This is a model letter for any one wishing to draw the attention of health professionals to the risks of using wireless technologies in health care.
[Background: The NHS Five Year Forward View, published in October 2014, set out the intention to develop a small number of ‘test beds’. These sites will evaluate the real world impact of new technologies offering both better care and better value for taxpayers, testing them together with innovations in how NHS services are delivered.]
Open letter to Mr Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive from Dave Ashton
24 January 2016
24 January 2016
Dear Mr Stevens,
"Nor shall any man's entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so".
I write concerning your "NHS Innovation Test Beds" initiative, to launch remote monitoring systems via "smart" devices across England.
The article on your website notes that patients with diabetes, mental illness, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory disease, hypertension, the frail and the elderly, and patients with other chronic conditions, all stand to benefit through the introduction of the wireless monitoring of their health.
However, there is a major problem.
Wearable devices and other wireless technologies, which form the bedrock of your plans, emit pulsed microwave radiation within the radiofrequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Wifi and Bluetooth, for example, operate at 2.4GHz, and also 5GHz in the case of WiFi, whilst the communication protocols for mobile phones also fall within the microwave portion of the spectrum.
Other devices that emit this form of radiation include mobile phones, DECT cordless phones, wifi routers, wireless tablets and laptops, "smart" meters, wireless baby monitors, wireless alarm systems, radar, TETRA and other mobile masts, and all of the other wireless devices which are intended to be integrated into the Internet Of Things and the "smart" grid.
You'll no doubt be aware that there have been many thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies examining the biological effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation, and especially the radiofrequency/microwave radiation that is emitted by wireless devices and infrastructure.
You'll recall that in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organisation, classified the radiofrequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (which includes microwaves) as a Group 2B Possible Carcinogen, on the basis of an increased risk of developing gliomas associated with mobile phone use. (1)
You may also be familiar with Resolution 1815 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, passed in 2011, which notes:
"4. While electrical and electromagnetic fields in certain frequency bands have wholly beneficial effects which are applied in medicine, other non-ionising frequencies, whether from extremely low frequencies, power lines or certain high frequency waves used in the fields of radar, telecommunications and mobile telephony, appear to have more or less potentially harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on plants, insects and animals as well as the human body, even when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values.
5. As regards standards or threshold values for emissions of electromagnetic fields of all types and frequencies, the Assembly strongly recommends that the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principle is applied, covering both the so-called thermal effects and the athermic or biological effects of electromagnetic emissions or radiation. Moreover, the precautionary principle should be applied when scientific evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty. Given the context of growing exposure of the population, in particular that of vulnerable groups such as young people and children, there could be extremely high human and economic costs if early warnings are neglected.
6. The Assembly regrets that, despite calls for the respect of the precautionary principle and despite all the recommendations, declarations and a number of statutory and legislative advances, there is still a lack of reaction to known or emerging environmental and health risks and virtually systematic delays in adopting and implementing effective preventive measures. Waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof before taking action to prevent well-known risks can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.
7. Moreover, the Assembly notes that the problem of electromagnetic fields or waves and their potential consequences for the environment and health has clear parallels with other current issues, such as the licensing of medication, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals or genetically modified organisms. It therefore highlights that the issue of independence and credibility of scientific expertise is crucial to accomplish a transparent and balanced assessment of potential negative impacts on the environment and human health"
It recommends that the member states of the Council of Europe:
"8.1. in general terms:
8.1.1. 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;
8.1.2. reconsider the scientific basis for the present standards on exposure to electromagnetic fields set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, which have serious limitations, and apply ALARA principles, covering both thermal effects and the athermic or biological effects of electromagnetic emissions or radiation;
8.1.3. put in place information and awareness-raising campaigns on the risks of potentially harmful long-term biological effects on the environment and on human health, especially targeting children, teenagers and young people of reproductive age;
8.1.4. pay particular attention to “electrosensitive” people who suffer 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;
8.1.5. in order to reduce costs, save energy, and protect the environment and human health, step up research on new types of antenna, mobile phone and DECT-type device, and encourage research to develop telecommunication based on other technologies which are just as efficient but whose effects are less negative on the environment and health;
8.2. concerning the private use of mobile phones, DECT wireless phones, WiFi, WLAN and WIMAX for computers and other wireless devices such as baby monitors:
8.2.1. set preventive thresholds for levels of long-term exposure to microwaves in all indoor areas, in accordance with the precautionary principle, not exceeding 0.6 volts per metre, and in the medium term to reduce it to 0.2 volts per metre;
8.2.2. undertake appropriate risk-assessment procedures for all new types of device prior to licensing;
8.2.3. introduce clear labelling indicating the presence of microwaves or electromagnetic fields, the transmitting power or the specific absorption rate (SAR) of the device and any health risks connected with its use;
8.2.4. raise awareness on potential health risks of DECT wireless telephones, baby monitors and other domestic appliances which emit continuous pulse waves, if all electrical equipment is left permanently on standby, and recommend the use of wired, fixed telephones at home or, failing that, models which do not permanently emit pulse waves;
8.3. concerning the protection of children:
8.3.1. develop within different ministries (education, environment and health) targeted information campaigns aimed at teachers, parents and children to alert
them to the specific risks of early, ill-considered and prolonged use of mobiles and other devices emitting microwaves;
8.3.2. for children in general, and particularly in schools and classrooms, give preference to wired Internet connections, and strictly regulate the use of mobile phones by schoolchildren on school premises" (2)
Through the provision of wifi in hospital buildings and other NHS premises, your organisation is already exposing patients, employees and visitors to an environmental and possibly carcinogenic toxin, namely pulsed microwave radiation.
The fact that most people are entirely ignorant of the biological harm being wrought at the cellular level, including - sad to say - most NHS employees it seems, is no justification for continuing this practice, let alone extending it to giving patients microwave-emitting devices to take home with them.
218 experts on the biological effects of this radiation have now put their names to the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which has been sent to the UN, all UN member states, the World Health Organisation, and the UN Environmental Programme.
The signatories include Dr Lennart Hardell, from Sweden, whose research on the link between mobile phone use and brain tumours was instrumental in IARC's classification of the radiation as a Group 2B carcinogen, and from Russia, Prof. Yury Grigoryev, who is the Chairman of the Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
"The International EMF Scientist Appeal calls upon the United Nations, the WHO, UNEP and the UN Member States to:
•address the emerging public health crisis related to cell phones, wireless devices, wireless utility meters and wireless infrastructure in neighborhoods; and
•urge that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) initiate an assessment of alternatives to current exposure standards and practices that could substantially lower human exposures to non-ionizing radiation."
The Appeal notes:
"Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.
These findings justify our appeal to the United Nations (UN) and, all member States in the world, to encourage the World Health Organization (WHO) to exert strong leadership in fostering the development of more protective EMF guidelines, encouraging precautionary measures, and educating the public about health risks, particularly risk to children and fetal development. By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the preeminent international public health agency" (3)
Mr Stevens, with respect, the NHS must start to act responsibly. Exposing patients and their families, which may include infants, young children, pregnant women and the elderly among them, to a Group 2B carcinogen that is linked to scores of other adverse health effects, in contravention of the Precautionary Principle, is an extremely dangerous gamble to take, as it assumes that many international experts, and thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, are simply wrong.
1) IARC Monograph 102
2) Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Resolution 1815
3) International EMF Scientist Appeal
[For readers in Switzerland: Switzerland is a member of the Council of Europe, and should therefore be adhering to the recommendations of its Resolution 1815 on "The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment".]