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What has been the reaction internationally to this research?
What can be done to ensure that we are not exposed to unnecessary risks
from electromagnetic radiation? Dr Neil Cherry discusses some aspects
of this question and the importance of our being well informed on the topic.
If you have not already—please read
Part I first.
Opposition to publication of the research
The U.S. Air Force ridiculed the idea that electromagnetic radiation could
cause illness. The Environmental Protection Agency, the statutory body set
up to protect public health in the U.S., conducted a big review in 1989-90
and published a report recommending that power line ELFs be declared a
probable carcinogen, and that microwaves and radiowaves be declared
possible carcinogens. This was based on experiments on animals and
epidemiology. The White House and the Air Force declared that the report
should not be published on grounds of national security and that such a
report would alarm the public. The report was put on hold until the
administrators of the E.P.A. changed the conclusions to say there was no
proven effect. This does not contradict probable and possible effects, but
it hides these words. The data remains.
Recently funds for the project were cut, but the researchers said that the
evidence was now stronger than in 1990. Early in 1995 a study of U.S. Air
Force officers exposed to ELFs, RF microwaves and ionising radiation showed
a small but statistically significant increase in brain tumours in officers
exposed to RF microwaves and ELFs but not in those exposed to ionising
radiation. Now even the Air Force is recognising that their highly trained
staff are getting more brain tumours.
The statements that Neil makes to the public are not based on fear, but on
research, on extensive international studies, and data from work in the
laboratory, from animals, from epidemiology.
"It is a matter of national security that public health is protected from
avoidable exposures. That to me is a higher level of national security
than being able to listen to the Russians, the Indonesians or the
Australian trade practices," he said.
This research could well explain why cancer rates in New Zealand are rising
because this is one of the few potential carcinogens which we know is
rising and everybody is exposed to it. This applies not just in New
Zealand, but all round the world. This means that we should be doing our
darnedest to get the standards down to make sure that industry does not
unwittingly and unnecessarily expose people. This includes making sure
that power lines and cell sites are away from houses, hospitals, and
schools. Radio and TV towers should be well away from where people live
and work so that by the time the signal reaches our radios, TVs and cell
phones the signal is so low that it is below that at which we know there is
a low, but significant risk of it affecting public health.
How the legal requirements should help
The Resource Management Act 1991 was written for this situation. It says
that we are "to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of an
activity on the environment ....... including any cumulative effect of low
potential probability and high potential impact ....regardless of scale,
intensity, duration or frequency". The threat from ELFs is of low
potential probability and high potential impact.
Resistance to this application of the law
No one, not even the Courts, wants to accept this as a possibility because
the impact on commercial development in New Zealand is that it would be
What can the individual citizen do to minimise the risk from ELFs?
The first thing is to listen and take the risk seriously. It is difficult
because it is odourless, tasteless, silent, colourless, and does not appear
to exist until we think about it.
We can minimise our exposure - cut back on our use of cordless phones and
cellphones, keep away from the microwave oven when it is not necessary to
be close to it, (more than a foot away when it is operating), stop our
children from sitting close to the television set or the VDU, and go for
low emission screens.
We can get our houses checked out with a meter that will check the ELFs in
houses. If our house is not 'quiet' we can contact the electrician to find
out why and where. Maybe there is a wiring fault. In New Zealand most
houses should be good with our system of AC signals with our wires.
Industry has been acting very responsibly. Lower emission technology is
being produced all the time. But if we sit close we will still get above
the 2 milligauss standard. This is the level where epidemiology is
starting to find some effects like an increase in childhood leukaemia when
the emission gets above the two milligauss level near power lines.
What action can our local bodies take to protect us?
We have to get our city and regional councils to take this research
seriously. They have the legal power with the Resource Management Act to
require that major transmission power lines be moved away from houses and
to require that cell sites are placed well away from key places.
The power lines could be routed around cities without technical problems.
Money is the only obstacle to this change. A number of other countries
have made it a legal obligation to make this change in a staged programme
of removal of existing power lines, with no new power lines being located
Neil's recommended public health protection standard for RF microwaves is
0.1 microwatts per sq. cm.
Who is setting the standard that allows it to be 200 and wanting it now to
go up to 500 for cell sites?
Do you know that the Standards Committee includes Telecom New Zealand, BCL
New Zealand, and Telstra Australia, the military, civil aviation, unions
and consultants who regularly appear for industry?
Do you know that there is a public health expert in New Zealand who says
that cell sites are safe? He is presented on radio as 'totally
independent', a doctor who is paid large sums by Telecom. He says that
they are safe. He is not therefore perceived by the public as independent,
but he is on the Standards Committee.
Of twenty three people on this committee we have only one public
representative - Dr. Ivan Beale, Associate Professor of Psychology from
In Australia the interests of the people on their Standards Committee are
openly listed. Nine of the twelve members are users or sellers of the
technology. Three are apparently public health people, but the National
Institute of Occupation Health representative used to be the medical head
of Telecom medical research in Australia. The former chairman of the
committee has appeared for companies all round the world to say that there
is no problem.
Telstra Australia got their head of medical research to do a study to allay
people's fears about cell sites - a toe in the water study. As the sites
were too new to have produced significant statistics on cancer rates they
used the municipalities around three TV towers in Sydney, and compared them
with six other municipalities further away. This study showed an increase
in childhood leukaemia of 61%, and increase in childhood leukaemia death of
274 fold in that inner ring. All other possible causes were investigated,
but not linked. (The scientist who headed the study no longer works for
In Christchurch people have been very concerned that Telecom has been
planning to site a cell phone tower next to Shirley Primary School. With
the help of Vicky Buck, the Mayor of Christchurch, and Gary Moore, a city
councillor, Telecom have looked for alternative sites. If these prove
unsatisfactory they wish to build the tower next to the school. They have
offered to reduce the output power to take it down to less than one
microwatt per sq. cm. when it reaches the infant block.
We need to be informed about such issues and have our views heard.
To answer readers' questions, here is a
based on a further interview with Dr Neil Cherry.
In addition, if you are looking for comprehensive technical research
on the potential effects of radiofrequency and microwave radiation,
then you may want to consider downloading
Dr Neil Cherry's Reports.