What Americans Need to Know about Radiation (or EMR) from Wireless Communications

Margaret Meade Glaser
Chicago, Illinois
EMR Network (Board of Directors)

I was gratified that you included the topic of electromagnetic effects on biology, particularly from high frequencies used in wireless transmissions, in Latitudes (Vol. 5, #4). What Americans need to know, and what they are not being told, is that three out of four independent (non-industry sponsored) research studies worldwide are showing biological effects from low-level, nonionizing radiation similar to that used in wireless communications. These are called "nonthermal effects" because they occur at levels too low to cause tissue heating. The telecom industry, and the FCC's safe exposure guidelines, recognize only thermal (heating) effects. That means that exposures at intensity (power) levels below that threshold are officially being considered "safe" while the research is suggesting otherwise. For clarity's sake, the frequency range of nonionizing radiation used in wireless communications is referred to as "radiofrequency/microwave radiation" or RF/MW. Microwave ovens get their name from the fact that they use this type of radiation to cook food (you could call this an example of a thermal effect). Radar frequencies are also in this range. While the FCC maintains that its guidelines are protective, and indeed may be heading toward relaxing them significantly in the near future, that is not the position that was put forth by a federal interagency workgroup of nonionizing radiation experts. In a letter to a standards setting committee in 1999 (1), they outlined fourteen points which they believed needed to be addressed before any FCC guidelines could be deemed credible and sufficiently protective of the public. Nothing was done with these recommendations.

In letters dated July and September 2002, scientists from the Radiation Protection
Division of the US Environmental Protection Agency (2) stated that they are concerned about the burgeoning exposure of the public to nonionizing radiation, and that claims that the FCC guidelines are protective of all possible mechanisms of damage are unjustified. Do you think a wireless-happy public has any idea of this?

If this were all just theoretical and we had to wait years to see if there were any measurable effect, that would be one thing. However, I have talked to many down-to-earth, normal, professional and nonprofessional people who on their own have noticed headaches, dizziness, ear ringing, pain, and/or other symptoms when they use their cell or PCS phones. I just heard from a young man working in a telecom broadband department that he has fielded about 10 calls of this sort in the three months he has been there, and he is not even in the wireless department.

Since October, over a hundred doctors in Germany have signed a document stating that they are seeing increased health problems among patients related to cell phone use and chronic exposure to radiation from cell towers and antennas (3). In France, a first study was completed this past year correlating health symptoms with cell tower proximity (4). Clearly, something is going on.

If you look at the history of research on nonionizing radiation (the energy waves below the frequencies of visible light on the electromagnetic spectrum), you will see that nonthermal effects were first reported decades ago, but were deemed to be research mistakes. Over time, we have learned just how much the soviets knew about these effects as evidenced by their having beamed the U. S. embassy in Moscow with low levels of this radiation several decades ago. In fact, many in the embassy were found to have developed serious health conditions.You can read about this in Nicholas Steneck's 1986 book, "The Microwave Debate."

In the past twelve years there have been hundreds of studies showing these nonthermal effects--- such as DNA damage and nonrepair, opening of the blood-brain barrier (allowing toxins and pathogens to reach the brain), lowered immunity, decreased melatonin levels, effects on stress proteins (indicating cell damage), formation of micronuclei (aberrations in cell nuclei which are often markers for cancer), changes in calcium metabolism affecting communication between cells, changes in brainwave patterns as seen on EEG's, plus effects observed on many different systems of the body.

What is not clear is the degree to which these effects are cumulative given chronic exposure, and whether they are indeed linked to major health problems like cancer and neurological conditions. The bioeffects seen are, however, plausible precursors to such conditions, and some evidence suggests there may be an association. Even conservative researchers who have witnessed and studied nonthermal bioeffects say that this radiation is a "probable" cause of health problems.

Right now, many schools are financially strapped, and the promise of a monthly check in exchange for leasing a bit of space on the property or building for antennas seems very attractive. (This is also true of hospitals, office buildings, apartment buildings, churches, etc.). There is a big push for educational achievement right now that is leading schools that can afford it to get wireless internet computer networks installed, some of which transmit microwaves all day long. When children go home, many use cell phones (and cordless phones, which while lower power, also emit radiation) and may live in the close vicinity of cell towers and building-mounted antennas. Some may have their bedrooms over wireless remote-read utility meters. Even the "second-hand smoke" of others' use of wireless devices and phones can be affecting them.

Since children are more vulnerable to this radiation, because their bodies are still developing and the radiation can penetrate them more deeply, where is it going to end for them? Will their bodies be able to handle all this, so foreign to the radiation environment in which we humans evolved? This is a serious question.

Some countries discourage the use of wireless devices by children. And some prohibit the placement of antennas near schools and day care centers. Meanwhile, in the U.S. it is actually illegal for zoning boards to consider possible health risks when deciding where to place mobile phone antennas. Thanks to the Telecom Act of 1996, such considerations are preempted by our federal government in order to give maximum freedom and opportunity to telecom companies. Some communities have been sued when trying to fight this. The Vermont delegation, with support from some other members of Congress, has recently introduced bills to reverse this ruling (5). It will take enormous support to offset the influence of telecom money and pass these bills.

I urge your Advisory Board members and other professionals to become familiar with this issue, and to help inform others. Some web sites providing information on the unheard side of this story are: