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An expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) released a report on April 1, 2014, entitled “A Review of Safety Code 6 (2013): Health Canada’s Safety Limits for Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields.”  Although the report is comprehensive at 165 pages in length, it clearly presents a disappointing and biased account of the current state of science on RF exposure effects and what to do in response to those effects.

As summarized by one Toronto new source regarding the new report, “Federal guidelines that spell out safe exposure levels of radiofrequency waves emitted by cellphones and other wireless devices appear to be mostly adequate, but research to clarify the potential risk of cancer should be aggressively pursued, an expert panel recommends.”

In other words, there is some evidence that RF exposure might be harmful, but we need more studies to quantify the possible risk.  Where have we heard that before?

Two individuals generally critical of the current RF exposure guidelines were listed in the report as peer reviewers, namely Dr. Martin Blank and Dr. Anthony Miller.  It will be interesting at some point to get their perspectives on the newly issued report.  With the report at least providing a broad treatment of the subject matter, it takes time to fully digest the report’s content.  Based upon an initial review, observations will be offered to help support the headline of this blog article that the RSC expert panel report is disappointing and biased.

1.  The Expert Panel

SkyVision Solutions is most familiar with one of the two members of the RSC expert panel who originated from the United States, Kenneth Foster.  In an article [1] co-authored by Kenneth Foster in 2007 published in the Health Physics journal, he wrote the following:

“In this paper, we consider the role of a mechanistic understanding of thermal hazards in setting exposure guidelines. …  We do not consider the contentious issue of hazards from low-level exposures to RF energy.  No such hazards have been proven, and for that reason none have played any direct role in the IEEE and ICNIRP exposure guidelines. …  Research on the effects of chronic exposure and speculations on the biological significance of low-level interactions have not changed the scientific basis of the adverse effect level.”

The use of the words contentious and speculations and their context were particularly troublesome in the article because they expressed a somewhat arrogant tone and bias against people who dare question the wisdom of adhering to a thermal paradigm where adverse effects can only be caused by heating or burning of tissue.  Unless this person has had a complete shift in perspective since 2007, an objective review of current RF exposure guidelines should not be expected from this person.

In a press conference held on April 1, 2014, Frank Clegg of Canadians for Safe Technology (C4ST) indicated that members of the RSC expert panel have conflicts of interest (see short video below).

[1] “Thermal Mechanisms of Interaction of Radiofrequency Energy with Biological Systems with Relevance to Exposure Guidelines,” Foster and Glaser, Health Physics, 92 (2007) 609-620; refer to link at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17495663.

2.  Evidence of RF Induced Health-Related Effects

An objective review of available collective evidence would generally lead one to conclude that the majority of published studies show evidence of biological effects caused by exposure to RF emissions.  For example, a systematic review [2] of studies of controlled exposure to radiofrequency radiation with health-related outcomes (electroencephalogram, cognitive or cardiovascular function, hormone levels, symptoms, and subjective well-being) reported that most (68%) of the studies reported biologic effects.

Yet in reviewing the RSC report, one would think the opposite were true, as stated:

“the Panel has concluded that the balance of evidence at this time does not indicate negative health effects from exposure to RF energy below the limits recommended in the Safety Code.”

Such a conclusion may have been possible due to a carefully crafted definition of the term established adverse health effect which was defined “as an adverse effect that is observed consistently in several studies with strong methodology.”  It was evidently up to the expert panel to decide what effects were “consistently observed” and what studies provided a “strong methodology.”

In fact, the following quotation from the RSC report is almost mind-boggling:

“Many of the studies considered reached conflicting conclusions.  For example, the Panel reviewed conflicting evidence about effects of exposure to RF energy on cancer, concluding that effects are possible but are not ‘established’ in accordance with its definition of ‘established health effects’.”

