Mr. Andrew Adams (Director General, Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate, Department of Health):
Thank you very much. I have some opening remarks to make.
Chairman and members of the committee, it is my pleasure to be here today to speak on Health Canada Safety Code 6. My name is Andrew Adams, and I am the director of the environmental and radiation health sciences directorate in the healthy environments and consumer safety branch of Health Canada. I am joined today by Dr. James McNamee, the chief of the health effects and assessments division in the consumer and clinical radiation protection bureau and the lead author of Safety Code 6.
Safety Code 6 is Health Canada's guideline for exposure to radio frequency, or RF, electromagnetic energy, the kind of energy given off by cellphones and Wi-Fi, as well as broadcasting and cellphone towers. Safety Code 6 provides human exposure limits in the 3 kilohertz to 300 gigahertz frequency range, and we have provided chart A of the electromagnetic spectrum, just so committee members can situate the frequency range we're talking about.
But Safety Code 6 does not cover exposure to electromagnetic energy in the optical or ionizing radiation portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Safety Code 6 establishes limits for safe human exposure to RF energy. These limits incorporate large safety margins to protect the health and safety of all Canadians, including those who work near RF sources.
While Safety Code 6 recommends limits for safe human exposure, Health Canada does not regulate the general public's exposure to electromagnetic RF energy.
Industry Canada is the regulator of radiocommunication and broadcasting installations and apparatus in Canada. To ensure that public exposures fall within acceptable guidelines, Industry Canada has developed regulatory standards that require compliance with the human exposure limits outlined in Safety Code 6.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the approach for updates to Safety Code 6. Safety Code 6 is reviewed on a regular basis to verify that the guideline provides protection against all known potentially harmful health effects and that it takes into account recent scientific data from studies carried out worldwide. The most recent update to Safety Code 6 was completed earlier this month. I will describe the process used for that update later in my remarks.
When developing the exposure limits in the revised Safety Code 6, departmental scientists considered all peer-reviewed scientific studies, including those pertaining to both thermal and non-thermal, and employed a weight-of-evidence approach when evaluating possible health risks from exposure to RF energy.
The weight-of-evidence approach takes into account both the quantity of studies on a particular end point and the quality of those studies. Poorly conducted studies receive relatively little weight, while properly conducted studies receive more weight.
Now I'll focus on the recent update of Safety Code 6.
The most recent update to Safety Code 6 was initiated in 2012, with the goal of ensuring that the most up-to-date and credible scientific studies on the potential effects of RF energy on human health were reflected in the code.
Health Canada proposed changes to Safety Code 6 that were based on the latest available scientific evidence, including improved modelling of the interaction of RF fields with the human body, and alignment with exposure limits specified by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. These changes were proposed to ensure that wide safety margins were maintained to protect the health and safety of all Canadians, including infants and children.
Some of you may recall that this committee previously conducted a study on the potential health impacts of RF electromagnetic radiation. Among the recommendations included in the committee's December 2010 report was a recommendation that:
||Health Canada request that the Council of Canadian Academies or another appropriate independent institution conduct an assessment of the Canadian and international scientific literature regarding the potential health impacts of short and long-term exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation....
ln response to this recommendation, in 2013, Health Canada contracted the Royal Society of Canada to review the results of emerging research relating to the safety of RF energy on human health, to ensure it was appropriately reflected in the revised Safety Code, through a formalized expert panel process.
I'm sure you know that today we're joined by the chair of the expert panel and one of the members of the expert panel.
The Expert Panel of the Royal Society released their review in March 2014, concluding that in the view of the panel there are no established adverse health effects at exposure levels below the proposed limits.
Among the recommendations made by the expert panel was the suggestion that the proposed reference levels in the draft Safety Code 6 be made slightly more restrictive in some frequency ranges to ensure larger safety margins for all Canadians, including newborn infants and children.
ln the interest of openness and transparency, Health Canada also undertook a 60-day public consultation period for the proposed revisions to Safety Code 6 between May and July 2014. The department invited feedback from interested Canadians and stakeholders.
Comments related to the scientific and technical aspects of Safety Code 6 received by Health Canada during the public consultation period, as well as the recommendations provided by the Royal Society Expert Panel, were taken into consideration when finalizing the revised guideline.
The final version of Safety Code 6 was published on March 13, 2015. Health Canada also published a summary of the feedback received during the public consultation period. Given the scientific basis of the guideline, only feedback of a technical or scientific nature could be considered in the finalization of Safety Code 6; however, the summary of consultation feedback responds to both technical and non-technical comments received from Canadians.
