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Radiation regulation on the hot seat

Parliamentary health committee examines non-ionizing radiation, including from wireless devices

By Meg Sears, PhD, Co-Chair of Prevent Cancer Now

For decades, Dr. Devra Davis has been at the forefront of major environmental health and cancer issues, such as tobacco, lead, pesticides and persistent pollutants. She headed US research organizations, is consulted by leaders worldwide and is among the group awarded the Nobel Prize for work on climate change. When Devra Davis tells us that the radiation from wireless devices is the most important, unrecognized risk to public health today, we need to sit up and listen.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health (HESA) listened. In hearings on Canada’s Safety Code 6, Health Canada’s guidelines for human exposure to non-ionizing radiation, including radiocommunications. Regulators rely upon Health Canada guidance. Following a 2013-2014 review, Health Canada chose to finalize Safety Code 6 (2015) before the Parliamentary hearing, but after the hearing announcement.

Dr. Davis and other witnesses had much to say. She spoke of damage to cell membranes and sperm from cell phone exposure. Dr. Martin Blank described how we have known since the 1990s that this radiation damages DNA.

Dr. Anthony Miller (Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto) also spoke. He was a reviewer of the epidemiology for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2011 monograph, that classified radiofrequency radiation as a possible carcinogen. Dr. Miller stated that subsequent human brain tumour studies would bump the classification up to “probable” human carcinogen. As well, young women are developing cancers on their breasts, corresponding to the position of phones that were carried in bras.

Canada collects data on neither brain tumours nor breast cancers in relation to potential exposure to phones. We should. A brain tumour registry is under development.

Other physicians and scientists covered effects on child development, electrohypersensitivity, and flawed scientific processes.

Physicians’ and scientists’ concerns that Canadians are not being protected by Health Canada are summarized in recent articles in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Globe and Mail. In May 2015, an international group of 190 scientists appealed to the United Nations and the World Health Organization for increased protection from non-ionizing radiation – and not solely for humans.

During the process of finalizing Safety Code 6, Health Canada produced a Rationale document. This was not provided to Prevent Cancer Now when supporting documents were requested from Health Canada – we obtained a copy via another interested party. Neither the Rationale nor any other review pertaining to Safety Code 6 meets international standards for rigour and reliability in scientific review. Scientific shortcomings are particularly evident regarding the brain tumour research. Human harm at very low exposure levels is shown most clearly by the sperm research, but experiments that used a phone as the source of exposure were excluded (ignored) by Health Canada.

Indeed, identification of relevant literature was so poor that volunteers with Canadians for Safe Technology (C4ST) identified 140 studies showing harm from radiofrequency radiation, that were omitted in Health Canada’s published reviews. Poor methods of review open the door to biases and inaccuracies, and the topic of health effects of wireless radiation is littered with “authoritative” reviews, based on selected subsets of information. These reviews agree with one another in a circular fashion, as if agreement confers truth. Ironically, reports declaring that the status quo is “safe” engender unsafe complacency.

Wireless radiation is big business, and exposures are escalating rapidly. Telecom representative Bernard Lord indicated that data transmission is expected to increase 700% over the next five years. If this radiation is causing harm, it is time to start putting more data through cables. No one is saying not to use the internet; we just must use it more safely.

As a first step, HESA directed Health Canada to provide detailed information in the form of a full scientific monograph on the reasons for acceptance or rejection of 140 studies on EMR submitted by Canadians for Safe Technologies with regards to Safety Code 6.

Much of the hearing evidence and audio archives of the meetings, are available through Canadians for Safe Technology.

Meg Sears, PhD, is an Ottawa-based environmental health researcher and co-chair of Prevent Cancer Now.