Health effects from exposure to radiation from GMS and UMTS phone masts
Short-term neurological effects.
TNO and Zurich University have been exposing test persons during 30-45 minutes to high frequency radiation of levels comparable to exposure levels in houses neighbouring phone masts. By means of questionnaires the effect on well-being, concentration etc. were estimated. In short, these studies pointed out that TNO found relatively mild neurological effects (Zwamborn et al., 2003), and Zurich University did not find any significant effect (Regel et al., 2006). The general conclusion one can draw from these studies is that one doesn’t have to worry too much when bringing a 45 minutes visit to someone living close to a phone mast.
Neurotoxic effects in the mid-long term (chronic exposure).
The interpretation from former State Secretary van Geel based on the abovementioned Swiss study however, was broader: based on this research, he stated that UMTS radiation in general is without any danger. (see press report
from June 6 2006 titled “No effect UMTS radiation on health”). The Swiss researchers themselves disagreed with this extrapolation of their study data to long-term exposure. The last line of their scientific paper from August 2006 states: “Regarding the implications for public health because of widespread exposure in the living environment, no conclusions about long-term effects of UMTS base station-like EMF can be drawn from the present study, since only a short-term exposure was applied” (Regel et al
, 2006). So which studies then are relevant for people who don’t get exposed 30-45 minutes, but 4000-8000 hours a year, such as neighbours from phone masts (also during sleep)? Our knowledge platform considers the following epidemiological studies and reports from groups of physicians the most relevant in this regard.
Epidemiological studies: In the (peer-reviewed) scientific literature, eight articles have been published, reporting on five independent epidemiological studies carried out in France, Spain, Egypt, Austria, and Cyprus. All five studies find a statistical connection between the incidence of headache and the degree of chronical exposure to the radiation of a phone mast closeby.
In the first study of Santini et al
. from 2002, people were asked by a questionnaire to indicate how often they experience certain complaints, and how far they live from a send station. Santini et al.
found a significant link between the distance to a mast and the incidence of headache: people living close to a phone mast had a headache much more often than people living more than 500 m away from it (see Fig. 1). Those results from Santini et al.
(2002) were criticised (e.g. by the Dutch Health Council , 2003, see www.gr.nl
), because the questioned persons knew about the goal of the research: the relation between the distance between a phone mast and the incidence of health complaints. This can lead to a distortion of the answers (the socalled ‘reporting bias’). To what extent this ‘reporting bias’ effectively has lead to a distortion of the results is impossible to say.
Navarro et al. (2003) did a similar study among inhabitants from a Spanish urban area, and used a similar questionnaire as Santini et al. (2002). Also this study might therefore show the ‘reporting bias’, but the researchers did a little extra here: they additionally brought a visit to the circa one hundred respondents to measure radiation in their bedroom. In the open field, radiation potential decreases exponentially with distance, but can strongly differ locally among and within buildings. Navarro et al. also found a statistical correlation between the measured radiation load and a series of health complaints, namely headache, tiredness and irritability. Although as said this study can suffer from bias, the correlation found between radiation load and health complaints strengthened the previous results.
Fig. 1 (left): Relation between the distance from houses to a phone tower and the incidence of a number of selected health symptoms (reported as ‘very often’, Santini et al. (2002), table 1).
Fig. 2 (right): The relative risk to get different neurological problems as a consequence of electromagnetic radiation from GSM phone masts for three groups of people who (measured in the bed room) are exposed to less than 10 µW/m2 (green), 100-500 µW/m2 (blued) and more than 500 µW/m2 (red). (Source: Hutter et al., 2006, Table 4): the increased incidence of headaches is the most obvious observation.
