EMF in the Short- and Long-term

A new edition of the Bioinitiative Report has just been release. When first published five years ago, fourteen leading scientists summarized what was then known about the biological effects and public health implications of non-ionizing radiation from cell phones and other wireless technologies as well as extremely low frequency radiation from sources such as power lines.

The latest Bioinitiative Report has more than twice the number of contributors, covers a wider range of issues, and even has a searchable database of EMF research available on its website.

Five years ago, the first edition caused, among other things, a number of European nations to re-examine their standards. The first report also played a part in prompting the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify non-ionizing radiation as a possible carcinogen.

The WHO decision found its way into a public radio science show on which journalists discussed significant events in science during 2012. No, the WHO decision was not thought worthy of mention. But these very conventional journalists veered off course at one point while discussing the neuroscientist Nora Volkow, who is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Volkow has stated publicly and often that she won’t let a cellphone anywhere near her body. Each of the journalists agreed. And then they were off talking about Higgs Bosons and the age of the universe and what not.

The point of which is that the scientists of the Bioinitiative Group are having an effect in that twisted way that truth has of coming out in a society where powerful forces align to prevent it. Those journalists probably never heard of the Bioinitiative Report and I’m confident that the host of that public radio program wouldn’t be caught dead interviewing anyone associated the Bioinitiative Report.

But now those journalists are worried; which means they’re paying attention; which means they’ll report on it sympathetically. It’s not rapid progress, but it’s progress.

In other words, it is now respectable to say that a reasonable person can conclude that non-ionizing radiation is a health risk.

However, of equal importance in this story about researchers and journalists are the activists who have been working tirelessly to protect us. Most of these activists are electrosensitive, which should not surprise anyone. Electrosensitives suffer an immediate effect from an exposure. These include headaches, insomnia, nosebleed, ringing in the ear, depression, arrhythmia, hypertension, irritability, hyperarousal, high blood sugars, and much, much more.

Most people aren’t affected—or at least, not that they notice. That’s changing. The increasing saturation of wireless technologies has increased exposures like a rising tide. The use of wireless Smart Meters has been especially provocative. It’s difficult to associate your trouble sleeping with the small but steady increase of wireless devices that surround you. But it’s hard to miss when there’s a new Smart Meter slapped on your house and suddenly you can’t sleep.

Of course, as the WHO decision shows, there’s been considerable interest in long-term as well as short-term effects. Yet without diminishing the health significance of acute health effects experienced by the growing ranks of electrosensitives and the cancer risk posed by non-ionizing radiation, I happen to think we should attend to a much broader range of health risks.

For example, how does long-term exposure to low levels of non-ionizing radiation affect development in children? We know that a wide variety of environmental exposures affect the developing child which in turn affects the health and illness of the mature adult. For example, a fetus exposed to endocrine disruptors has an increased risk of inflammatory diseases because of developmental damage to the immune system, stress system, and energy metabolism.

These thoughts came to mind recently when I read an article by a group of European scientists who asked a simple question: if a rat is continuously exposed to low level EMF fields during development, is its energy metabolism affected?

The answer is “Yes.”

The details are of interest. The researchers measured energy expenditure and sleep cycling. The exposed rats burned more energy, slept less, and had less “quality” sleep. In other words, they were more on alert—some might even say they exhibited a heightened stress response. The question is whether the disrupted energy metabolism is a cause or an effect of the disrupted sleep. The scientists do not answer that question.

So in this experiment, exposure to EMF fields permanently affects two fundamental systems with implications for long-term health: energy metabolism and stress system. Disruptions to these two systems are closely associated with diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Of the little EMF research that’s getting funded, a small fraction is directed at such fundamental questions.

Yes, it might be really cool to be able to text anyone anywhere at anytime. Yes, it might be really cool to be able to call up your Smart Meter at any time and find out what you refrigerator is doing.

The radiation from all that cool stuff is washing over somebody’s kid. How is that going to turn out for him or her in fifty years?