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04 November 2016

Cellphone Radiation and Electrosmog

This is an article from an Austrian consumers' magazine on a study undertaken by the Austrian Workers' Compensation Board.  

Cellphone radiation and electrosmog
konsument.at, 21 September 2016
(Google translation with grammatical corrections)

More awake, more tired, more forgetful

A new study demonstrates that calling with a mobile phone affects mental performance, cell nuclei and DNA. Special attention should be paid to the exposure of children and adolescents.

If you sum up the time spent by Austrians in calling with mobile phones and smartphones in 2015, you reach an imposing number: 39,673 years. This corresponds to the period from the beginning of the first cave paintings of Homo sapiens to the present day. For us as their modern descendants, only a few hours of mobile telephony are needed to produce demonstrable changes in cognitive performance (perceiving, thinking, deciding, reacting), cell nuclei and DNA.

Study by AUVA

This is what the latest results of a study on " Athermic effects of electromagnetic fields in mobile communications" (ATHEM-2), show. Commissioned by the Austrian Workers' Compensation Board (AUVA), you can barely blame hostility to technology or progress (as is usually the case with critical mobile communication findings).

Medical University of Vienna and Seibersdorf

The research work was carried out by a top-level team of scientists from the Medical University of Vienna (institutes for cancer research and environmental hygiene) and the "Electromagnetic Compatibility Department" of Seibersdorf Labor GmbH, which were also involved in the preceding project ATHEM-1 (2002-2008). Even at that time, long-lasting changes in brain currents (alpha waves) of test persons were identified by EEG.

Unemployment due to too much cell phone radiation?

In addition to scientific interest, two further factors may have been decisive for the re-examination:

In 2012, after a marathon trial, the Italian Supreme Court awarded a government disability pension to a manager for the first time because it showed a link between the professional, daily, many-hour mobile phone calls and the development of a brain tumor. A fact that AUVA, as an insurer of 4,856,887 Austrians (2015), probably cannot ignore.

In 2013, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer, a sub-organization of WHO) classified high-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF), which are associated with mobile communications, as "possibly carcinogenic".

What did the researchers want to know - and why?

The aims of ATHEM-2 of AUVA are threefold:
Head : What happens inside the head of a man when he calls on his cell phone? What about his reaction times, his ability to make correct decisions, his memory performance over time? Are there any measurable and statistically reliable changes in this comparison? If so, in which direction do they go?
Body : What happens to the body cells of subjects when calling with the phone? Are they affected or changed by the radiation?
Genetic material : Does typical cell phone radiation (UMTS) influence the genetic material in cells when it is exposed to this in the laboratory?

Whom does it concern?

The majority of Austrians. By the end of 2015, more than 13.5 million SIM cards were in circulation in our country of 8.7 million people. And where they are, the radiation is not far off, whether using a mobile phone, the Internet router in the home or the USB stick for mobile data connection from a laptop, PC or tablet.

Cell phones make us faster - but also more forgetful

The results of the study on human beings can thus be summed up. The results were obtained by means of 41 test persons aged between 19 and 39, predominantly non- or infrequent users.

They were exposed to five consecutive days for about two hours a day to a simulated UMTS signal, that could be exactly dosed by means of quite complicated equipment. (UMTS technology - 3G - is still the most used in Austria;  78 percent of all SIM cards worked with it in 2015.) The legal radiation is limited to a SAR value of 2 watts / kilogram (2 W / kg ). SAR is the specific absorption rate, a measure of the thermal energy absorption of tissue exposed to radiation (details below). The test was clearly below this limit.

Significant changes

Significant changes were seen with increasing test duration (within one session, but also over the entire test period).
Fast: For simple reaction tests during exposure, the subjects were increasingly faster, but also made more and more mistakes.
Slow: For a more demanding test (memory and sustained attention) they were however slower, but at the same time, the frequency of errors increased.
Error: The subjects with higher exposure responded more quickly on several tests than the control group, yet made more mistakes.
Tired: The findings showed that the subjects became sleepy more rapidly with higher exposure at the beginning of the test series. In the case of the less exposed, the increase in fatigue remained largely the same.

The bottom line is clear evidence that the intensity of the radiation can have an impact on cognitive ("mental") performance, which should be taken into account when buying a smartphone. Most common models can be found on handywerte.de.

University Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Mosgöller (Med-Uni, Vienna), the project coordinator: "The results are relevant for any kind of employment and situations where reaction time and reaction quality play a role".

"Paternity test" for mobile phones

In addition to the numerous psychological tests, as for criminology or paternity testing, the test subjects donated cells from oral mucous before the start of the test, as well as two and three weeks afterwards and from both sides of the oral cavity. If the radiation had an influence on cell activity, this would have to be stronger on the irradiated side than on the non-irradiated, since the radiation effect decreases drastically with distance. Neither the participants nor the investigators knew what was the irradiated side. As with all other sub-projects, the assignment was made only after all the findings (double blind study) had been determined.

Irradiated cells changed

Result: there were changes in cells exposed to mobile radio radiation and they could be detected weeks after exposure. "With a few exceptions, a significant increase was observed in all anomalies indicating cytotoxic [cell-damaging effects] effects," summarized Univ. Prof. Dr. Michael Kundi from the Institute for Cancer Research of the Department of Internal Medicine at the Medical University of Vienna.

Mobile phone to the ear

It was cause for concern.  The changes were detected to an even greater extent in those who were experimentally exposed to mobile phone radiation, which they also experienced in their everyday lives. "The stronger effects [in this group] suggest that ... to a certain extent, cumulative effects take place," says Prof. Kundi, meaning that in those who hold the mobile phone for a long time and / or repeatedly to the same ear, there is cell damage in those areas of the head influenced by the radiation, not only in the mucous membranes in the mouth ...

Cell phone radiation and DNA in the laboratory

This is probably the most extensive part of the AUVA study. In this, various cell lines were exposed to UMTS mobile phone radiation and the question raised as to whether this leads to DNA damage. The results we have seen in other studies: there are cells that leave it completely cold (e.g. dormant lymphocytes), others react violently.

Cells can repair damage ...

In the AUVA study, the "wild" cells were glioblastoma cells (glioblastoma = most frequent malignant brain tumor). If you expose them to 6 hours of mobile phone radiation nothing happened. However, longer exposure times led to significant DNA damage (lesions) in the form of DNA breaks due to oxidation; the genetic material "crumbles".  The cell must start its repair mechanism. This also worked under laboratory conditions: two hours after irradiation, most of the cells were repaired.

... but how often?

This means that "the vast majority of DNA fragments can be repaired by the cell," writes Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Mosgöller, but continues: "In this context, however, indications are given of the possibility of accumulation, small but permanent DNA damage. "

How long does the repair mechanism work?

The question is: how often and how long does the repair mechanism work? We know that this is not unlimited. Otherwise, no one would ever die. And the fact that the cell damage observed in the AUVA study not only occurs in the petri dishes of the researchers (in vitro), but also in living beings (in vivo), as shown by a recently published study by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP).

Rats fell ill

This is the largest and most careful animal experiment so far: Male rats exposed to intense mobile radiation have actually been affected by malignant gliomas. Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief physician of the American Cancer Society, comments: "For years, the lack of good scientific studies has hindered the understanding of the potential risks of mobile phone radiation. This report by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) is good science." And this is proof of cancer-triggering (in animal experiments).

"Young cells" are sensitive

Cells which are metabolically active are particularly sensitive to mobile radiation. These are naturally found in growing tissues - in children and adolescents, who have a high proportion of such cells, which then "jump" to stress and oxidation of DNA. "For higher life expectancy, therefore... arguments for precautionary measures to minimize possible long-term risks for this group of persons", Prof. Mosgöller states. Especially in children, the following applies: Minimize exposure to mobile radiation - keep a distance from the head.

Mobile phone radiation:  the younger, the deeper (Screenshot:  AUVA)

The "K (r) ampf" [convulsion/battle] with limit values

"Athermic", which means "non thermal", i.e. "non-heating", is the exact opposite of the current limit values ​​for the avoidance of health impairment of people using mobile telephony: the aforementioned SAR values ​​(specific absorption rate ). The SAR value is a measure of the extent to which electromagnetic waves - as they occur in mobile telephones - are absorbed by the body and lead to thermal effects by heating tissue.

