Wireless – Senator Conroy’s response

Sep 12

A couple of emails from people involved with some community concern sites (Parents Against Wifi in Schools and Stop Smart Meters Australia) have reminded me that I’ve dropped the ball on this a bit, so, an update.

After I met with Andrew Wilkie to discuss my concerns, he wrote (in December 2012) to Stephen Conroy enquiring about the state of play given the World Health Organisation’s classification of Radio Frequency radiation as a possible human carcinogen.

It was many months before I received a copy of the reply (May 2013). You can view the reply here.

In summary, it’s more of the same: ‘we are within the standard’, and that’s no longer surprising to me. But I take issue with some of the diction in Senator Conroy’s reply.

Senator Conroy states “the IARC’s decision was based on limited evidence of increased health risks amongst heavy users or wireless phone handsets. It should be noted that this evidence only related to the use of wireless handsets. The IARC found there was inadequate evidence to draw conclusions about other sources of exposure to radiofrequency EME, including from wireless base stations.”

While this is strictly true, it is, on my reading of the IARC Monograph, far from a balanced representation of all the facts. Compare Senator Conroy’s comments with those from the IARC regarding their own assessment:

“…it should be emphasized that the evaluations in this volume address the general question of whether RF radiation causes cancer in humans or in experimental animals: it does not specifically or exclusively consider mobile phones.” Following on from this, I would also note that the IARC classification for “possible human carcinogen” in question, is of RF radiation as a whole (a very broad range, which includes mobiles, bluetooth, wifi, radio, TV…) and not that only radiation in the specific frequencies of mobile phones are possibly carcinogenic. My point here is that yes, the evidence that really pushed RF radiation over the line was regarding mobile phones, but if IARC thought that this means that only mobile phones are a possible risk, why class all RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen?

And further, while Senator Conroy comments that “the ARPANSA exposure limits are set well below the level at which adverse health effects are known to occur”, the IARC report states, “Although it has been argued that RF radiation cannot induce physiological effects at exposure intensities that do not cause an increase in tissue temperature, it is likely that not all mechanisms of interaction between weak RF-EMF (with the various signal modulations used in wireless communications) and biological structures have been discovered or fully characterized.” So, again, Senator Conroy is right, in that the limits are set below the level adverse health effects are known to occur (if we regard “known” health effects as equating to the level at which laboratory animals are disturbed enough to no longer want to earn food), but IARC has made an important concession to the possibility (or, in their terms, a probability, since they used the word “likely”) that interactions could be going on well below those levels. In short, Senator Conroy is promoting the “it’s all okay” version, while IARC has actually said, despite not being convinced by any of the current science on offer that RF radiation definitely is a carcinogen, “it may well not all be okay, we don’t know, and we think it’s a possible human carcinogen”.

To my mind, the fact that RF radiation has received this assessment from the WHO, some 120 years after its introduction into the human-made sphere, tells us just how little we really know, and how long it will take for us to have any real idea what the current incarnation of these technologies may be doing to us.

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