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EMF Studies

27 January 2014

France: How the Telecoms Lobby Makes Us Believe There Is No Problem With Electromagnetic Radiation

Fleur Pellerin, Minister for Digital Economy
This excellent investigative report on the French telecoms lobby clarifies the reasons for the watered-down version of the bill on electromagnetic waves which was recently passed by the French National Assembly and has now gone to the Senate for approval.

How lobbies make us believe there is no problem with electromagnetic waves
by Marie Astier, Reporterre, 23 January 2014
(translated from French by the Editor of this blog)

Today, the National Assembly is looking at a proposed bill on exposure to electromagnetic radiation produced by cell phones, Wi-Fi… A very weak proposal in a field where the weight of lobbies is particularly heavy. Investigative report.

Little by little, proof is accumulating. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified electromagnetic waves in the group of « agents possibly carcinogenic to humans. » In 2012, the BioInitiative Report, the result of a study of 1,800 publications on waves, concluded that « biological effects have been established » even at « very weak exposure levels ». In October 2013, in France, the benchmark report for decision-makers was updated by ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Safety). It indicates that there is no proven effect of waves on human health… But nevertheless it recommends caution, notably limiting children’s exposure to cell phones.

« Waves : we do not see them, we do not hear them, we do not feel them, » repeats Janine Le Calvez, President of the association Priartem. It is thus easy to make us doubt that there is a problem with this very real physical phenomenon…

Because doubt is expertly maintained by the telecoms lobby with the help of researchers close to industry. Their great pressure is well documented thanks to the work which associations such as Priartem and Robin des Toits have been carrying out for many years, as well as two documentaries on the subject: “Mauvaises Ondes” by Sophie Le Gall, shown on France 3 in 2011, and “Ondes, Science et manigances” by Jean Hêches and Nancy de Méritiens which will be released on 15 February.

Here are four stories, among others, which demonstrate how telecoms operators prevent taking into serious account the health impact of the deluge of electromagnetic waves that is saturating the atmosphere.

« Scientific » advice from company employees

Difficult to understand what ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection is. It is recognized by WHO which presents it on its Internet site as “an independent scientific commission (…) to promote protection against non-ionizing radiation (…) in the interest of the population and the environment.” Its expertise is an international reference and serves as the basis for many Western countries, including France, to define the value limit of exposure to waves.

But this « independence » is questionable. Nancy de Méritiens, author of the documentary, « Ondes, science et manigances » describes ICNIRP as an “association created by scientists from the nuclear industry proposing norms for electromagnetic waves. Originally, there were scientists who were working for Motorola and the United States Army”.

The creator and first president of this institution is the Australian scientist Michael Repacholi, known for having been engaged as a consultant by several companies in the telecoms and electricity sector. But as his biography indicates on ICNIRP’s Internet site, where he is still Emeritus President, “his position gives him the status of observer at meetings of ICNIRP without having the right to vote, thus he does not have to complete a declaration of conflict of interest.”

In the scientific committee of the institution, among the French scientists, one notes the name of Isabelle Lagroye. The declaration of conflict of interest from 2005 indicates that her research was financed by Bouygues Telecom, Alcatel, and France Telecom.

The same document tells us that René de Sèze, also on the scientific committee of ICNIRP, worked for Bouygues Telecome and for TDF, a company specializing in deployment of mobile networks.

Today, ICNIRP considers that waves are only dangerous from the moment they increase the temperature of the human body. These are the “only proven health effects of radiofrequencies”, affirms the French Government Internet site devoted to electromagnetic waves. On the basis of these assertions, France has fixed the value limit of exposure to waves at a level between 41 and 61 volts per meter according to frequency. A threshold so elevated that it is almost never attained. Associations are demanding a limit of 0.6 volts per meter, that is, 100 times lower.

In her documentary, Nancy de Méritiens explains that ICNIRP has contributed to maintaining very high legal thresholds of exposure to waves, particularly in France. “However in Brussels, the threshold is 3 volts per meter. In China, India, and Russia, they have recently changed the law; the threshold is 6 volts per meter. That means that they consider that the threshold of 61 volts per meter is not at all acceptable!”

The World Health Organization controlled

Who would suspect the bias of the World Health Organization, an institution of the United Nations? And yet, its program of expertise on electromagnetic fields, “called the “EMF Project” was created in 1996 by… Michael Repacholi, also creator of ICNIRP and who, we have seen, has been a consultant for the telecoms companies. Nancy de Méritiens explains: “Before the arrival of Michael Repacholi, WHO had already compiled studies which suspected the danger of waves. Arriving at WHO, he put together his team and brought in scientists who were working with him at ICNIRP, who came from industry. From the time of his arrival, the policy changed and WHO ceased to say there were problems… at a time when mobile telephony started to spread to the general public”, related Nancy de Méritiens. “He stayed at WHO until 2006.”

