August 2003

The precautionary principle and risks of radiofrequency fields

A recent paper argues that the precautionary principle, which has "become ever more influential in environmental and health policy in the European Union and elsewhere…. still lacks an agreed upon definition and practical guidance on how policy can be derived without undue arbitrariness". The authors discuss the application of the principle to questions about radiofrequency fields of cell phones and base stations. They suggest that the result has been "wasteful and misguided regulations and questionable advice to the public". They recommend the formation of scientific "fire brigades" to allow for the rapid acquisition of scientific data that would help answer concerns about specific environmental risks.

This paper has been criticized in a commentary in Microwave News in the January-February 2003 issue. The authors replied to this criticism in the Bioelectromagnetics Society Newsletter. The May-June 2003 issue of Microwave News includes further comments on the controversy, including a copy of a reply that they sent to the BEMS Newsletter, but which was not printed.

Reference: Balzano Q, Sheppard AR (2003): The influence of the precautionary principle on science-based decision-making: questionable applications to risks of radiofrequency fields. Journal of Risk Research 5:351-369.

Another review of cell phones and health

There is a review of cell phones and health effects in the Radiological Protection Bulletin no 3 (March 2003) of the National Radiological Protection Board in the UK. John Stather summarizes the evidence on possible health effects that were reviewed in the IEGMP report "Mobile Phones and Health", and describes the main recommendations and the outcomes to date.

The review can be found at

Microwave radiation shown to affect shape of proteins

De Pomerai and colleagues at the University of Nottingham have previously shown that microwave radiation can induce the formation of heat-shock proteins (HSPs) (see "What's New", July 2000). They now report that it can also alter the shape of proteins and suggest that this change in the protein shape may be the factor that produces the HSP formation. The authors point out that these apparently non-thermal effects may not be harmful to humans. For more, see "Toxicological experiments - Others - Heat-shock proteins".

Reference: de Pomerai DI, Smith B, Dawe A, North K, et al. (2003): Microwave radiation can alter protein conformation without bulk heating. FEBS Letters 543:93-97.

New Research Centre in Australia

The Australian Government has announced that it is funding a centre to study possible health effects of cell phones and base stations. The Centre of Research Excellence in Electromagnetic Energy will receive $500,000 a year for five years from the National Health and Medical Research Council. It will be led by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and will be headed by Professor Irene Cosic.

Another study shows no effect of RF radiation on tumour promotion

There have been a number of animal studies that have shown no effect of RF radiation on the promotion of tumours by a variety of agents that are known to induce tumours. Another study has shown no effect, this time on the development of tumours induced by exposing mice to ultraviolet light. For more, see "Research - Toxicological Experiments - cancer studies".

Reference: Heikkinen P, Kosma V-M, Alhonen L, Huuskonen H, et al. (2003): Effects of mobile phone radiation on UV-induced skin tumourigenesis in ornithine decarboxylase transgenic and non-transgenic mice. Int J Radiat Biol 79:221-233.

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