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Cellphones - a boon to modern society or a threat to human health?

An interview with Dr Neil Cherry

Dorothy - 6/01/03

For more information about Dr Neil Cherry and his work, please visit his website.

Public concern about this question led to an international scientific workshop on possible biological and health effects of RF electromagnetic fields. This was held in Vienna in 1998 and attended by international scientists.

Report on an interview with Dr Neil Cherry who attended this workshop

Why was the workshop held?
Public concern in Austria about the health effects of cellphones and cell towers led a group of five senior academics to call an international workshop on the biological and health effects of electromagnetic radiation, including cellphones and cell towers.

Who organised the workshop?
The workshop was arranged by a group of academics, mainly health professionals, who are also experts in risk management and risk assessment. They came from five departments of the University of Vienna and one department of the University of Salzburg. They have an international reputation which was built up through their work in the chemical and nuclear industry. They are very experienced in risk research, but new to the area of electromagnetic radiation.

Who was invited?
About twenty five international experts who were independent of industry and the military were invited to the workshop at the University of Vienna. The organisers were delighted that they managed to attract the leading experts mainly from the United States, Canada and European countries, who were doing the fundamental research. These experts were to present the latest research but also to put it into the historical context.

Because of the public concern about the cellphones and cell towers in Austria money was raised from health funding authorities to hold this scientific workshop.

What was Dr Cherry's role?
He was invited because of the paper he had presented in Auckland in February 1998 to an electromagnetic radiation workshop. It was entitled, "Should cellphones have health warnings?" The paper he presented in Vienna was entitled "Should cellphones have health warnings because of the evidence of the risk of brain tumour?" He found that he was included among these people whom he holds in high esteem in a specific role - to integrate the scientific results of many disciplines to show the interlinking of the information. As a New Zealand university researcher who is totally independent, Dr Cherry has the role of reviewing and cross-linking the results of the work of the others.

Survey of cellphone users in Norway and Sweden
Dr Kjell Hansson Mild reported on an extensive survey of ten thousand cell phone users in Norway and Sweden conducted because of the concern about symptoms such as dizziness, discomfort, concentration problems and memory loss experienced by people using cellphones. Even larger responses included fatigue and headache and a sense of warmth on and behind the ear along with a tingling sensation and burning of the skin. These symptoms were of particular significance because the ordinary use of the telephone does not produce the sense of warmth. It is the microwave radiation from cellphones, at sufficient intensity to produce warming, which, in this research, is associated with neurological symptoms.

In the extremely large sample in the report , when the data was ordered by the number of calls per day and by the number of minutes per day on average spent on the cellphone every symptom showed an increase with usage. Both in the Swedish and the Norwegian users there were very strong increases of symptoms with usage. For up to two minutes usage a day 6% of users developed headaches, for two to fifteen minutes usage a day the number of users affected increased to 10%, for fifteen to sixty minutes a day it rose to 17%, and for more than sixty minutes a day to 22%. For the other symptoms - dizziness, discomfort, loss of concentration and memory loss - the proportion of users affected was lower, but all showed an increase of symptoms with increased usage.

Fatigue was a major effect in Mild's survey of cellphone users. This was also found in people living near the Schwarzenburg radio tower in Switzerland, for people exposed chronically to low intensity radio.

Microwaves have been associated with headaches for over thirty years, and there are a growing number of cellphone users who are reporting symptoms of confusion, memory loss, disorientation and dizziness.

Dr Cherry's paper
In his paper he presented ten epidemiological studies in which exposure to radio or microwaves had been found to produce a statistically significant increase in brain tumours in exposed occupations and military groups. He acknowledged that none of these studies involved cellphones, but stated that to claim that radio and microwave cannot be associated with brain tumour was scientifically wrong.

In analogue cellphones there is a very high frequency FM radio. (FM is used for radio and television signals.) Digital cellphones are similar to radar, using pulses carried by microwaves. Servicemen or workers exposed to radar and radio get more brain tumours. Therefore there is a chance, and there is evidence, that cell phone users could be at risk of increased numbers of brain tumours.

Disagreement about the interpretation of the Korean War Study
Dr Cherry used the Korean War Study as one of his examples of studies showing increases in brain tumour in radio/microwave environments. Dr Michael Repacholi challenged this, saying that the authors concluded there were no effects from the radar exposure and it was wrong to use data from the paper in a way the authors didn't.

Dr Cherry was supported by Dr Carl Blackman of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) when he countered that the data was more important than the conclusions, and if the data analysed in an appropriate manner showed effects, then that was an appropriate interpretation of that data.