Michael Repacholi was replaced in 2006 by Emilie Van Deventer. New blood after this obstructionist president? “She is not a physician. She is an electronics engineer,” deplores Nancy de Méritiens. “This WHO department is concerned with public health!” A protégée of Michael Repacholi, Emilie Van Deventer has also been a part of ICNIRP and as a young researcher, occupied a position financed by Bell, the Canadian telecoms industry.

However, accumulated studies have been put together by another part of WHO, which studies cancer, and where telecoms industries have no representatives. At the end of May 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified electromagnetic waves as “possibly carcinogenic”.

When the nuclearists judge waves to be without danger

The French society of radioproection (SFRP) is the French equivalent of ICNIRP. A “textbook case” of conflict of interest in the field of waves, according to the association Robin des Toits.

It was also originally created « to make us believe that nuclear energy is a safe technology », writes Etienne Cendrier, spokesperson for Robin des Toits. But it expanded its competencies and since 1991 it has also been lending its expertise in the field of “non-ionizing radiation”, that is, electromagnetic waves.

In the list of members under the section « non-ionizing radiation », one finds two names already cited among the ICNIRP experts and whose research has been financed by the telecoms companies : Isabelle Lagroye and René de Sèze.

Also on the list is Dr. André Aurengo, member of the Academy of Medicine and head of service at Pitié-Salpétriêre. Wikipedia (consulted on 22 January), hides the fact that he is also a member of the Administrative council of EDF [Electricity of France], and of the scientific committee of Bouygues Telecom and of the French Association of Mobile Operators. On what rests his credibility in ensuring that mobile phone antennas are not “dangerous to health”? Last year, he virulently opposed the first draft law on waves.

Finally, another person of note among the members of SFRP is Bernard Veyret. He depends on the same research unit as Isabelle Lagroye, a laboratory which regularly produces studies on waves, notably financed by Bouygues Telecom. Marc Veyret is also a member of the scientific committee of Bouygues Telecom.

Two functions which are not contradictory, Reporterre is assured by Jean-Philippe Desreumaux, Director of frequencies and protection at Bouygues Telecom. “As a member of industry, where there is a potential risk from technology, either you finance research and they blame you, or you do nothing and they also blame you! We are transparent, we do not hide the composition of our scientific committee. This helps us follow the evolution of research in the field of waves. They ask us to be responsible and we are!”

In fact, one thinks that research is not financed by industry but by researchers from the public sector who are more independent. Should ministers ensure this independence? This is not really the case.

However, since the « Grenelle des ondes » in 2009, there has been a tax on installation of relay antennas. Operators paid, via the State, 1.75 million Euros to ANSES in 2013. The denunciation of the controversy on conflict of interest of scientists thus allowed the start of a debate and improving financing of research.

Just one year ago, a first draft bill was to have been discussed in the National Assembly. But an exceptional procedure (referral back to committee), desired by the Socialist Party Deputies, delayed the text. “The Government ceded to the lobbies and put pressure on the socialist group to vote for the referral,” affirms Janine Le Calvez from Priartem.

The lobbies which whisper to the Minister

The primary aim of lobbies is to influence legislation. In France, they are well served.

Before the National Assembly, this referral was defended notably by the Minister for Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin. The day before examining the text, from early morning, she went to measure the intensity of the waves with the national agency of frequencies. In front of the microphones, she affirmed she would ensure that the text of the bill “would not include that which gives way to irrational fears and legal weight to the danger of radioelectric waves, while this danger is not scientifically supported”.

A speech repeated in the afternoon in the address of the French Federation of Telecoms, the union of operators representing Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Orange, among others.

Fleur Pellerin’s speech, Minister delegated… by FFTelecoms

In a short intervention, the Minister declared : « the Government is particularly vigilant concerning the legal and operational constraints which could lead to slowing down deployment.(…) Tomorrow, the Deputies will discuss a proposed bill aimed to significantly limit emissions from mobile phone antennas. Tomorrow, at the Assembly, I will assume my role as telecoms minister and I will speak the truth instead of stirring up irrational fears.”

In conclusion, the Minister applauded the consultations on the subject, conducted « without slowing down the deployment of 4G which we so much need. »

Today, the Cabinet of Fleur Pellerin indicates that the Minister « supports » the new proposed bill presented to the National Assembly and that it is a question of « priority ». Her cabinet indicates to Reporterre that “Mrs. Pellerin has stated her thoughts and apologizes for her declarations. She understands that relay antennas are a subject of social concern, not a health concern. The subject of health concerns is situated at the level of mobile terminals where exposure is greater.”

One fears the Government is more attentive to telecoms and digital companies, which, in a recent press release, are more concerned about obstacles to the development of industry than to the health of citizens.

Original article in French:

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