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  2. Biological and Health Effects of Microwave Radio Fequency Transmissions
The FCC regulations for permissible exposures to microwave radio frequency (RF) transmissions are only designed to protect against the thermal effects of high exposure levels. Representatives of the telecommunications industry usually assert that there is “no clear or conclusive” scientific evidence regarding the biological effects of low level or “nonthermal” RF exposures. But in actuality, a large body of scientific research documents that RF exposures at low levels can produce adverse biological or health effects. The installation of RF-transmitting “smart meters” by our electric utility could significantly increase the level of RF exposure in Eugene’s residential neighborhoods. Such an increase carries potential health risks. The nature of these risks needs to be carefully considered before making a decision to deploy this technology. Any decision-making process that ignores this possibility of harm could cause significantly damage both to community health and to Eugene Water and Electric Board’s (EWEB) goodwill in the community.


Microwave RF exposures can produce acute symptoms in some individuals. These symptoms can include headache, sleep disturbance, difficulty in concentration, memory disturbance, fatigue, depression, irritability, dizziness, malaise, tinnitus, burning and flushed skin, digestive disturbance, tremor, and cardiac irregularities. This syndrome was described by Russian researchers in the 1950’s, who called it “microwave sickness”. Between 1953 and 1978 the Russian government purposefully targeted the U.S. embassy in Moscow with beams of microwave RF, producing symptoms of microwave sickness in many embassy employees. In recent years, the buildout of the wireless telecommunications infrastructure has greatly increased the exposure of the general public to microwave RF, and this has led to an increased number of individuals experiencing symptoms that are now referred to as “Electrohypersensitivity Syndrome” (EHS). Multiple research studies have shown a correlation between these symptoms and residential exposure to radio, radar, and cell tower transmissions.

The prevalence of EHS appears to be increasing, as the exposure of the public to RF continues to expand. Based on recent epidemiologic research, it would be reasonable to assume RF exposures provoke some sort of symptoms in between 3 and 5% of the population of Eugene at the current time. Any significant increase in residential RF exposure is likely to make these individuals more symptomatic, and to produce some new cases of EHS by pushing some other individuals beyond their tolerance limit. 


Laboratory research in animal and human subjects has shown that “nonthermal” levels of RF exposure can alter EEG, immune function, and hormone levels including adrenal and thyroid hormones, testosterone, prolactin, progesterone. Research shows that low levels of microwave RF exposure can reduce melatonin levels in humans, and that some individuals are more sensitive than others to this effect. The adverse effects of nighttime RF exposure on melatonin secretion are particulary disturbing. The nocturnal rise in melatonin levels supports the natural function of sleep, and disrupting this cycle can produce insomnia. Melatonin is an extremely potent antioxidant, and helps to repair damaged DNA and heal the body from other effects of oxidant stress. Melatonin is also protective against the growth of cancer cells, and disruption of the circadian melatonin cycle has been shown to lead to increased tumor growth in a variety of cancer types. Women who have lower levels of nocturnal melatonin are at greater risk for developing breast cancer. Reduced melatonin levels may also increase the incidence of prostate cancer.


In contrast with Xrays and gamma rays, Microwave radiation does not have sufficient power to directly break covalent bonds in DNA molecules. But microwave RF can produce resonance interactions with ions and with charged macromolecules, and such interactions can significantly alter biochemical functions. A large body of research has shown that microwave RF causes an increased production of free radicals and reactive oxidant species in living tissues, and that this increased oxidant stress damages DNA. This damage can and does occur at power levels well below those levels that could produce damage by thermal mechanisms. Any chronic exposure to conditions that damage DNA can lead to an increased risk of cancer. Evidence of increased risk of certain types of cancer has been demonstrated in groups with occupational exposure to microwave RF, including radio technicians in private industry, military personnel, commercial airline pilots, and ham radio operators. Elevated levels of cancer have been demonstrated in populations with increased residential exposure to radio transmission towers. And in the last ten years, studies fro Israel, Germany, Austria, and Brazil have documented significant increased in breast cancer and other cancers in individuals living less than 500 meters from cell phone towers, with measured exposure levels much lower than those permitted by current FCC guidelines. Research has also shown that RF exposure levels well within current guidelines can cause DNA damage and reduced fertility in insects, birds, amphibians and mammals, and can lower sperm counts, sperm motility, and sperm motility in human beings.


Cell phone use expanded dramatically in Europe and the United States in the late 1990’s. Early studies of the cancer risks of cell phone use were hampered by short latency periods of exposure. In general, studies funded by industry have reported lower levels of risk than independently funded studies. But in the last four years, all but the most poorly designed studies have shown an increased risk of brain tumors with more than ten years of use—a level of exposure which appears to double the risk of brain tumor on the side of the head where the cell phone is customarily held. This risk is higher in those who started using cell phones as children.


Existing scientific research offers strong evidence that the chronic exposure of the public to microwave RF transmissions produces serious acute and chronic health effects in a significant portion of the population. These findings can be summarized in the following precepts:

Basic Precepts for Residential Exposures to RF Transmissions:
• Excessive RF exposure can cause acute problems (headaches, insomnia, fatigue, vertigo, tinnitus, other symptoms of EHS).
• Excessive RF exposure can also cause chronic problems (oxidative stress, cancer, male infertility).
• Constant RF transmission is probably harmful, even at low levels, and should be avoided.
• Frequent and repetitive intermittent transmissions are also probably harmful, and should be avoided.
• Nocturnal exposures are more problematic than daytime exposures, because of RF’s potential to suppress nocturnal melatonin secretion and disturb sleep, and because night is the time when we rest and heal from stresses (including oxidative stress).
• Occasional and infrequent daytime exposures are much less likely to cause an increase in chronic problems for the population at large.
• Occasional and infrequent daytime exposures are still likely to provoke acute symptoms in a small percentage of the population.

EWEB should adopt a policy of minimizing their RF footprint in the community. A recognition of these precepts should lead EWEB to adopting a policy of minimizing their infrastructure’s RF footprint in the community as much as possible during regular operations. This doesn't mean that staff would throw away their cell phones and communicate by semaphore. But it would mean that instead of combating or ignoring the possibility that more RF in the community could cause harm, EWEB should acknowledge the potential risks of excessive residential exposure. This would mean that such potential risks would be seriously considered in any discussion of the total risks and benefits involved (the “Total Bottom Line”), as EWEB decides whether to use RF technology for any given purpose. If, after such a discussion, a considered decision is made to use RF technology, then these same potential risks should be taken into serious consideration in determining how to use this technology in a manner that would minimize potential harm to the community. In other words, don’t use RF when you don’t have to. Use hard-wired connections wherever it is feasible to do so. And if you do use RF, design the infrastructure in a way that uses as little of it as possible. In the final section of this report, we discuss the perspectives that such a policy might bring to a consideration of the available AMI technologies.