According to an article [3] published in 2009, it is suggested that studies finding biological effects attributable to non-thermal effects are increasingly subjected to a “weight of evidence” evaluation.  In such evaluations, it is pointed out that “the distinction between weight of evidence and strength of evidence often is lacking or not defined, and differences in methodologies between investigators are not considered.  Consequently, weight of evidence generally amounts to what [is referred] to as a ‘seat-of-the-pants qualitative assessment.’ …  To some investigators, weight of evidence does indeed refer to the balance (or imbalance) between the number of studies producing apparently opposing results, without regard to critical experimental variables.”

Based upon the above viewpoint, the evaluation of evidence amounts to a strategy whereby one study showing non-thermal biological effects is simply canceled by any similar study showing no effect without a critical review of the experimental procedure and the investigator’s interpretations and conclusions.  In the case of the RSC expert panel review, it appears that “conflicting evidence” amounts to “cancelled evidence” of finding an “established adverse health effect.”

[2] “Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use: Systematic Review of Experimental Studies,” Huss, et.al., Environmental Health Perspectives, 2007 January; 115(1): 1–4; refer to link at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1289%2Fehp.9149.

[3] “Electromagnetic Fields and DNA Damage,” Phillips, et.al., Pathophysiology, 16 (2009) 79–88; refer to link at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19264461.

3.  Dismissing Evidence Not Consistent with Established Beliefs

It is somewhat curious how the expert panel easily dismisses evidence of adverse effects. The expert panel noted that:

“Havas and Marrongelle (2013) studied the effects of RF exposure on heart rate variability in the human cardiovascular system and found a significant (doubling or more) increase in heart rate in a large fraction of exposed subjects.”

It is then stated that the reason for these findings is “unclear at present” and that the “results need to be independently confirmed in a study with better design.”  Not mentioned in discussion is the actual title of the published study [4] which is “Replication of Heart Rate Variability Provocation Study with 2.4-GHz Cordless Phone Confirms Original Findings.”  In other words, the study results released in 2013 were already considered to represent a study of “better design” which confirmed (replicated) the results of an earlier study.

[4] “Replication of Heart Rate Variability Provocation Study with 2.4-GHz Cordless Phone Confirms Original Findings; by Magda Havas and Jeffrey Marrongelle; Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, June 2013, Vol. 32, No. 2: Pages 253-266.

4.  Discussion of Studies Published Since the IARC Monograph

Regarding studies that have been published since the IARC declaration in 2011, the RSC report states:

“The authoritative reviews considered by the Panel find that a causal association between cancer and exposure to RF energy is possible (based on the IARC definition for Group 2B).  This Panel agrees with that assessment.  The present review also considered numerous studies that appeared after these authoritative reviews were completed.  None of the newer studies materially affect the conclusions of the authoritative reviews.”

The above conclusions are inconsistent with the view of experts like Anthony Miller and Lennart Hardell who have coauthored separate articles [5] [6] substantiating the position that research data accumulated over the past couple of years shows a progression from the Group 2B cancer classification to Group 2A, or possibly even to Group 1.

[5] “Swedish Review Strengthens Grounds for Concluding That Radiation from Cellular and Cordless Phones Is a Probable Human Carcinogen;” Devra Lee Davis, Santosh Kesari, Colin L. Soskolne, Anthony B. Miller, Yael Stein; Pathophysiology – April 2013 (Vol. 20, Issue 2), Pages 123-129, http://www.pathophysiologyjournal.com/article/S0928-4680(13)00003-5/abstract.

[6] “Using the Hill Viewpoints from 1965 for Evaluating Strengths of Evidence of the Risk for Brain Tumors Associated with Use of Mobile and Cordless Phones,” Hardell and Carlberg, Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 28 (November 2013), Issue 2-3, Pages 97–106, http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2013-0006.

5.  The Precautionary Principle

Probably the most disappointing part of the RSC report pertains to its treatment of the precautionary principle.  As stated:

“there was a consensus regarding the fact that there is insufficient data available at this time with which to make a scientific recommendation to lower the limits proposed in SC6.”

