Electromagnetic radiation (EMR)
in our environment
Mobile phones, also called cellular phones or handies, are now an integral part of modern life. The widespread use of mobile phones has been accompanied by the installation of an increasing number of base station antennas on masts and buildings. Other technologies like wireless internet (Wifi, Wimax) are also becoming very popular.
In recent years, increased public awareness and scientific research have questioned to what extent the non-thermal exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields may affect the health, reproduction, well-being and behaviour of humans and other organisms. In many studies, biological effects were found, but in many others there was no effect. Nothing is clear yet. The current scientific discussion is also about whether the "biological effects" can become real "health effects" in the long term.
There is an active and, as yet, unsettled controversy about current safety standards. Some researchers and national committees advised more stringent safety standards, based on experimental data with reported biological effects from (chronic) non-thermal exposures.
The concerns are based on the knowledge that living systems support a variety of oscillatory electrical / biochemical activities. For instance, brain waves are electrical, the heartbeat is electrical, the cell membrane has an electric field potential, cell division is electrically influenced, communication between neurons is electrical, and all of the hormonal and enzymatic activities are electrically regulated. Even the chemical-mechanistic model of the human and animal anatomy is essentially an electromagnetic model, because all chemical reactions involve the sharing, trading, or exchange of electrons at the elemental level.
There are studies showing frequency-specific biological effects, and studies demonstrating that a high frequency signal modulated at certain low frequencies, or a signal that is pulsed, has more harmful effects than an unmodulated, steady carrier. These so-called ‘window effects’ greatly complicate any attempt to understand the relationship between electromagnetic radiation and health.
Public and scientific concern were also raised by results of some epidemiological studies that examined the effects of long-term exposure on humans living near mobile phone base stations. A growing number of studies point to the existence of effects, ranging from changes in cognitive performance and sleep disturbances to serious illness and disablement, with even higher cancer rates. But there are still some problems with the study methods in these epidemiological studies, so that no conclusions can be made. More and better epidemiological studies are urgently needed.
Short-term laboratory experiments used mice, rats, chickens and other birds as study models to better understand the possible implications of electromagnetic fields on organismal functioning. In many studies however, ‘mobile communication-like’ signals were investigated that in fact were different from the real exposures in such aspects as intensity, carrier frequency, modulation, polarisation, duration and intermittence.
An increasing number of scientists now urge greater precaution and independent research, to protect health from exposure to electromagnetic fields. For example, see Benevento Resolution about the 'Precautionary Principe' and EMR, and the BioInitiative scientific report.
My own research:
Studies of the effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields on populations of wild birds can provide useful insights into the potential impacts on animal and human health. Birds are candidates for being good biological indicators for low-intensity electromagnetic radiation: they have thin skulls, their feathers can act as dielectric receptors of microwave radiation, they are very mobile and possible psychosomatic effects are absent. In addition, field studies of wild populations can reveal possible effects of long-term exposure to radiation from GSM base stations.
In the spring of 2006, a preliminary study explored putative effects of electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phone base stations on the number of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) during the breeding season. For more information about this study, click here.