring early warnings of harm. He refers to 14 case studies — including benzene, PCBs, CFCs, Great Lakes pollution, beef hormones, asbestos, medical x-rays and BSE — in which “the agents or activities were regarded as not harmful for some time before evidence showed that they were indeed hazardous.”

The Report includes levels at which exposures to magnetic fields have beenlinked with health problems:

  • 1 mG – exposure level recommended in the BioInitiative Report
  • 2 mG – level at which risk for leukemia increases
  • 1-3 mG – reduced survival for children with leukemia
  • 1.4 – 4 mG – doubling of the risk of childhood leukemia
  • over 4 mG – level classified as possibly carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
  • 5-10 mG – threshold for stress response in cells
  • 6-12 mG – interference with the production of melatonin
  • 10 mG – increased risk of breast cancer
  • 940 mG – exposure level recommended by the IEEE
  • 1000mG – exposure level recommended by the International Commission of Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) which is associated with the World Health Organisation (since increased to 2000 mG)
  • 3000 mG – exposure level being considered for the new Australian standard then under development
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The BioInitiative Report compares conflicting views on the adequacy of international standards.

It says that international standards are based on the views that:

  • only ionising radiation causes chemical changes – however, the stress responses found in research indicate that non-ionising radiation does cause chemical changes.
  • biological damage is only caused by heating tissues by 1 degree C – however, biological damage has been demonstrated at exposure levels too low to cause heating.
  • standards protect against only short-term effects – however, environmental exposure and mobile phone use involves long-term exposure.
  • it is necessary to have a mechanism that describes how effects from ELF/RF occur before they are accepted as real – however, at present science has not even found a mechanism to explain how cancer occurs, for example.
  • effects must be proven by consistent replication – however, here are many factors that can influence the outcome of an experiment (eg frequency, intensity, duration of exposure, cumulative exposure).
  • standards are based on the Bradford Hill criteria for establishing causation – however, these criteria can be flawed, especially for multi-causal effects.
  • FCC (US) guidelines are based on the height, weight and stature of a 6-foot tall man – however, these are not suitable for children and smaller people, for example.


  • “New regulatory limits for ELF based on biologically relevant levels of ELF are warranted.”
  • “While new ELF limits are being developed and implemented, a reasonable approach would be a 1 mG (0.1 µT) planning limit for habitable space adjacent to all new or upgraded power lines and a 2 mG (0.2 µT) limit for all other new construction. It is also recommended that a 1 mG (0.1 µT) limit be established for existing habitable space for children and/or women who are pregnant.”
  • “A precautionary limit of 0.1 µW/cm2 … should be adopted for outdoor, cumulative RF exposure.” [For comparison, the US FCC standard allows exposures of 1000 µW/cm2 at 1800—1950 MHz.]
  • “We also recommend that wired alternatives to WI-FI be implemented, particularly in schools and libraries so that children are not subjected to elevated RF levels until more is understood. about possible health impacts.”

The BioInitiative report is available on line at www.bioinitiative.org.

from ‘EMR and Health’ Dec 2007, vol 3 no 4

About The Author – Lyn McLean is a consumer advocate, author and educator and has been monitoring and writing on the subject of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) for over 20 years. She is the director of EMR Australia.

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