Like many Scots I am appalled, alienated and angry at the antics of Boris Johnson and his government. I have now resolved to vote for any candidate at the next general election who can unseat my local Tory MP. But now the Johnson administration has given me yet another reason to feel aggrieved. It is writing to English councils telling them that health fears about 5G are 'unfounded' and that 'there is no compelling evidence to back up concerns about 5G'. This is either wilful ignorance or a deliberate lie. Either way, it puts the economy and the profits of the phone companies before the health of citizens, particularly children. And, as you are about to see, this isn't the rantings of a conspiracy theorist.
From 1993 on, thousands of scientists, doctors and engineers have told governments internationally that non-ionising radiation from mobile and cordless phones, WiFi, masts, etc (Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields – RF EMFs) may not be safe and that exposure standards designed to protect the public should be raised. Most have asked for a moratorium on new technology and additional base stations.
For example, in 2002, 3,000 German doctors signed the Freiburger Appeal which demanded that the government take action to limit people's exposure to EMFs. In 2012, this was followed by the International Doctors' Appeal supported by more than 30,000 doctors and scientists. Dozens of other appeals have followed – some to specific governments and some to international organisations. The International EMF Scientists' Appeal, supported by scientists conducting research into the effects of non-ionising radiation, has been signed by 252 scientists from 43 nations.
One of the main scientists in support of that appeal was the late Dr Martin Blank, a former naval researcher and President of the Bioelectromagnetics Society. He worked in several prestigious American universities and chalked up decades of research experience on the impact of EMFs on human cells. He dedicated the last years of his life to educating governments and the public on the potential dangers of this technology.
Here's how he began a short information video on the Scientists' Appeal: 'I am here with disturbing news about our favourite gadgets – cell phones, tablets, WiFi, etc. To put it bluntly, they are damaging the living cells in our bodies and killing many of us prematurely'. He concludes: 'We are really all part of a large biological experiment without our informed consent. To protect our children, ourselves and our ecosystem, we must reduce exposure by establishing more protective guidelines'.
Of course, not all scientists agree. They rarely do. Inevitably, they disagree on how to interpret data and what weight should be given to various studies. But the evidence is increasingly on the side of those who think there is
a problem. A 2018 Lancet
At the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association, an independent scientific organisation, volunteering scientists have constructed the world's largest categorised online database of peer-reviewed studies on radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation and other man-made electromagnetic fields of lower frequencies. A recent evaluation of 2,266 studies (including in-vitro and in-vivo studies in human, animal, and plant experimental systems and population studies) found that most studies (n=1546, 68·2%) have demonstrated significant biological or health effects associated with exposure to anthropogenic electromagnetic fields. We have published our preliminary data on radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, which shows that 89% (216 of 242) of experimental studies that investigated oxidative stress endpoints showed significant effects.
Emeritus Professor Anthony Miller, Canada's foremost cancer epidemiologist, is the lead author in a recent peer-reviewed journal article in Frontiers of Public Health
entitled Risks to Health and Well-being from Radio-Frequency Radiation Emitted by Cell Phones and Other Wireless Devices
. In it, Miller et al explain that in 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed the published literature and categorised Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) as a 'possible' human carcinogen.
Since then a number of other important studies have been published. They argue that IARC should convene to review this evidence and reclassify RFR as a 'probable' carcinogen. From their review of these studies, the authors assert that there is now evidence of increased brain tumours from cell phone use as well as breast cancer. They are particularly concerned about children's health given the longer period of exposure and the fact that their thinner skulls means that they are 'most vulnerable to RFR exposure'.
Miller et al also report the findings from various studies which show that RFR exposure can alter sperm and impair male fertility. They summarise studies which show that there is evidence of neurodevelopmental effects, cognitive impairment and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children as a result of exposure to RFR. Some of the effects on people from exposure to RFR can be more mundane, though debilitating – headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
The authors call for more research but nonetheless state categorically that action is needed now, writing: 'In the interim, current knowledge provides justification for governments, public health authorities, and physicians/allied health professionals to warn the population that having a cell phone next to the body is harmful, and to support measures to reduce all exposures to RFR'.