The best study so far is Hutter et al. (2006), with 365 respondents in two different regions in Austria, around ten phone masts in different communities. Also they questioned people and measured the radiation load in the bedroom, and apart from that they carried out a number of cognitive tests. They selected their locations carefully: base stations that had been the subject of protest were not allowed in the study. In contrast to Santini and Navarro they did not tell the respondents that the study had anything to do with send masts, but said that the study was about the influence of a number of environmental factors, among others traffic noise, fine dust and base stations. In that way the researchers avoided a reported bias, from which the results from Santini and Navarro could possibly suffer. In the questionnaire, Hutter et al. did not only ask about the experienced health complaints, but also about the judgement of people about the influence of these environmental factors on the human health. In this way it would be possible to correct later on for the subjective negative ideas that people already might have about the radiation of phone masts. Most people (ca 60%) turned out not to worry about that anyway.
Despite those precautionary measures and the correction for the subjective fear for phone masts, Hutter et al. still found a correlation between the radiation load at one hand and headache/migraine and concentration problems at the other hand (see Fig. 2). From levels from 100-500 µW/m2, the researchers found an increased risk for mentioned symptoms. This is actually 0.5 to 3% of the levels regularly measured in houses and is acceptable according to the current Dutch norms (see www.antennebureau.nl). Hutter et al. formulate their main conclusion as:
"Exposure from mobile phone base stations is orders of magnitude below current guideline levels. Self-reported symptoms like headache and difficulties in concentrating show an association with microwave exposure from base stations, not attributable to subjects' fear of health effects from these sources".
In a simple study in Egypt, Abdel-Rassoul et al. came to the conclusion of a more than twice as high incidence of headache for residents near mobile phone masts compared to a matched control group (Abdel-Rassoul et al., 2006).
Finally, in a study by Preece et al. (2007) from Bristol University (UK), the health situation of inhabitants of three villages in Cyprus was compared. One village had no mobile phone masts in its vicinity (exposure less than 1 µW/m2), while exposure levels within the two ‘‘exposed’’ villages were up to 5000 µW/m2. Compared with the control village there were highly significant differences in the reporting of migraine (OR 2.7, p,0.001), headache (OR 3.7, p,0.001), and dizziness (OR 2.7, p,0.001).
In conclusion: although the methodology from Santini and Navarro (and undoubtedly also from Abdel-Rassoul’s simple study) has rightly been criticised, these studies are not fundamentally weakened. The methodological set-up from the recent study from Hutter was better (also the Health Council has – as far as we know – a positive judgement about the quality of this study), and comes to the same conclusions. Moreover, no epidemiological studies in the scientific literature have been published that do not show a statistical correlation between the distance to a phone mast and complaints such as headache. This is relevant, because four years is more than enough time to put up , carry out and publish a counter study. Thus, it is justified to state that there exists a consensus in the scientific professional literature, that the chronic exposure to radiation of GSM phone masts leads to headache and migraine in a part of the population. Taking into account the large similarities in terms of frequency and signal shape, there is no reason to believe that this is much different for UMTS phone masts.
Research in the early 20th century: Just for the record: the aforementioned scientists were not the first ones seeing a link between chronic exposure to short-wave radiation and the occurrence of neurological complaints. As far as we know, this honour is due to the German physician Dr. Erwin Schliephake, who in the year 1932 described an increasing degree of headache after prolonged exposure to microwaves (Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift, 85th volume, nr 32, 1932):
"Der Gesamtorganismus wird schon im Strahlungsfeld von starken Kurzwellensendern durch die freie Hertzsche Welle deutlich beeinflusst. Das empfinden alle Personen, die längere Zeit hindurch an solchen Sendern ohne genügende Schutzmittel haben arbeiten müssen. Es treten Erscheinungen auf, wie wir sie bei Neurasthenikern zu sehen gewohnt sind: starke Mattigkeit am 'Tag, dafür in der Nacht unruhiger Schlaf, zunächst ein eigenartig ziehendes Gefühl in der Stirn und Kopfhaut, dann Kopfschmerzen, die sich immer mehr steigern, bis zur Unerträglichkeit. Dazu Neigung zu depressiver Stimmung und Aufgeregtheit."
Worth to be mentioned here is that this Dr. Schiephake propagated the use of radio-emission for therapeutic purposes. Hence these side-effects were unfavourable for him, but he had enough scientific integrity to report it anyway.