With the recent update, Canadians should be confident that the radiofrequency exposure limits in Safety Code 6 are now among the most stringent science-based limits in the world.
To shift a little bit and talk about the scientific methodology that underlies the revision of Safety Code 6, a large number of submissions received during the public consultation period raised concerns that Health Canada had not considered all of the relevant scientific literature when updating Safety Code 6. ln particular, it has been stated that 140 studies were ignored. I would like to address that criticism here today.
ln updating Safety Code 6, Health Canada made use of existing internationally recognized reviews of the literature along with its own expert review of the relevant scientific literature. Numerous reviews on this issue have been written in recent years by international organizations such as the World Health Organization, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging Newly identified Health Risks, and ICNIRP. I believe we have provided links to some of these reports for the committee's interest.
While Safety Code 6 references these international reviews, the code is an exposure guideline, not a scientific review article. Accordingly, most individual scientific studies are not referenced in the code. However, this does not mean that Health Canada did not consider all relevant scientific information when deriving the science-based exposure limits in the code. I can assure you we did.
lt should be noted that studies with inappropriate study design or methodology can lead to erroneous results that are scientifically meaningless.
Studies were considered not to be of sufficient quality to inform the recent update if it was not possible to determine the dosage studied, if the study lacked an appropriate control, if experiments within the study were not repeated a sufficient number of times, if no statistical analysis of the results was conducted, or if other improper scientific techniques were used. Of the 140 studies that have been cited, a large number fall into this category.
Other studies were not considered to be within scope. For example, some of these studies looked at exposures to a frequency range outside of the frequency range covered by Safety Code 6 and were therefore not considered relevant.
However, Health Canada did consider all studies that were considered to be both in scope and of sufficient quality for inclusion in our risk assessment. While it is true that some of these studies report biological or adverse health effects of RF fields at levels below the limits in Safety Code 6, I want to emphasize that these studies are in the minority and they do not represent the prevailing line of scientific evidence in this area.
The conclusions reached by Health Canada are consistent with reviews of the scientific evidence by national and international health authorities. Of note, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks earlier this month released its final opinion on the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields. SCENIHR concluded that there are no evident adverse health effects, provided exposure levels remain below levels recommended by European Union legislation.
Now I'd like to talk a little bit about an international comparison. Members of the committee may be wondering how the limits in Safety Code 6 compare with limits in other parts of the world. I refer you to the chart of radio frequency exposure limits for the general public in different countries. Internationally, a few jurisdictions have applied more restrictive limits for RF field exposures from cell towers; however, there is no scientific evidence to support the need for such restrictive limits. Canada's limits are consistent with, if not more stringent than, the science-based limits used in such other jurisdictions as the European Union, the United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
In conclusion, the health of Canadians is protected form radio frequency electromagnetic energy when the human exposure limits recommended in Safety Code 6 are respected. Safety Code 6 has always established and maintained a human exposure limit that is far below the threshold for potentially adverse health effects. The health of Canadians was protected under the previous version of Safety Code 6, and recent revisions to the code ensure even greater protection.
Health Canada will continue to monitor the scientific literature on this issue on an ongoing basis. Should new evidence arise that indicates a risk to Canadians at levels below the limits in Safety Code 6, the department would take appropriate action.
Thank you for your time.
Dr. Frank Prato (Imaging Program Leader, Assistant Scientific Director, Lawson Health Research Institute):
My name is Frank Prato. I'm an assistant scientific director and medical imaging program leader at the Lawson Health Research Institute. The Lawson Health Research Institute is one of the largest hospital-based research institutes in Canada and the research institute for the two teaching hospitals in London, Ontario.
I became interested in 1982 in non-ionizing, non-thermal effects when I introduced here in Canada magnetic resonance imaging. We produced the first image in Canada using magnetic resonance imaging in 1982, and I became interested in the potential of non-thermal effects as a result of exposure of biological systems to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields.
I have continued to work in this area and have published about 100 publications. I have some credentials in terms of international credentials. I'm the past president of The Bioelectromagnetics Society, which is the largest society investigating non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. I'm chairing, for the seventh year now, the Canadian National Committee of the International Union of Radio Science, which is a National Research Council of Canada committee of a scientific union called the International Union of Radio Science. This union looks at applications of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. And for the union worldwide, I was a commissioned chair for Commission K, which looks at biological effects of exposure to a non-ionizing radiation.
Given this background, I've been very interested, but my interest generally falls outside of the frequency limits associated with Safety Code 6, which start at three kilohertz. Most of my interest has been at lower frequencies in what is called the ELF range, the extremely low frequency range of around 300 hertz and lower, including frequencies like 50 hertz and 60 hertz that are associated with electrical power transmission.
