CFI’s CASS Submits WiFi Brief to HESA
November 9, 2010
216 Beverley St
House of Commons Standing Committee on Health
c/o Christine Holke David, Clerk of the Committee
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Madam Chairperson and Members of the HESA,
We are submitting this brief on behalf of our members in response to an increase in misinformation in the public sphere about the supposed dangers of microwave radiation from cell phones, “dirty” electricity, and other wireless devices. Portions of this brief were published in the print edition of the National Post editorial section in September of 2010, and we feel it is important to re-iterate these points in support of the actual science surrounding the purported health effects of wireless communications equipment. Specific papers cited in this brief are listed at the end and included with the submission.
A group of parents recently petitioned the Barrie ON school board to disconnect Wi-Fi in their schools. They claimed that their children were suffering from a grab-bag of non-specific ailments such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, and even heart palpitations. They blamed these symptoms on Wi-Fi exposure. A spokesperson for this group, Rodney Palmer, has claimed to have had to become an epidemiologist in order to bring these claims to light, despite the fact that he has been doing nothing else but re-reporting anecdotes of supposed victims and applying none of the rigorous data collection standards and statistical analysis that is routinely used by real epidemiologists. Despite having no evidence of a supposed epidemic of symptoms, members of the public are repeating these claims and there is a growing feeling among the populace that there is a real health effect from electro-magnetic radiation.
Is there any sound scientific evidence for these alarming claims? In a word: No. Wi-Fi, cell phones, and TV broadcasting are all emitters of what are known as electromagnetic fields or EMF. Ordinary light is another familiar form of EMF. Scientists have long known that the only harmful forms of EMF are those with very short wavelengths such as ultraviolet light and x rays. These forms of EMF, also known as ionizing radiation, have sufficient energy to break molecular bonds and damage DNA. The wavelengths used in Wi-Fi have 1 million times less energy than ionizing radiation. Thus there is no known mechanism by which cell phones and Wi-Fi can even cause health problems.
None the less, because of public concerns and the fact that science can never prove a negative, decades of research have been conducted looking for any link between EMF and health. In its 2004 document entitled “What are Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects” the World Health Organization said (see Ref 3 below):
“In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years….Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”
This conclusion is echoed by the public health organizations of virtually every industrialized country including Health Canada, and the American Cancer Society.
However, a relatively small group of alarmists and a minority of scientists continue to claim that there is evidence of harmful effects from EMF. They have used the Internet to disseminate massive amounts of misinformation ranging from urban legends to so called scientific “studies”. This has raised concerns among the public. While it is true that poorly conducted studies have found some evidence for harmful effects, the overwhelming preponderance of studies has found no evidence for harm. These follow up studies are far more comprehensive and rigorous both in quality and in statistical significance. A very definitive review of all of the evidence for electro hypersensitivity, what they refer to as IEI-EMF, was published in 2009 by James Rubin and members of the Department of Psychological Medicine at King’s College London (see Ref 2), and they concluded that:
“Including studies reported in our earlier review, 46 blind or double-blind provocation studies in all, involving 1175 IEI-EMF volunteers, have tested whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is responsible for triggering symptoms in IEI-EMF. No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.”
The alarmists deliberately ignore this and even insist that studies do not need to be reproducible to raise cause for concern. This is totally contrary to one of the key principles in science; namely that all experimental results must be reproducible to be valid. Without this fundamental principle, any scientist could raise alarm bells with any half-baked or even fraudulent experiment.
One very recent example of a study that contradicts accepted studies was published by Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University: Provocation Study Using Heart Rate Variability (see Ref 10 below). This study purports to show that the heart rate of electrosensitive subjects is subject to dramatic increases in the presence of EMF from a cordless phone. The authors claim that this is the first double blind study that demonstrates a “real” electrosensitive effect. This single study is in sharp contradiction with dozens of other rigorous studies such as the systematic review paper by Rubin cited above (see Ref 2). The Havas study is highly questionable due to this fact alone. However, our group has identified a number of potential flaws with this study such as improper blinding, and electrical interference within the equipment.
One of the most repeated claims of alarmists is that EMF causes DNA damage. However, it is well known by scientists in this field that after some initial reports, follow up studies could not find any evidence of such damage. In fact one of the studies that purported to find DNA breaks was withdrawn due to scientific fraud. No credible, reproducible evidence for DNA damage or any other serious health effect exists in the scientific literature. Alarmists rely on the scientific ignorance of the public and the media in this specialized field to advance their agenda.
