By Matthew Lasar
The global movement for governments to err on the side of electro-magnetic caution got a huge boost this month. The Council of Europe has issued a new draft resolution and report on device radiation safety that urges its 47 member nations to adopt a “precautionary principle” when it comes to cell phone safety. Such a principle would apparently include banning all mobile phones, DECT phones, WiFi and WLAN systems from classrooms as a measure to protect children.
Yes, you read that right. Here’s resolution 8.3.2 of the draft: “ban all mobile phones, DECT phones or WiFi or WLAN systems from classrooms and schools, as advocated by some regional authorities, medical associations and civil society organisations.”
The document will be discussed by the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly at their meeting in Kyev, Ukraine on Friday. Authored by Luxembourg MP and Green Party activist Jean Huss, it contends that even if science isn’t certain about low frequency radiation emanating from mobile phones and power lines, its member states should recognize that these devices “appear” to have “more or less potentially harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on plants, insects and animals, as well as the human body when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values.”
Despite the tentative conclusions of extant research on this problem, the report urges governments to “respect the precautionary principle” and revise their estimates of the levels at which non-ionising radiation can be regarded as unsafe.
“Waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.”
Anxieties and fears
It’s not every day that one reads an international report that more or less implies that using your iPhone might be as dangerous as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. But the Council’s stated mission is to “develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles,” and it’s clear that public worries over this issue will not wait for conclusive scientific research on the question of the impact of non-ionising frequencies on the human body.
This draft is obviously responsive to that global mood:
The potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on the environment and human health have not yet been fully elucidated and a number of scientific uncertainties continue to exist in that regard. Nevertheless, anxieties and fears remain in wide sectors of the population over the health hazards posed by the waves, and also of the demands voiced by high-level scientists, by groupings of doctors and by the associations of concerned citizens which abound in many Council of Europe member states.
The resolution urges governments “to take all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly the exposure to children and young people who seem to be most at risk from head tumours.” These would include launching “information and awareness-raising campaigns” on their supposed risks.
And the document wants Europe to “pay particular attention” to “electrosensitive” people, defined as those “suffering from a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields and introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network.”
This category of sensitivity would presumably include Mrs. Janice Tunnicliffe of the United Kingdom. The Telegraph reports that the Nottinghamshire woman “cannot bear to be anywhere near electromagnetic fields of any kind,” including television sets, radio, or mobile phones.
iPhones “make me feel really sick within about 20 minutes of being near one,” Tunnicliffe told the newspaper. “Wifi makes me feel like I have a clamp at the back of my head which is squeezing the life out of me.”
Unblinded by science
This Council report is no doubt being read with interest here in San Francisco—my neck of the Ars Orbiting HQ. The city has been in a tizzy over the mobile phone radiation question for about a year, but recently backtracked on its cell phone emissions disclosure law, which would have required mobile phone retailers to display the Specific Absorption Rates of their devices in the show rooms. Fear of lawsuits from the mobile phone industry appears to have been the reason for taking the ordinance back to the drawing board.
The Euro-draft says that skepticism about the safety of these devices is understandable, given the recent past.
“It is certain that one cause of public anxiety and mistrust of the communication efforts of official safety agencies and governments lies in the fact that a number of past health crises or scandals,” the document notes, “such those involving asbestos, contaminated blood, PCBs or dioxins, lead, tobacco smoking and more recently H1N1 flu were able to happen despite the work or even with the complicity of national or international agencies nominally responsible for environmental or health safety.”
Other recommendations include encouraging governments to “pay heed to and protect ‘early warning’ scientists” and formulating “a human rights oriented definition” of precautionary ALARA (“as low as reasonably achievable”) emissions principles.
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