During studies on the health of personnel of radar stations (which also use radiation in the lower gigaherz frequency range, just like GSM and UTMS) during the Second World War, headache was described as a reproducible health effect. In that time, this was seen as a necessary sacrifice in the efforts of the war. In a review from Cook et al. (1980)
it is stated as follows (p. 332):
"Thus, by the end of the war, the published reports from the military indicated that no harm would come to its technical personnel involved with radar operations. The few confirmed effects - headaches and flushing - were certainly not very serious in light of the importance of radar to the war effort."
In the same review from Cook et al.
(p 336) also mention is made of a "universal complaint of headaches by personnel working in the vicinity of microwave radiation"
during medical interviews of personnel from Hughes Aircraft Corporation in Culver City, California.
Also in Russian research (Simenenko et al., 1998) studying the effects of chronic radiation to microwaves, headache is mentioned as an important effect: “Nearly all the persons studied complained of: headache and dizziness; irritability; fatigability; general weakness; sleep disturbance; daytime sleepiness; pain in the region of the heart; difficulty breathing; and stomach pains and indigestion.”
Appeals by groups of doctors:
With a certain regularity, groups of physicians report clusters of similar cases of diseases around GSM and/or UMTS phone masts. The first report is from 2002, where more than 1000 physicians and professors indicated that to their experience, there is much too often and too systematically a link between certain complaints, such as headache, and the degree of radiation load. In this so-called Freiburger Appel
, it is stated as follows:
· too often we establish a conspicuous accumulation of certain diseases [headache is mentioned in the document to be the most important sympotome – red.] in areas or neighbourhoods with similar radiation load
· too often the disease gets better, or complaints that have been going on for months or years disappear in relatively short time after reducing or removal of the radiation load in the neighbourhood of patients.
Similar appeals from (mainly) physicians are the Bamburger appel, the Benevento resolution and at the beginning of 2007 the Brusseler appel.
In a relatively recent questionnaire by the University from Bern among 342 Swiss physicians (Huss and Röösli, 2005
), 61% said that according to them this kind of radiation can influence the health of people. Also they report headache to be the most often occurring complaint (see table 1).
These reports/appeals from physicians agree very well with the conclusions from above scientific studies. All individual members of our Knowledge Base estimate the chance that the results of all mentioned studies are caused by imagination and mass hysteria on zero.
Table 1: The health complaints/diseases mentioned by Swiss physicians, which according to them are linked to exposure to high-frequency electromagnetic radiation (source: Huss and Roosli, 2005).
Headache as a complaint/condition/disease:
The Health Council and other health instances use a double defence against the reported neurological effects. First, they state that the mentioned studies are too weak to function as an indication for the real existence of neurological effects such as headache. Second, they have a tendency not to take headache as a serious health complaint. They are right when stating that headaches don’t fall into the category ‘irreparable health damage’ (when people move away from phone masts, they indeed declare themselves that complaints such as headaches disappear after a few days or weeks). In our opinion these two issues need to be considered separately i) in which cases they consider an increased incidence of headache as a consequence of an environmental factor as acceptable, and ii) how they judge the quality and credibility of the individual studies (and all of the studies together).
Sceptics often state that headache is an unspecific complaint which moreover can’t be qualified as a disease, and therefore can’t be used as a ground for reducing the radiation load. Hereby they ignore how disrupting chronic headache can be for the social and economic functioning of an individual, and the quality of its life. Accepting headache with personnel at a radar station during war may have been justified. Accepting headache with residents in houses around phone masts in peace time clearly crosses an ethical border, in our view.
Different sensitivity of individuals:
A complicating factor is that every individual responds differently to a certain level of radiation. Some people get complaints like headache after only a couple of weeks of chronic radiation, while this can take months or years for others, and some others will never experience these complaints. Also the required level of radiation that will cause complaints differs between individuals. Some people are extremely sensitive and are called ‘electrosensitive’ (for more information, see: www.electroallergie.org
). Such differences in sensitivity occur also with other environmental pollutions such as the concentration of solvents in the air.