However, in this area, I published in the international journal of the Royal Society, called Interface, in 2013, that exposure to 30-hertz—which, again, is well below the three kilohertz associated with Safety Code 6—ambient electromagnetic fields generated by humans do have effects on biological systems. These were experiments that needed to be carried out under shielded conditions; however, they are not relevant because they fall below the frequency limits associated with Safety Code 6.
I would like to say a few words about non-thermal RF effects below Safety Code 6 limits within the frequency range. There have been a number of problems with this literature as Mr. Adams alluded to. There are three major problems with this literature at this point in time. One is that the effects have been small; two, that there is no established mechanism, and in fact there are a number of people who claim there are no possible mechanisms with such weak energy fields; and three, that there are issues with reproducibility. Reproducibility issues aren't surprising, given that we don't really understand the mechanism.
However, there was an article published very recently in Nature , on May 15, 2014, after the release of our article in the Royal Society review, entitled, “Anthropogenic electromagnetic noise disrupts magnetic compass orientation in a migratory bird”. So these are clear non-thermal effects of RF within the range of Safety Code 6 safety.
Now we are getting more and more literature that suggests that very weak fields, below the limits set by Safety Code 6, can have biological effects. Of course, we don't know if these effects occur in humans, and we are not stating that they are detrimental. They were obviously detrimental to the birds in the urban population because it interfered with their ability to sense the earth's magnetic field for a proper orientation and homing.
The question that arose with respect to the discussions of the Royal Society committee on Safety Code 6 is why we cannot set limits for non-thermal effects. I draw you section 7.8, the last paragraph, which says that “it is not known how the reported effects scale with exposure parameters.”
With heating effects, there is a very straightforward metric that we can evaluate and determine what the energy deposition is and what the probability is that the exposed tissue or organism will have a detrimental, perhaps, increase in temperature, but we do not know what the scaling metric is for these non-thermal biological effects.
The definition of non-thermal was also discussed in the Royal Society report. I'll remind you that in that report, we basically said the definition of non-thermal is a bit difficult, but at least we can talk about effects below the limits for Safety Code 6 as being those that would include non-thermal effects.
I'd also like to point out that in section 10.2 of the Royal Society review, the second-to-last bullet says that “Health Canada should pursue research to expand our current understanding of possible effects of exposure to RF energy at levels below SC6.”
What I am saying, as a researcher, is that there are now well-established effects in some animals of exposures below those of Safety Code 6. At this point, there is no strong evidence—there is some evidence—that similar effects are reliably reproduced in humans. Also, there is no evidence that these effects would be detrimental to humans if, in fact, they occurred.
Let me point out that the more recent literature that has come out in the last six months or so, and some literature building up to that, suggests some of the studies are quite flawed in this area, because it turns out that magnetic and electric fields produced in the environment do have biological effects. When people have been doing experiments like having one group of individuals with cellphone exposure, and another group just in the lab without cellphone exposure but, say, with sham cellphone exposure, they are still being exposed to magnetic and electric fields which are in the environment. We have evidence now in animals that those magnetic fields generated by humans do have biological effects in a number of species, including mice and birds.
That's basically what I am saying. I am trying to explain why at this point there is not enough information to even consider setting limits for non-thermal effects, because the mechanism is not known, and therefore we don't know how the effect scales. It may not scale at all with respect to the intensity of the exposure.
From my point of view, and from my knowledge in this area, if there are questions, I'd like to respond to the Royal Society review with respect to section 6.5, which deals with magnetic resonance imaging; section 7.8, which deals with low-level and non-thermal effects; section 7.9, which is about possible effects on stress protein expression; and section 10.2, the last bullets only, which are the summary of the recommendations that I have already referenced. Of course, I would be willing to answer questions in terms of what research still needs to be done for “non-thermal effects.”
That's my statement.
Dr. Paul Demers (Director, Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Care Ontario, As an Individual):
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me here today. I know I've been asked to come here today because I chaired the expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada on Safety Code 6. But I thought I'd start by saying a few other things about my background.
I'm the director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, which is based in Cancer Care Ontario, a provincial agency that is also funded by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Canadian Cancer Society. I'm also a member of the faculty of the schools of public health of the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.
I am an epidemiologist, so I study impacts of different types of health effects upon populations of people, but my primary area of research is on the risk of cancer associated with workplace chemicals, dust, and radiation, although I have done research on a number of other diseases as well as on environmental exposures. However, I want to state that, unlike Dr. Prato, I'm not an expert specifically in the area of electromagnetic fields and have never actually done research on radio frequency radiation.
