Journalist: David Edwards
December 26, 2001
phone invasion is an unprecedented experiment, pitting market forces against
the health of the population, particularly the young. Governments, cashing
in on the licencing bonanza, wave through plans for a forest of phone masts.
Emissions guidelines are drawn up to minimise costs. Here, The Ecologist
looks at the issues, beginning with a damning report which, says David
Edwards, points to evidence of a cover-up. It may be good to talk, but why
isn’t anyone listening?
you’re the government of the UK. You’ve recently taken £22.5 billion in
licences for the new 3G network from the biggest mobile phone companies in
the world and they want value for money. You’ve got a burgeoning market
amongst technologically aware, image conscious teenagers that skyrocketed
250 per cent over the previous year (the 25 per cent of secondary school
children who owned or shared a mobile at the end of 1999, became 64 per cent
by the end of 2000). But then there’s also an ever-growing number of
scientific studies associating serious health risks with mobile phone use,
especially amongst children and teenagers, whose thinner skulls make them
all the more receptive to the non-thermal effects of mobile phone radiation.
What do you do?
Well, according to Dr Gerard Hyland in a report submitted to the Industry,
Trade, Research and Energy Committee of the European Parliament on 11 July
2001, you bury your head and take the money.
Pointing to an industry-inspired cover-up, Hyland describes how the voice of
those with a view contrary to the officially perceived wisdom ‘is at worst
silenced, or, at best, studiously ignored.’ The situation is worsened by
reports of mobile phone industry attempts ‘to “persuade” those who discover
findings that prove potentially damaging to market development to actually
alter their results to make them more “market friendly”’.
Dr Hyland, of the Department of Physics at Warwick University in the UK and
the International Institute of Biophysics in Germany, further argues that
existing safety guidelines relating to mobile phone masts are completely
inadequate, since they focus only on the thermal effects of exposure to
In the report he warns that a major contemporary threat to the health of
society is man-made ‘electrosmog’. The nature of the pollution is such that,
for people living in the vicinity of mobile phone masts, there is literally
‘nowhere to hide’. In addition, given the short time for which humans have
been exposed to it, we have ‘no evolutionary immunity against any adverse
Hyland reports that existing safety guidelines which are intended to protect
the public– such as those issued by the International Commission for Non-ionising
Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) – ‘afford no protection’ against non-thermal
influences of various kinds.
‘Quite justifiably,’ Hyland writes, the public remains sceptical of attempts
by governments and industry to reassure them that all is well, particularly
given ‘the unethical way in which they often operate symbiotically so as to
promote their own vested interests, usually under the brokerage of the very
statutory regulatory bodies whose function it supposedly is to ensure that
the security of the public is not compromised by electromagnetic exposure.’
Also doubtless driven by market imperatives rather than genuine concern for
public health are efforts to establish a global ‘harmonisation’ of radiation
exposure standards, by attempting to persuade countries that currently
operate more stringent limits – such as Russia and China – to relax them in
favour of the higher levels tolerated in the West. It can be no coincidence,
Hyland argues, that in Russia, where the frequency-specific sensitivity of
living organisms to ultra-low intensity microwave radiation was first
discovered over 30 years ago, that the exposure guidelines are approximately
100 times more stringent that those of ICNIRP!
Criticising the performance of the media, Hyland argues that there is ‘a
regrettable tendency to attribute market-friendly results a greater
significance, publicity and profile than ones indicative of the possibility
of adverse health impacts.’ An example of this is provided by the
publication of the results of a recent study in the USA, which found an
increased risk amongst users of mobile phones of a rare kind of tumour
(epithelial neuroma) in the periphery of the brain – ‘precisely where there
is maximum penetration of radiation from the mobile phone’.
This aspect of the report, Hyland argues, ‘completely escaped the attention
of the media, who focused instead exclusively on the finding that there was
no overall increase in the incidence of brain tumours amongst mobile phone
Hyland argues that research necessary to establish mobile phone safety has
not merely been bypassed or compromised, ‘but rather – and more
reprehensibly – that already available indications that the technology is
potentially less than safe have been (and continue to be) studiously
ignored,’ not only by the mobile phone industry, but by national and
international regulatory bodies.
Hyland gives as an example the conduct of the UK National Radiological
Protection Board, which was ‘unable’ to provide the Independent Expert Group
on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) – for whom they were acting as the secretariat –
with certain highly relevant published papers, on the grounds that they
could not ‘find’ them, ‘despite having been provided --with the full
references by at least two individuals who gave evidence to the IEGMP, and
curiously having had no difficulty in providing less significant papers from
the same issue of the journal.
According to Hyland: ’If the same level of uncertainty and debate as
currently surrounds the safety of human exposure to GSM radiation obtained
in the case of a new drug or foodstuff they would most certainly never be
Among the evidence of adverse health affects studied by Hyland, is the
• There is consistent empirical, anecdotal evidence from many countries that
the health of some people is adversely affected in various ways when they
are exposed to the type of radiation emitted by mobile phone masts, despite
its intensity being well below existing safety limits. The anecdotal nature
of many of the reported health problems – such as headache, sleep disruption,
impairment of short-term memory, nosebleeds and, more seriously, an increase
in the frequency of seizures in some children already suffering from
epilepsy – does not constitute grounds for dismissing them out of hand.
Given the lack of research on this relatively new technology, such reports
are an indispensable source
of information, Hyland argues.
• There is documented evidence that long-term (involuntary) exposure to
microwave radiation of intensities between that realised near an active
phone and that found in the vicinity of a base-station does causes serious
illness, such as leukaemia and lymphoma, in certain exposed people. This is
the conclusion reached by a relatively recent re-analysis of the Lilienfeld
report on the Moscow US Embassy irradiation during the ‘cold’ war, based on
information that only became fully available following the Freedom of
Information Act. This reveals that the original verdict of ‘no serious
health effects’ was, in fact, a sanitised version of Lilienfeld’s findings,
in which his statements of concern had been deliberately removed by the
Furthermore, children, Hyland explains, are at greatest risk for several
good reasons, including:
• Absorption of microwaves of the frequency used in mobile telephony is
greatest in an object about the size of a child’s head – the so-called ‘head
resonance’ – whilst, in consequence of the thinner skull of a child, the
penetration of the radiation into the brain is greater than in an adult.
• The still developing nervous system and associated brain-wave activity in
a child (and particularly one that is epileptic) are more vulnerable to
aggression by the pulses of microwaves used in mobile phone radiation than
is the case with a mature adult.
• A child’s immune system, whose efficiency is, in any case, degraded by
radiation of the kind used in mobile telephony, is generally less robust
than is that of an adult, so that the child less able to ‘cope’ with any
adverse health effect provoked by (chronic) exposure to such radiation.
Asking the question again: If you were the UK government, what would you do?