Effects on the incidence of cancer
A number of published epidemiological studies show a higher incidence of different kinds of cancer in the neighbourhood of phone masts. If there is indeed a causal link here is not clear yet. It is plausible that an increased rate of DNA breakages (shown in in vivo studies) and a decreased functioning of the immune system play a role here, obvious evidence is however lacking. For this reason, we focusmainly on the neurological effects from continuous exposure (shown with much higher certainty, as described above). The – justified – call from citizen groups and politicians to do more research in the area of cancer should in our opinion not be used as a reason to wait with taking action (for diminishing exposure) until the results of such studies are available.
Literature (can often be requested from the authors):
G. Abdel-Rassoul et al., Neurobehavioral effects among inhabitants around mobile phone base stations, NeuroToxicology (2006), doi:10.1016/j.neuro.2006.07.012
Cook, A.J. et al (1980) Early Research on the Biological Effects of Microwave Radiation: 1940-1960 ANNALS OF SCIENCE, 37: 323-351 (pdf-file)
Huss, Anke, Martin Röösli. 2005. Befragung von Ärztinnen und Ärzten zum Thema elektromagnetischer Felder in der hausärztlichen Praxis. Studie im Auftrag des Bundesamtes für Gesundheit (BAG), Institut für Sozial- und Präventivmedizin, Universitat Bern (pdf-file).
Hutter, H-P, H Moshammer, P Wallner and M Kundi. 2006. Subjective symptoms, sleeping problems, and cognitive performance in subjects living near mobile phone base stations. Occup. Environ. Med 63;307-313 .
Hyland, G. 2001. The physiological and environmental effects on non-ionising electromagnetic radiation - Final study. Brussels, STOA. Working Document EP/IV/A/STOA/2000/07/03 (pdf-file)
Navarro, E.A., J. Segura, M. Portolés, and C. Gómez-Perretta. 2003. The Microwave Syndrome: A Preliminary Study in Spain. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 22 (2&3): 161-169
Regel, SJ, Negovetic, S, Roosli, M, et al. 2006. UMTS base station-like exposure, well-being, and cognitive performance. Environ Health Perspect. 114(8): 1270-1275.
Preece, A.W., A G Georgiou, E J Dunn and S C Farrow. 2007. antennae in Cyprus, Health response of two communities to militaryOccup. Environ. Med. 64:402-408
Santini, R., P. Santini, J.M. Danze, P. Le Ruz, M. Seigne. 2002. Study of the health of people living in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations: I. Incidences of distances and sex. Pathologie Biologie 50: 369-373
Santini, R; Santini, P; Danze, JM; Le Ruz, P; Seigne, M. 2003. Symptoms experienced by people in vicinity of base stations: II Incidences of age, duration of exposure, location of sub-jects in relation to the antennas and other electromagnetic factors. Pathologie Biologie 51: 412-415
Santini, R; Santini, P; Le Ruz, P; Danze, JM; Seigne, M (2003). Survey study of people living in the vicinity of cellular phone base stations
Source: ELECTROMAGNETIC BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE, 22 (1): 41-49
Santini, R; Santini, P; Danze, JM; Le Ruz, P; Seigne, M (2002). Symptoms experienced by people in vicinity of basestation: incidences of distance and sex PATHOLOGIE BIOLOGIE, 50 (10): 621-621
Simonenko,V.B, Chernetsov, A.A. & Lyutov,V.V. (1998) Influence of electromagnetic radiation in the radio-frequency range on the health condition of an organized collective. Voenno-meditsinskiy zhurnal CCCXIX(5):64-68
Zwamborn, APM, Vossen, SHJA, Leersum, Bv, et al. 2003. Effects of global communication system radiofrequency fields on well being and cognitive functions of human subjects with and without subjective complaints. The Hague: TNO Physics and Electronics Laboratory; FEL-03-C148.