As you know, at the request of Health Canada the Royal Society convened an extra panel to conduct a review of the 2013 draft of Safety Code 6. I was asked to chair that panel because I had no conflicts of interest and because of my expertise in cancer epidemiology, which was identified as one of the areas for which they wanted expertise on the panel.
I was also asked because of my experience sitting on similar panels for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. national toxicology program, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Council of Canadian Academies, the latter two being fairly similar to the Royal Society of Canada in the way they operate.
I should also mention, although you may be aware of this already, that I was the second chair of the panel. The first panel resigned because of a perceived conflict of interest, and I took over as chair of the panel about midway through. But I also want to state that I'm here as individual and am not representing the Royal Society of Canada or any other organization at this point.
The panel was presented with five specific questions, and I'm going to over very briefly our responses to those five questions. Overall, they were all dealing with whether or not there were any established health effects at levels below those recommended by Safety Code 6 and related types of questions.
To answer these questions, we did a review of recently published studies in the area on a wide range of different types of health effects. We also looked at many of the international reviews, which I think have already been mentioned here today. These are conducted on a pretty regular basis by many agencies around the world.
Because we were asked to look in particular at established health effects, we defined an established adverse health effect as something that has been seen consistently or been observed consistently in multiple studies with a strong methodology. So we had a fairly flexible definition, but still it required an effect's being observed in not just a single study.
Before I get into the questions—because I'm actually going to read out the questions we were given—I want to explain two different terms that are used quite a bit in those questions, namely the definition of what basic restrictions are and what reference levels are.
Basic restrictions in Safety Code 6 are things that happen within the body, either heating or induced fields within the bodies, or things like those. Many of the actual limits are set based upon that. Because these are not easily measured, the code also uses reference levels, which are things you can measure outside of the body using a meter. They are much easier for regulatory purposes. You will often see that the questions are phrased in terms of these basic restrictions and reference levels.
Our first question was, do the basic restrictions specified in Safety Code 6 provide adequate protection for both workers and the general population from established adverse health effects of radio frequency fields? Our conclusion was that yes, they provided that protection. Specifically, Safety Code 6 was designed to protect against two kinds of established health effects, thermal effects and peripheral nerve stimulation. The margins of safety, we concluded, appeared to be quite protective. For peripheral nerve stimulation, it was a safety factor of five for the workplace or controlled environments, and a 10-fold factor for uncontrolled environments, which are closer to what you would experience in the general public. For thermal effects, the safety factor was 10-fold for workplaces and 50-fold for the general public.
The second question that we were given was, are there any other established adverse health effects occurring at exposure levels below the basic restrictions on Safety Code 6 that should be considered in revising the code? Our conclusion to that question was no. The panel reviewed the evidence for a wide variety of health effects, including cancer, cognitive and neurologic effects, male and female reproductive effects, development effects, cardiac function, heart rate variability, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and adverse effects in susceptible areas of the eye. Although research in many of these areas—important research, I think—continues, we were unable to identify any adverse health effects occurring at levels below those allowed by Safety Code 6.
Our third question related specifically to the eye: Is there sufficient scientific evidence upon which to establish separate basic restrictions or recommendations for the eye? We concluded that no there wasn't sufficient evidence. Recent studies do not show adverse health effects in susceptible regions of the eye at exposure levels below those proposed by Safety Code 6 for the head, neck, and trunk. Therefore we recommended that it not contain separate basic restrictions for the eye.
The fourth question was perhaps a bit more complex: Do the reference levels established in Safety Code 6 provide adequate protection against exceeding the basic restrictions? That is, do the levels that are proposed as limits for things you can measure outside the body actually protect against the target health effects the code is trying to prevent within the body? Our conclusion was that for most frequencies, yes, reference levels were adequate, but that there were some regions where compliance with the reference levels may not ensure compliance with the basic restrictions. We recommended that the proposed reference levels in Safety Code 6 be reviewed by Health Canada to make them somewhat more restrictive in some frequency ranges to ensure a larger safety margin for Canadians, including newborn infants and children.
This recommendation took into account recent studies that we call dosimetry studies, at least one of which was published after Health Canada produced the proposed Safety Code 6.
Our fifth question was, should additional precautionary measures be introduced into Safety Code 6 exposure limits? I'll state that although there was a range of opinions on the panel regarding precautionary efforts, overall the panel believed that Safety Code 6 was well-designed to avoid established health effects; we did not have any science-based recommendations for precautionary measures to lower the limits. I'll say that it was for the reasons that I think Dr. Prato explained quite well, which is that we couldn't, at least in looking at the study, say that the evidence tells us that we should lower it it in such a fashion. However, we did recommend a number of other measures that can and should be taken by Health Canada.