The above statement reflects a somewhat distorted view on how to properly apply the precautionary principle as a risk management tool.  The precautionary principle would not necessarily be used to “lower” established limits.  Using the RSC report terminology, in the face of the “conflicting” evidence of RF-related health effects, the precautionary principle should be used to implement prudent measures intended to reduce the currently unrestrained and  exponential increases in RF exposure to our population until more research is completed and/or appropriate biologically based RF exposure limits are established.

Additionally, the RSC “expert” panel decided to merely accept the World Health Organization perspective on the use of the precautionary principle:

“The WHO has recommended that:  ‘If regulatory authorities react to public pressure by introducing precautionary limits in addition to the already existing science-based limits, they should be aware that this undermines the credibility of the science and the exposure limits.’  Based on this recommendation, this Panel does not believe that additional precautionary measures should be introduced directly into the exposure limits of SC6.”

On the contrary, the use of the precautionary principle can be used to complement the limitations of the existing science-based limits, not undermine their credibility.

So rather than an expert panel making a bold and prudent move to help protect this and future generations from the harmful effects of RF radiation, the most the panel could do is recommend:

“that Health Canada continue to improve its efforts to inform the public regarding this issue and provide practical advice to concerned consumers on how to reduce their personal or their children’s exposure.”

So, it is not that the expert panel that is “concerned” about RF effects, but it acknowledges that there are concerned consumers.

6.  Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)

Rather than recognizing EHS as a valid syndrome caused by RF emissions, the RSC reports states:

“The Panel feels strongly that these individuals need compassion and assistance in overcoming their symptoms.  However, it considers that such assistance should be provided by means other than a revision of Safety Code 6 because of the very unclear relationship between the symptoms and actual exposure to RF energy …  The Panel, in its recommendations to Health Canada, urges the government to investigate the symptoms of [idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields] IEI-EMF individuals with the aim of understanding the etiology of their condition, developing criteria for differential diagnosis of the condition…”

Although compassion and research is recommended, the tone here is that people need assistance in “overcoming their symptoms.”  This reflects a mentality of the expert panel that people affected with EHS must better cope with their predicament and that the solution is not a matter of turning off or reducing exposure to the offending technology.

There was also a somewhat peculiar attempt in the RSC report to minimize the possible implications of RF radiation effects (if they exist) in comparing RF exposure effects to consuming alcohol or caffeine:

“it is important to recognize that just because an experience produces a significant, and possibly large, behavioural effect does not necessarily mean that there will be a long-lasting change in brain and behaviour.  For example, although psychoactive drugs such as alcohol or caffeine clearly change brain function, these drugs do not have long-term effects on the brain unless taken to excess.”

The above statement may not be of much solace to those affected with EHS.

7.  Summary

Based upon an initial review of the RSC expert panel report, it represents a biased and limited view of the available science that shows the existence of RF induced health effects and a viewpoint which primarily depends on reviews conducted of other biased reports.  It is another “expert report” which attempts to kick the can down the road with recommendations for more research.

As stated by RSC expert panel Chairman Paul Demers:

“There are people who are seriously ill and seriously concerned about [RF waves and reported symptoms], and we believe that this should be a priority area for research to identify just what is causing their symptoms.”

Although stated with a more compassionate tone than one would normally expect as compared to someone representing the wireless industry, don’t we already know what is likely causing their symptoms?  When will it finally be time to act?

Possibly one of the more positive aspects of the report was an acknowledgment that “public concern has not abated over possible health impacts of RF exposure that are within the limits of the code” over the past 15 years.  Thus, there is at least some hope that a government may eventually implement policies that are consistent with both the available science and the persistent concerns of the public.

For additional information, including media coverage and reaction for the RSC expert panel report, refer to the following link:  http://www.c4st.org/RSCREPORT-SC6.
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