Another common claim is that cell phones cause brain cancer. The preponderance of credible scientific epidemiological studies shows no link between cell phone use and brain cancer. Perhaps the most compelling statistic is that there has been no significant change in the incidence of brain cancer since the introduction of cell phones over 20 years ago. In a recent Bulletin the US National Cancer Institute stated: “There was no upturn in the incidence of brain or other nervous system cancers between 1987 and 2005, according to data from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program” (see Ref 5 NCI, and Ref 7 P. 24 of the SCENIHR report). Brain cancer is one of the rarest forms of cancer and there are more than 4 billion cell phones in use worldwide. The Interphone study, an international effort comprising 16 centres from 13 countries and over 5000 participants, studying the long term effects of cell phone use on the rate of brain tumours concluded “Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones,” (Interphone Study Group, 2010).
It is understandable that the public are confused when someone with a PhD says that there is cause for concern. One should keep in mind that there are people with a PhD who question Darwin’s theory of evolution - one the best established facts in science. The consensus of the world’s public health authorities is that the overwhelming preponderance of evidence shows that EMF does not cause any adverse health effects. This should satisfy most people. Unfortunately, scary headlines sell new papers, and there are few journalists who can afford this luxury of verifying the veracity of sensationalist claims. In collaboration with some colleagues from McGill University, Lorne Trottier, an electronics engineer who is the President of the Montreal Science Centre Foundation and a CFI science advisor has established a web site that contains a wealth of credible information and references on this issue that is based on sound science. See: www.emfandhealth.com.
We at the Centre for Inquiry respectfully submit that those making claims regarding the negative health effects of wireless communication devices use nothing more than illogical ad populi arguments, bad science, and scary anecdotes to support their very thin hypothesis that microwave radiation, within the levels demanded by the Safety Code 6 regulations, causes negative health effects in children and adults. We call on the HESA to listen to Health Canada and reject these claims on the basis of lack of credible scientific evidence.
Michael Kruse, co-chairCASS at CFI Canada
Iain Martel, co-chair CASS at CFI Canada
Justin Trottier, Executive Director CFI Canada
The following is apartial list of reviews on the issue of EMF and health by major scientificpublic health organizations. A more comprehensive list is available on demand.The source and title of each report is provided along with a link to the reportitself. Hard copies of the reports can be downloaded by clicking on theprovided links.
1. InterphoneStudy Group (2010). Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use:results of the INTERPHONE international case–control study. InternationalJournal of Epidemiology 2010;39:675–694: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/3/675.full.pdf
2. Rubin, James G., Nieto-Hernandes, Rosa, Wessley,Simon. (2009). Idiopathic environmental intolerance to electromagnetic fields(formerly ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’): an updated systematic review ofprovocation studies, Bioelectromagnetics 2009;31:1–11. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bem.20536/abstract
3. World Health Organisation. What areelectromagnetic fields? http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index.html
4. WHOElectromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/print.html
5. US NationalCancer Institute (NCI): Cell Phones and Brain Cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/ncicancerbulletin/NCI_Cancer_Bulletin_092308/page7
6. US AmericanCancer Society: Learn About Cancer: Cellular Phones: http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/AtHome/cellular-phones
7. EuropeanCommission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks(SCENIHR): Health Effects of Exposure to EMF: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_scenihr/docs/scenihr_o_022.pdf
8. US IEEEExpert Review on Health Effects of EMF: http://www.emfandhealth.com/12265_COMAR_2009.pdf
9. France: AFSSET Mise à jour de l’expertise relative auxradiofréquences : http://www.afsset.fr/upload/bibliotheque/964737982279214719846901993881/Rapport_RF_20_151009_l.pdf
10. UK Review of Scientific Evidence for LimitingExposure to Electromagnetic Fields : http://www.hpa.org.uk/web/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1194947383619
11. Health Canada: Safety of Cell Phones and CellTowers: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/prod/cell-eng.php
12. Magda Havas: Provocation study using heart ratevariability shows microwave radiation from 2.4GHz cordless phone affectsautonomic nervous system http://www.magdahavas.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Havas-HRV-Ramazzini1.pdf