While the communication industry is pushing for the introduction of 4G in Brussels, the state of the electromagnetic environment in the capital is already a cause for concern. Not all of them apparently…
Living beings have developed and adapted on the planet in an electromagnetic environment that has evolved very little over the millennia.
This environment has changed dramatically in recent decades with the widespread deployment of wireless communication technologies. Thus, in the frequency range from 300 MHz to 300 GHz, the natural radiation was a few decades ago of the order of 10 ‑7 μw/cm²; today it often reaches 1μW/ cm² in cities, i.e. 10 million times more!
It is not surprising under these conditions to observe significant behavioral disturbances in certain animal species. This is the case for many birds that use variations in the earth’s magnetic field and ambient electromagnetic vibrations to orient themselves.
This is also the case for bees, whose difficulties in returning to the hive have been measured in numerous studies(1).
It has been shown that bees perceive variations of 25nT in the earth’s magnetic field (which is of the order of 45,000 nT). They can adapt to magnetic anomalies but only if these anomalies remain stable over long periods of time (otherwise, learning becomes impossible).
The human being is also an electromagnetic transmitter-receiver:
- the brain emits very low frequency electromagnetic waves;
- Neuronal activity takes place through the synchronous emission of very low intensity electromagnetic waves; it regulates the critical functions of the organism such as metabolism, the activity of the brain, the heart and the intestine as well as the circadian rhythms which control sleep and hormonal cycles.
It is therefore perfectly understandable that chronic exposure to radio waves and to these same waves modulated in low frequencies can cause significant biological effects and alter the normal functioning of the organism, even at very low exposure levels.
However, the international protection standards issued by the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection), an industrial organization, and endorsed by the European Union, only take into consideration thermal effects (high frequencies) or electrical induction (low frequencies). They ignore the biological interactions between electromagnetic fields and living beings. These interactions occur at very low levels of exposure, in the absence of any possibility of tissue heating. To date, there are many scientific studies on the biological effects caused by this radiation. An exhaustive analysis of this work was carried out in 2007 by an international group of scientists, specialists in bioeletromagnetism. This analysis has just been updated and published a few weeks ago(2); in 5 years (between 2007 and 2012), it has identified 1800 new studies worldwide, which conclude that there is significant new and scientifically supported evidence to support the findings and recommendations expressed in 2007.
Thus, large epidemiological studies have been finalized on the risk of brain tumors due to cell phone use. The « Interphone » study provides evidence that cell phone use for 10 years or more, with a total of approximately 1,640 hours of cell phone or wireless use, doubles the risk of glioma in adults. Glioma is an aggressive malignant brain tumor; life expectancy after diagnosis is approximately 400 days.
Studies by Lennart Hardell and his team at the University of Orebro in Sweden have shown that children who start using a cell phone in their early years have a 5 times higher than normal risk of developing a glioma between the ages of 20 and 30.
Five new studies on the environment of base stations report biological effects in the range of 0.001 μW/cm² to 0.05μW/cm², lower levels than those reported in 2007 (below 0.05 to 0.1μW/cm², no effects were observed at that time). Researchers report headaches, concentration difficulties and behavioral problems in children and adolescents; in adults, insomnia, headaches and concentration problems are highlighted.
The Reflex study, commissioned by the European Commission and published in 2004 (3), had already highlighted the damage to DNA and chromosomes, which is understandably of particular concern.
Today, several hundred studies confirm that electromagnetic fields, even at very low levels of exposure, cause DNA damage and a loss of DNA repair capacity. The increased production of free radicals and the scarcity of antioxidants in the irradiated body explain this phenomenon.
The blood-brain barrier is a protective barrier that prevents toxins from entering sensitive brain tissue. Numerous studies show that very low-level exposure to radio frequencies can affect this barrier.
The required RF exposure levels are on the order of 0.001W/kg, lower than those caused by a cell phone held at arm’s length. The ICNIRP standard (for local exposure) is 2W/kg of energy to brain tissue for cell phone use. This means that damage to the blood-brain barrier occurs at levels of RF exposure that are 1000 times lower than those set by the standards.
This confirms a disturbing reality: chronic exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic fields and low-frequency pulsed radio frequencies at levels commonly found in our environment due to wireless technologies causes significant health risks.
The international and European standards (limit value of 450μW/cm² for the frequency of 900 MHz; 237.5 μW/cm² for 1900 MHz) do not therefore in any way protect the health of populations.
The new report of the Bioinitiative Working Group considering that the lowest level of exposure for which health effects are observed is of the order of 0.003μW/cm² (or 3nW/cm²), proposes as a precautionary measure for the most sensitive people (children), a limit level of exposure to permanent pulsed radiofrequencies of 0.3 to 0.6 nW/cm², that is to say, a reduction of a factor of 200 to 300 from the level proposed 5 years ago.
We can see that the most severe standard imposed in Belgium, which is the one in force in the Brussels Region, i.e. 2.5μW/cm², while being clearly lower than the ICNIRP standard, cannot in any way claim to respect the precautionary principle. It is three orders of magnitude too high, and it is contested by industrialists who consider it excessively restrictive! The unanswered question is how to force a real debate on such a crucial issue when political representatives want to ignore the facts that may jeopardize the current headlong rush to develop wireless technologies.
For the time being, we can only reiterate the basic precautionary recommendations which are:
- to warn against the misuse of cell phones;
- to renounce wireless technologies and to ban their use in places where the most vulnerable people stay: schools, nurseries, hospitals, homes for the elderly.
- to send a message to all parents to discourage the use of cell phones and wireless technologies by children and teenagers.
On May 27, 2011, the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling on European governments to establish that precautionary limits for microwave exposure levels in any indoor location, in accordance with the precautionary principle, should not exceed 0.6 V/m (i.e., 0.1μW/cm²) and, in the medium term, should be reduced to 0.2V/m and to pay particular attention to people who have become intolerant to electromagnetic fields.
On May 31, 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as « possibly carcinogenic to humans » (Category 2B).
- U.Warnke ; « Des abeilles, des oiseaux et des hommes »; Kompetenzinitiative zum Schutz von Mensch, Unwelt und Demokratie; Kempten, nov 2007.
- Bioinitiative 2012; Bioinitiative Working Group, décembre 2012.
- Reflex Consortium; Risk evaluation of potential environmental hazards from low energy electromagnetic field exposure using sensitive in vitro methods; Final report; 2004.