I'll read some of them here now.
First was to investigate the problems of individuals with what's called electromagnetic hypersensitivity—it goes by other names as well, IEI-EMF, and things like that—with the aim of understanding their health conditions and finding ways to provide effective treatment.
Second was to develop a procedure for the public to report suspected disease clusters and a protocol for investigating them.
Third was to expand Health Canada's risk communication strategy to address consumer needs for more information around radio frequency radiation.
Fourth was to identify additional practical measures that Canadians can take to reduce their own exposure.
These recommendations are really in response to the public input that we received as part of the panel. We also had a number of different research recommendations. In particular, if one has the chance to read the report, you'll notice that each section on a particular health effect usually ends by basically pointing out that more research is needed on that health effect.
A few of the specific ones are that Health Canada should aggressively pursue research aimed at clarifying the radio frequency radiation cancer issue, which would allow the government to develop protective measures if the risk were substantiated; and that Health Canada should pursue research to expand our current understanding of possible adverse health effects of exposure to radio frequency radiation at levels below those allowed by Safety Code 6.
The response to the panel's report from Health Canada—
Dr. Meg Sears (Adjunct Investigator, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, As an Individual):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the panel. I'm very grateful for this opportunity today.
I apologize for not providing bilingual materials, but I received my invitation just a week ago, so the timing didn't work out to take advantage of your translation services.
My name is Margaret Sears. I am here as someone with some knowledge on the subject matter—a very limited knowledge on the subject matter—but more importantly, as a scientist interested in environmental health as well as methodology in this field.
I am inspired by working with Dr. David Moher's research group here in Ottawa at the Ottawa Hospital. He is among the world's premier methodologists in clinical epidemiology, a highly respected and influential scientist. I also work in environmental health, was funded as a principal investigator for a Canadian Institutes of Health Research project. I'm associated with research institutes at both CHEO and the Ottawa Hospital, and have worked with Canadian medical specialists in environmental health preparing reports for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Transportation Authority, the Alberta Energy Regulator, and others. I have been a guest editor for peer-reviewed medical journals and have co-authored several systematic reviews. That's enough about me.
Regarding Safety Code 6, I made submissions to the Royal Society of Canada and to Health Canada, and Dr. Moher and I also attended a meeting on September 19 with Mr. Adams, Dr. McNamee, and Ms. Bellier.
I also recently responded to the World Health Organization during consultations on their review of health effects of radio frequency radiation. I'll briefly answer one of the questions about that. That consultation document is only partially done. There were no conclusions associated with it, and according to the method section, the literature search ended in 2011, so it's far from complete. So it is nothing that we could be basing anything on at this stage. And it also had no tables of evidence or anything like that in it.
In short, I see major problems with the reporting of these studies, which should reflect on the execution of these reviews. If a review is not well conducted, it is subject to bias and incorrect conclusions.
Last year, the prominent medical journal, The Lancet, published a series of articles on waste in research that was not adequately conducted or reported. It is a big problem, wasting a lot of money on badly conducted and badly reported research.
You have been provided a paper by Rooney et al describing the most recent methodology for systematic reviews in environmental health. The reviews of health and frequencies covered by Safety Code 6 that I have examined, including many of the authoritative reviews relied upon by Health Canada, are lacking salient features of systematic reviews, as summarized in the chart you have been provided. They have also captured but a fraction of the literature, according to what's referenced, with organizations referring to the validity of one another's reviews.
On the other hand, I have a sample of one of the systematic reviews that I co-authored. It's on the relatively narrow topic of dietary supplements and cardiovascular drugs. This is a concern for a much smaller segment of the population than radio frequency radiation that we're all exposed to, but we started from scratch because there was no good review to base it upon, and initially we screened over 33,000 records. There are methods and software established to handle this kind of volume of literature. In a 2012 presentation, it was stated by Pascale Bellier that Health Canada has reviewed 50 years of research. Canadians are waiting to see this evidence because it is not evident to date.
Systematic reviews address specific questions, not really general questions so much, so you have to parse your question to be able to tackle it with really good methodology. They are collaborative. They're transparent. Certainly these processes with Health Canada leave a lot to be desired. Systematic reviews address ingrained biases.
You can only build upon previous reviews that are of high quality. Without previous high-quality reviews to build upon, we have to go back to that 50 years of data. What we have currently is a bit like that telephone game in which messages get mixed up as they're half-heard while they are whispered to one another around the table.