Heating damages cells

Too high doses and subsequent high heating will inevitably mean cell damage or cell death. Therefore, it would not occur to anyone to put his head into a microwave oven by bypassing the automatic switch-off. But the mobile phone, which is also working with microwaves (much lower intensity), is often heedless and persistent to the temple.

SAR value is criticized

The SAR value is not simple: it is criticized on two sides. One thinks that it is actually unsuitable for the determination of radiation exposure during telephone calls, since such high values ​​would not occur in practice anyway.

The "thermal dogma"

The other side criticizes: The limit of 2 W / kg would provide adequate protection against thermal effects. But the thermal effects are at most just some of the influencing factors. The other - the non-thermal effects, the subject of this research - were completely ignored, they found no precipitation in the limit values ​​(the critics call it the "thermal dogma"). Non-thermal effects are not (yet) included anywhere in the world in setting limit values ​​for mobile telephony.

What now?

Although the image is not quite uniform, consider the SAR values ​​(given in our large cell phone test tables). As we have seen, the effects of mobile telephony can increase in parallel with the SAR values. Less is more here. Consumers who want to minimize health risks will pay attention not only to the newest features of the latest generation of smartphones, but also to the SAR value of the devices.

In case of doubt, one could also remember a research project that has been around for about ten years. Even then, Prof. Henry Lai from the University of Washington, Seattle, had all the time available studies on the question whether mobile telephony could have biological effects on the genome.
Yes : 43 published studies positively answered yes: 40 financed by the public sector, only 3 from industry or the military.
No : 42 studies denied an influence, of which 38 were funded by industry or the military, only 4 from the public sector.

AUVA: no "immediate and direct health hazard"

The researchers of the AUVA study do not see any "immediate and direct health risks", but caution prevention. For the mobile communications forum, the lobby of the mobile phone industry, the mobile phone has proved its worth. Mobile phone radiation is not harmful but rather fear of it. With this stance, the mobile phone lobby has been reacting for years to scientific studies on the electromagnetic compatibility of mobile telephony.

"Reduce risk"

But not everything that is not "directly harmful to health" can be dismissed as harmless. Dr. Klaus Schiessl, contact person of the ATHEM-2 study at AUVA, points out: "There are already two ATHEM studies that clearly show that there are non-thermal effects. In view of this factual situation, it is no longer tenable to deny such effects. As long as you do not know what radiation exposure to the body means, you should minimize the risk. This corresponds to the basic idea of ​​prevention, as also enbodied in the Electromagnetic Fields Ordinance (§ 9/2) and the ASchG (Employees Protection Act). "

Video for schools

The AUVA has produced a film about the study, which is primarily intended for demonstrations in schools. It takes 12 min:

Summary: To reduce the risk of radiation

Short : Keep mobile phone conversations brief. For longer conversations, make calls over (wired) landlines. Cordless telephones "radiate" similar to mobile phones.

Wait : When connecting, the transmission power is highest. Therefore, when calling on the phone, wait a little while before putting it to the head.

Headset : Use hands-free devices. Wired headsets and also wireless headphones (Bluetooth) from brand manufacturers are a suitable alternative (usually very low radiation exposure).

SMS : Send text messages. Many calls could be replaced by SMS.

Off : Turn off the cell phone when it is not being used for a long time, at least at night. Even in stand-by mode, it regularly contacts the base station. (This is different depending on the network operator and region, because the frequency is determined by the base station.)

Hands-free : When possible, make calls in the car on a speakerphone with an external antenna.

Consideration : In public transport, it is better not to call (also out of consideration for the other passengers).

Backpack : Do not carry your switched on cell phone directly on the body, but in a case or backpack.

Signal strength : If the quality is poor, the radiation exposure is far higher. Therefore try to find a better place with a weak signal. Go to a window or outside.

Background services : Reduce the number of apps and disable the background services. Disabling "Mobile Services" / "Data Network Mode" turns the smartphone back into a mobile phone. They are still accessible, but avoid a lot of unnecessary radiation through background traffic.

Children : Because of their anatomy, they are much more exposed to radiation than adults. Recommend to your child to send SMS rather than making calls. Change to flight mode when playing.

SAR : Orient yourself in the choice of mobile phones to SAR or the Connect radiation factor - see our test tables or www.handywerte.de.

Original article in German:

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