The political response
Some politicians have listened to the concerns of scientists and doctors: France, Israel, Cyprus, Russia and some regions of Spain have banned WiFi in pre-school and some have restricted its use in primary schools. Belgium has banned the sale of mobile phones to children under seven years old. French students of all ages are not allowed to use mobiles in schools, playgrounds or colleges. Israel has also banned mobile phones in school and all new phones carry a health warning. Greece does not allow mobile phone base stations near schools, kindergartens, hospitals or eldercare establishments. And various countries, like Turkey, have public awareness campaigns on the dangers of EMFs, particularly for children and pregnant women.
In the wake of Sir William Stewart's report into the safety of mobile phones in 2000, the UK government reiterated his recommendation that children should only use mobile phones in an emergency. But they have done little else to reduce the public's exposure to RFR. In the UK, masts are on top of hospitals, schools, and blocks of flats. To allay public concern, Public Health England (PHE) regularly say that what is happening in the UK complies with exposure guidelines. But it is the guidelines themselves which many scientists and doctors say are 'obsolete'.
The UK, on advice from PHE, observes the exposure level set by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). This is a private German organisation which set its standard in 1998 when it was still widely believed that this type of radiation was too weak to present much of a health threat to human beings. The ICNIRP argues that the only danger this type of radiation presents is when it is strong enough to heat tissue. It is interesting to note that the Russians, with decades of research into radiation, never believed that we should only be concerned with 'thermal effects'. Their research showed that there were 'biological' effects on the human body at very low exposure levels. Over 1,000 studies reported in peer reviewed studies are proving the Russians right. And, as Professor Tom Butler points out, only one such study blows apart the thermal-only paradigm.
Despite this, the ICNIRP continues to recognise only thermal, and not biological, effects from this type of radiation. Accordingly, it has upheld its permitted exposure level at 58 volts per metre (vpm), whereas China, Russia, Luxembourg, and some other countries have set an exposure limit of six vpm. Since the UK follows the ICNIRP's advice, we have one of the highest permitted exposure levels in the world and no exception is made for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, babies, children, the elderly or the sick.
Internationally, many scientists and doctors have criticised the ICNIRP, and the World Health Organization (WHO), to which it is closely aligned. In 2018, hundreds of scientists, doctors and non-governmental organisations signed 'the EMF Call', claiming that the 'ICNIRP's opinions and guidelines are unscientific and protect industry not public health'. They call for 'truly protective limits for exposure'. And that would mean taking proper account of the impact RFR has on children as existing standards assume adult exposure. This is worrying, as Professor Butler shows in a recent paper how children are especially vulnerable.
Scientists and doctors concerned about the current level of exposure to RF EMFs are particularly worried about the imminent deployment of 5G and there are now two major petitions to the EU and the United Nations asking them to block this technology for health and environmental reasons. The increased health concerns are due to the millimetre wave that 5G will use. This frequency is easily blocked by structures, rain and foliage, and so 5G antennae will be mounted, or incorporated into, lamp posts on commercial and residential streets.
It is estimated that 5G will ultimately be transmitted from every second lamp post and be transmitting in stairwells, offices, stations and even parks. These antennae are additional to the 50 metre high 5G masts that the UK government plans to permit. (The existing height limit for masts is 25 metres.) All of this 5G infrastructure will be additional to what we already have for 3G and 4G. In fact, some companies may only transmit 4G from the small cell antennae. Either way, all these new transmitters will increase the public's exposure to this type of radiation by several orders of magnitude.
At a US Senate committee in February 2019, Senator Blumenthal questioned telecom industry representatives on 5G's safety. They could not cite one study which proved this technology safe. When the Senator responded, 'We're kind of flying blind here as far as health and safety is concerned,' both the industry men remained silent. So it's completely wrong for anyone to assert that we have nothing to fear from the deployment of 5G. We simply don't know. Would we prepared to accept pharmaceutical drugs that hadn't gone through rigorous trials, particularly when there will be mass exposure to 5G?