Cellphones and blood pressure alteration
Dr Stanislaw Szmigielski, a senior epidemiologist from Poland, and author of the Polish Military Cancers Studies, presented the latest results of their research into blood pressure changes. Dr Szmigielski reminded the workshop that epidemiological studies of RF/MW-exposed personnel and residents should not only be related to power density measurements (PD) but also to cumulative radiation dose (RD). Measurements showed that daily mean doses were equivalent to 1/50th of the daily peak exposures.

He then presented results of a study on blood pressure which followed from their previous work which documented dose-response increases in ECG abnormalities and shifts in blood pressure. When effect increases with dose this is a very strong result. Their latest, and larger, study confirmed the results of the previous work, with statistically significant differences being found in heart dysfunction in RF/MW exposed workers.

Dr Cherry took the opportunity to ask Dr Szmigielski about exposures related to his studies on RF/MW and cancer in the Polish military. Dr Szmigielski strongly denied that the effects they were finding could be related to thermal levels of exposure. He referred to the strict monitoring and reporting regime to which all personnel were subject and which protected them from extreme exposures which would have thermal effects.

How public concern develops into epidemiological studies
There is almost always a delay between the occurrence of public health effects and avoidance or minimization measures. A new substance or technology is introduced. It is found to be useful and becomes widely used.

People start noticing an increase in a symptom which they suspect might be due to the chemical or device being used. Safety assurances are given by manufacturers and government agencies. A search of the diverse sources of scientific studies reveals evidence of associations, cellular changes or animal effects, but there is no direct human evidence of effects. Early human studies often don't find evidence of effects, or some find a small but statistically insignificant rise in symptoms. Cancers have latencies of decades for many adult cancers. That is, it takes typically eight to thirty years for damaged cells to develop into full-blown cancers.

Subsequently, occupational groups who have a distinctly higher chance of exposure are studied and found to have a higher incidence of the disease symptoms. The study is repeated and confirmed. We then have evidence of a human health effect, and exposure standards are set below the level at which effects have been found (by association), with significant safety factors to allow for the general population, which includes a proportion of very vulnerable and susceptible people.

The association between cellphones and brain tumour is following this pathway. Local people notice that friends or family, with no history of brain cancers, get brain tumours at relatively young ages. An undertaker notices a pattern of brain tumours in younger people. Workers who started using cellphones quite early after their introduction get brain tumours and go to court for compensation. Cases are dismissed for lack of strong evidence or are settled out of court. An oncologist notes the public concern, looks at local cancer records and notices a rise in brain tumour which approximately parallels cellphone usage. Dr Cherry searches the scientific literature and finds in many studies ample evidence of biological effects - cancer in cells and animals, and an increase in the incidence of brain tumour in personnel exposed to radio and microwave.

The cellphone industry, government and international officials, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), reassure the public that there is no cause for concern.

Several countries have agreed to study cellphone users over several years to see if effects can be detected.

Salzburg Standard
Dr Chris König from the Public Health Department in the City of Salzburg explained that in that city they had adopted an interim public exposure standard based on a study which showed cellphone effects on sleeping subjects, and a safety factor of 500, resulting in a preliminary public exposure standard of 0.1mW/cm2 .
(Safety factors used for toxic chemicals range from 1 to 10,000.)

The Vienna Workshop's contribution
Scientists who have done the fundamental research on biological changes to cells and animals were brought together with those who have carried out and reviewed the epidemiological evidence, and those who have reviewed the integrated evidence, including a WHO official. The scientists agree that there is ample evidence to recommend caution and minimal exposure from cellphones particularly, but also from cellsites.

The WHO official, Dr Michael Repacholi, retains the view that there is no evidence which justifies public concern nor which will require changing WHO support for a guideline or standard based on avoiding thermal effects.

Need to minimise risk by minimising exposure
Dr Cherry concludes that there is a large body of scientific evidence associating low level radio and microwave exposure to biological changes in cells, including DNA breakage, cancer increases in mice and rats, and brain tumours in exposed workers and military personnel.

In 1998 Dr Cherry stated:
"There are suggestions and concerns that more of the cellphone users could be getting more brain tumours. Since the scientific evidence points strongly towards the probable link (not yet proven), between cellphone use and cancer, the prudent approach is to minimise risk by minimising exposure.

Important recent research At the end of 2002 there is now published evidence to confirm that cellphones and cell sites are hazardous to human health. It is not surprising when you realise that our brains react and respond to a natural electromagnetic signal, Schumann Resonance (SR) signal, and because this reduces melatonin it produces modulation of cancer, cardiac, reproductive and neurological health effects and mortality rate in global human populations. The SR signal is one million times weaker than living within about a km of a cell site, and a billion times weaker than using a cellphone. To see the scientific of information backing these statements check my website.

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