I also believe that there's good reason for concern in this field. Safety Code 6 is said to protect against “established” health effects. What does it take to establish a health effect? Sometimes that hurdle is very high, and there's a somewhat arbitrary bar, because people are.... We'll talk about that in a minute, but keep in mind that every time you hear “established health effects”, there is the question, what does it take to establish a health effect?
I'll give you a couple of examples of research. In the slides that were distributed to you, there is a table with cancer studies. The clearest research originates from Hardell's group in Sweden, comparing phone use between people who had brain tumours and healthy individuals; this is called a case-control study. In Sweden, the background rate of glioma is, I believe, lower than in Canada. We do not properly capture details of brain tumour incidence in Canada, although a database is being set up.
Higher risks, up to fourfold increases, were seen in Sweden with use of wireless phones, both cellphones and cordless phones. The risk of a tumour on the side of the head the phone was held against increases when use begins earlier in life, so children and adolescents are at greater risk, with longer cumulative time on the phone and more years of use. But only part of this information was referenced by the Royal Society of Canada.
The Interphone Study was referenced. This was an enormous study extending over 13 countries, and the diversity of health status and co-exposures really muddied the waters in this study. For example, in some countries, having a phone was a symbol of wealth and was associated with a healthier diet and a cleaner environment. Initial analyses showed that cellphones protect you from cancer, which even the author said was a completely implausible effect, and it was because of this confounding. Further analysis did show higher tumour incidence with phone use.
These two human studies were key in the IARC determination that cellphones possibly cause cancer. But since then, the French CERENAT study was published in 2014. It was not referenced in any of the documents from Health Canada or the Royal Society. It is similar to the Hardell studies. When the analyses were performed in the same manner, the results were basically replicated. So now we have that replication, and such replication is key to becoming an established health effect.
Another concern relating to cancer is women who carry their phones in their bras. Phones are sending signals constantly to keep in touch with a network, even when you're not talking. The first case was reported in 2009, in a keen cell phone user who stored her phone in her bra for 10 years. Cases are piling up of characteristic tumours in young women with no known genetic predisposition. This information also was not taken into account, as far as we know. Maybe it was, but it was certainly not documented that it was taken into account.
Now, if women carry phones in their bras, men carry a lot of phones in their pockets. In Canada, we have some problem with infertility. This is one of many studies showing effects on sperm—there is a graph in your handout. When exposed to typical radiation from phones in pockets, sperm stop swimming, their DNA is damaged, and they die.
What we see in people is backed up by much other research into cells and animals. A lot of the recent research demonstrating potential harm was omitted from reports that supported Safety Code 6, as was discussed previously.
I should say that in the comments regarding the ability to assign a dose to an exposure, what happens in this research is that, if animals are merely exposed to a phone.... With a phone, it's hard to say that the exposure is precisely such and such a number, but it's status quo. But these status quo phone exposure studies are discarded. There's a huge body of evidence that is discarded just because they used a phone instead of something that was more “scientific”.
In summary, I'd offer three recommendations.
First, Health Canada must systematically access, assess, and act upon all the science from scratch. It needs specific tools as well as methodological and library expertise to accomplish this.
Second, we have to open our eyes and collect this environmental health data, both exposures and health outcomes. On that, I would note that the regular compliance data that Industry Canada is accumulating should be made public, so that if a doctor is concerned, he has that data to connect the dots.
We also have to be collecting really good, detailed cancer incidence data. We used to collect that, but it's not available any more. The Public Health Agency of Canada has some data on their website. It used to be reported in small areas, but now it's only reported at the provincial level.
Prof. Martin Blank:
I'm on the third slide now, which shows a quote from a paper by two of the authors of the report, Foster and Moulder, who say that the “only unequivocal mechanism for bioeffects” of radio frequency is the “heating of tissue”. This just makes no sense at all to a biologist.
As I said, you can measure the temperature of anything, but it doesn't give you insight into biological function. Yes, a doctor will ask you if you have a temperature to see if you have an infection, for example, but that doesn't give you a clue as to how biological function is going on.
There's a list on that same slide of a number of biological parameters that have been established as being affected by EMF exposure. It includes, if you notice, one about enzyme acceleration.
This is the work we did with some of the very basic enzymes involved in cell function, such as the sodium-potassium ATPase, which set ups the ion gradients that are responsible for nerve function, and cytochrome oxidase, which is the basic reaction that generates the ATP that drives all our cells. These are affected and have been shown to be affected in the ELF range, but I haven't studied them in the other range as well.
All of these basic functions are affected by the EMF.