Worse still, some research suggests that millimetre wave frequencies pose a threat to human health. In 2018, Israeli researchers showed that the skin absorbs these high frequencies and that the sweat ducts act like an antenna taking the signals deep into the body. They write: 'We are raising a warning flag' against the use of these technologies for communication. Other research suggests these waves may burn skin and damage the cornea. In their landmark paper, Professor Miller and colleagues advise that the 'widespread implementation of 5G' should be delayed until its safety is assessed.
Again, some politicians are listening: Local authorities in Brussels, Florence, Utrecht and the city of Rome have banned 5G from their cities saying they won't allow their citizens to be guinea pigs. In the UK, town councils in Frome, Totnes, and Glastonbury have said they won't accept 5G. So too has Brighton and Hove. It is these refuseniks that prompted the letter from the UK Government to English councils saying that fears are 'unfounded'.
Claire Edwards, a former United Nations employee, has compiled a list of what's happening around the world on 5G. And it is a long list as there is so much opposition worldwide, particularly in America, Australia and much of Europe. There are lawsuits in the Netherlands and the USA. Indeed, Edwards believes that the telecom companies are losing the battle to impose 5G on an increasingly recalcitrant public. TPG, one of Australia's main telecom companies, recently announced that it will not build its new network because of public health concerns. It also described the public's fears about small cell antennae as 'rational'.
This list did not contain one Scottish protest or action and I'm not aware of any Scottish community campaign against 5G. The Scottish Government doesn't sell the licences, as this is done on a UK basis, but nonetheless it is an enthusiastic adopter of 5G, seeing its deployment as a major stimulus for the Scottish economy. It wants a rapid roll out of 5G in rural and urban Scotland. When asked about health concerns, the Scottish Government simply says that it abides by the standards set by Public Health England – i.e. the much criticised exposure limits advised by the ICNIRP.
As politicians and officials in the UK appear to be hiding behind the ICNIRP's guidelines, the Radiation Health Trust, a UK organisation, has now officially written to the government department responsible for 5G's roll out putting them 'on notice'. The letter documents existing evidence on the dangers of RFR and the substantial health fears about 5G. It has done this to make clear to politicians and officials that they could be liable for endangering health if they continue to substantially increase the public's exposure to this type of radiation.
In the next year there may be a 4/5G small cell antenna on the lamp post outside your child's or grandchild's bedroom transmitting a type of radiation that many reputable scientists think can damage DNA and neurodevelopment and is a probable carcinogen. Most people don't realise the significance, and potential dangers, of 5G because the media are not holding the Government to account. In the past two weeks, they have not only reiterated the UK Government's claim that fears about the health impact of 5G are 'unfounded', they have also accused protestors of being 'irrational', 'anti-science', or 'conspiracy theorists'. But, of course, it suits them to take this view. In the week that many newspapers dissed the 5G protestors they carried large adverts for phone companies.
The media will make millions from 5G advertising. But only if we let them. Indeed what will stop those small cell antennae and masts springing up everywhere are groups of informed citizens prepared to shout loudly that they don't want to risk their own and their children's health for a 5G-enabled world of fast download speeds, driverless cars and the Internet of Things. As is clear from Australia, phone companies are very sensitive to consumer opinion. Citizens can also hamper the process by taking official bodies to court.
Opposing 5G doesn't mean rejecting technology. As a researcher and writer, I love technology and couldn't do without it, but I now use wired connections. Telecom companies should explore safe alternatives and, in the meantime, get on with what we used to see as the future – fibre optic cable. Thanks to financial help from the Scottish Government, much of the Highlands and Islands now have fibre and are reaping the benefit of fast, and safe, connectivity.
Carol Craig is an independent researcher and writer
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