In the fourth slide, I refer to the cellular stress response. This is a cell reaction to environmental dangers. If you ask a cell if it is in trouble and you measure these stress proteins, you're going to get a yes answer, because the stress proteins are generated when there's trouble. That's not the kind of trouble that we read about in the newspapers, but things like heat shock, which means the temperature is going above and/or below the range. There's a heat part and also a cooling part, and you get a reaction of stress proteins generated by this cell. Changes in osmotic pressure will generate stress proteins, as will acidity, the changes in pH. These are the basic parameters that a cell will react to.
If you look at the next slide about the natural safety mechanism, you'll see that this is the mechanism that I refer to. It protects the body by activating DNA in a particular region. If you look at the sixth slide, the next one with the picture, you'll see that it shows what the DNA looks like. There's a diagram of a chromosome that I pull apart. In other words, you tear it apart and you see what it's actually composed of. Everybody recognizes the end piece, which is the double helix.
The double helix is the stuff that became famous from the Watson and Crick story, but the fact is that this is the stuff that's in all our nuclei. When I went to school I was told that's the stuff that parents pass on to children, and for the rest of the time you had the feeling that it was sitting there doing nothing. But it's active all the time. It's making stuff all the time.
Also, it makes stress proteins when it comes in contact with some dangerous situations. We've actually studied that reaction. We found the particular groups that it reacts with. It reacts with a combination of four particular residues—these are bases—CTCT. That's a particular combination that we found was responsible for the response to heat shock, to a temperature stimulus.
The interesting thing about it is that this particular combination, just on a chance basis, since there are only four of these bases involved in the DNA.... If you look at that slide of the picture, you see that the DNA is two metres long and it has three billion base pairs. In other words, this has many of these things sitting along there. When you're talking about a particular combination of four particular ones, CTCT, you can get that every 250 base pairs, on average. This means that there are many opportunities along that three-billion base-pair array that's sitting there on the DNA. There are many opportunities for interaction.
I have here this picture that shows you the double helix slowly being coiled into a coil, and then a coiled coil, and then a super-coil. In other words, there are many different sizes of coils in the nucleus that's sitting there in that chromosomal structural.
I don't know how many of you will remember this, but way back when television first came in, the antennas used to go up on the roof for reception of TV. TV used to be transmitted in two particular wavelengths. You had two different sizes of wires in there—or metal bars—that would pick up the different frequency ranges. In other words, the antenna functions by reacting to the wavelength of the radiation that's coming at it. That is what's happening with the DNA.
With the fact that you have all these different sizes of loops, you can get reaction like an antenna does. Why does it react like an antenna? It does because for the DNA—in the same picture I have there—where you have the double helix, these two twisted coils with the bonds between them are lined by electrons, which can move. They've been shown to move. There's a whole bunch of papers on this that come from Caltech. Barton has done many studies on that. She's a world-famous scientist and has shown that you can get movement of electrons.
As well, I think the reactions of the DNA with these environmental influences show that it does indeed happen with the different EMF frequencies. Because you have loops of different sizes, you can get reactions of the DNA with different frequencies of radiation.
That's why we ourselves have found interactions in the ELF range and in the RF range. Others have published interactions all along. In other words, these arbitrary boundaries are set by the engineers and physicists who set up that table. They're just arbitrary. When you set up an RF at one point and cut it off at a particular.... Notice that the cut-off is always at a point where the frequency has the number 3 in it, so it's either 300,000 waves per second or 3 million megahertz. The fact is that the set-up was arbitrary, totally arbitrary.
Naturally it's a continuum, so when you look at DNA, you see that it's the continuum also. It's almost as if you can react with almost any part of it that happens to present itself at the surface. I think this is reasoning from the observations. We have found, wherever we have looked at different frequencies and wherever it's been looked at by scientists, that you can get reactions all along.
I think the division between ELF and RF is entirely arbitrary, as you can see by the arguments that are given by the committee itself. The report we are reading actually talks about the fact that they have to understand what's going on in the ELF range in order to explain what occurs at the very low end of the RF part of their range. That's the way DNA responds. It has antenna properties.
In fact, one of the papers we published recently, which was also ignored, was about how DNA is a fractal antenna. That's a technical term and means that it has the capability of responding with frequencies at a very wide range. This is something that you can look up. Technology people are very wise to this kind of thing. It's a very useful thing to have a multi-purpose antenna. In other words, you can pick up a lot of different frequencies.
I would like to move on to the next slide, which is a reference to the research by Professor Alexander Lerchl.
Hon. Hedy Fry:
Exactly. It responds to positive ions and negative ions, of course, for the whole cellular structure just to work. We look at how people, when muscles are in pain, use electricity to stimulate the muscle. We know that if a heart suddenly stops, the first thing you do is to put paddles on it to stimulate it. The brain works on the same kind of electric stimuli. It's not at all a leap of faith to know that electromagnetic activity will impact the human body in many ways.
You pointed out that there were no biologists, which makes me really think, because one of the things we forget about when we talk about any kind of research is the very basic research. We always talk about applied research and commercially based research and research that will have an impact clinically, etc., but we forget about basic research. Basic research is at the heart of any kind of research.
Biologists are going to be extremely important, especially, as you said, when we are talking about DNA. We know there are lots of things that actually create very different chromosomal activity. We know that age is one, when we look at Down Syndrome in the old days. We look at so many other factors that influence it. So what you're saying makes a lot of sense to me.
I wanted to ask you and Dr. Sears something, because you both mentioned it. Just as basic research is at the core of good scientific research down the road, why is data collection not seen as being essential to any kind of epidemiology? Whether it's basic demographic epidemiology or clinical epidemiology, data collection is inherent. I was told that the government is not collecting a great deal of data to look at cause and effect. I think of the times when we used things without having knowledge and without having data collection and without looking before we leapt. Thalidomide comes to mind. Alcohol's effect on the fetus comes to mind. Nobody ever felt that any of those things could be a problem.
We know we're looking at the effects of environmental exposure now on people with asthma, etc. and at how that is causing huge problems. If we know not only that mutations are caused by environmental stress sources but also that this stress protein you talked about is triggered by exposure to environmental changes and radiation and so on, shouldn't we be collecting good data?
In other words, it's so simple to look at the number of gliomas, to look at all kinds of brain cancers, breast cancers, etc., and to see that there are actually clusters of them. If there are clusters in certain areas, we could figure that out. We figure out a lot of things eventually, long after they happen. I just think the time has now come, with all of the knowledge and the information we have, for us to be collecting good data, looking at epidemiology in a different way, and looking at prevention.
You're absolutely right about the fetus. Pregnant women should be in a different category. We need to be able to look at protecting people. It's too late 15 years after a child has been exposed to cellphone activities or Wi-Fi, etc. at a very young age for us to say, “Oh, Lord. We didn't know that. We should have done something about it”, and then to start really doing something about it. I would think we'd have enough history to tell us about cause and effect over the years and about the way cells work and about how they respond to various things.
Why is it that we heard from Health Canada that data collection, whether clinical or epidemiological, is provincial jurisdiction? That's extremely interesting, given that we're now looking at epidemiology as an international issue. We're thinking that it has to be provincial in this country. Why can it not be federal? Why can't we get that information and look at whether there are other factors, and not simply electromagnetic fields? Why can't we look at whether in certain parts of Canada electromagnetic fields are enhanced by certain other things that occur in those parts of Canada? Who knows what they are?
I just want to hear you talk about data. I want us to get this idea that we must be collecting good data to give us evidence to link things clinically with new diseases, to look at frequency, and all of those things. Can you talk to me about data? I just want some more information, because I really feel that this is at the heart of what we're not doing in this country.
Dr. Meg Sears:
We used to do a better job of it.
I have taught a little bit of epidemiology, and one of my favourite things to do at one point was to tell people to go to NRCan's atlas, the Public Health Agency of Canada's website, and there are a few other sites. They used to have a really good website for toxic sites in Canada, through the Government of Canada. All of those have been severely degraded. The atlas is gone.
The data collection for cancers is usually done by the Canadian Cancer Society and StatsCan, but it's very, very crude data that they're bringing together. For instance, you can find data since 1992 on brain tumours and central nervous system, but you can't find glioma or something like that. Hardell could do his studies because in Sweden they were collecting very specific data, and they've been collecting it for ages.
Even though we are now starting up some kind of brain tumour registry, we won't have that data from 1990 to detect a change, until we've had time for a change to happen, so we'll be kind of mid-stream. Why that is happening, I don't know. We need a lot more evidence.
One other concern with radio frequencies is that they affect membranes. Environmental contaminants like lead, or other things that go through membranes and have their toxic effects, may be magnified in the presence of the radio frequencies that are compromising the integrity of the cell membrane. That's a concern that's been brought forward repeatedly, and it's an open research question. There is some preliminary evidence in children that that actually is happening with lead. But, once again, it's not well established; that's one study.
However, we certainly do need to be collecting environmental data, the data in schools, and we need to have much, much better public health data, not only for cancers, but for other conditions as well. That quality has gone way downhill in the last five years.