5
Jul
2004

Mobile Phones and Children: Is Precaution Warranted?

RNCNIRP vs. the Health Council of the Netherlands over children & mobile phones

The following letter to the editor of Bioelectromagnetics is from Youri Grigoriev, the Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, State Research Centre, Institute of Biophysics, Moscow, Russia

Following that is a reply from Eric van Rongen, the Health Council of the Netherlands The Hague, Netherlands.

The argument is over the scientific validity for an advisory against
the use of mobile phones by children.

Don Maisch

--------

Bioelectromagnetics 25:322-323 (2004)

Letters to the Editor

Mobile Phones and Children: Is Precaution Warranted?

Van Rongen [2004] considers the problem of possible unfavorable influence of cellular phones EMI to children from only one seemingly not so essential side, the physical one. On this basis, a conclusion was made that there is no need to restrict children from using mobile phones. This conclusion was stated earlier by the Health Council of the Netherlands.

Even assuming the absence of differences in distribution of absorbed energy in heads of children and adults and similar EMF interaction with tissue of children and adults, there is one more argument, which is more essential from our point of view, for restriction of use of cellular phones by children. Children have a growing organism with its own physiology, typical only to them in terms of tissue regeneration speed, tissue and organ function, development of the immune and other systems, and mechanisms for compensation and protection of the organism from unfavorable factors of environment. Formation of children's brain function plays a very important role. Children have a unique vulnerability.

We really have to admit that we have little research showing that children or young experimental animals are more sensitive to EMF than adults. However, the authors did not take into consideration the secular world experience of age physiology, on the basis of which the conclusion is made that a child's organism during its growth period is more sensitive to physical and chemical factors of the environment WHO [2003] officially confirmed this conclusion: "children have a unique vulnerability. As they grow and develop, there are 'windows of susceptibility': periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats." Many years' experience of chemical toxicology and ionizing radiation radiobiology proves the correctness of this conclusion.

There is another aspect of this problem. We do not have enough information for evaluation of consequences of using cellular phones by children. In this regard the conclusions of Hardell and Hansson Mild [2003] on the increased risk of adults' brain tumor development, if they used cellular phones when they were children, are worth our attention.

Thus, in my opinion the conclusion of van Rongen [2004] on the absence of a necessity to restrict using of cellular phones by children was ill founded. A one-sided analysis of the problem was made, using only a physical approach and not taking into account world-wide experience of monitoring and investigations of physiologists, psychologists, morphologists, pediatricians, and other specialists and fields. I find the second argument more essential.

The Russian National Committee on Protection from Non-Ionizing Radiation adopted a decision on restriction of using cellular phones by children in September, 2001. The Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation included these recommendations in the state EMF standard(SanPiN 2.1.8/2.2.4.1190-03, valid from 01.01.2003). We also support the resolution of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones [IEGMP, 2000] on refraining from using cellular phones in maximally possible ways, as it takes into account all arguments in evaluation of this problem.

The resolution of the Health Council of the Netherlands that it "sees no reason for recommending limiting the use of mobile phones by children," opens the way for aggressive advertisement of a 'cellular phone for each child" and the possibility of using cellular phones by children without limit or control.

References

Hardell l, Hansson Mild K. 2003, Mobile telecommunications and brain 5th COST MCM and Workshop, Budapest, Nov.15-16, 2003

IEGMP. 2000. Mobile phones and health. Report of an Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones. Chilton, IEGMP (available at http://www.iegmp.org.uk/report/index.htm).

Van Rongen E, The Electromagnetic Fields Committee members, 2004.
Mobile phones and children: Is precaution warranted? Bioelectromagnetics 25:142-144

WHO Backgrounder No. 3, 2003. World health day 2003; Healthy environments for children.

Youri Grigoriev*
Russian National Committee on
Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
State Research Centre
Institute of Biophysics
Moscow, Russia

--------

Eric van Rongen Comments

We thank DR. Grigoriev for his comments. We do not agree, however, with his point of view that we only considered physical effects and did not take into account "world experience of monitoring and investigations of physiologists, psychologists, morphologists, pediatricians, and other specialists and fields." Actually, that is exactly what we did. We considered the physical environment and attempted to correlate it to possible differences in sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. Of course it is true, as Dr. Grigoriev quotes WHO, that "children have a unique vulnerability. As they grow and develop, there are 'windows of susceptibility': periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats." But we had to come to the conclusion, on the basis of the available scientific data, that there are no sound scientific reasons to assume that electromagnetic sensitivity would change significantly after the second year of like. Therefore, this cannot be an argument for recommending to limit the use of mobile phones by children. The reason the Stewart Committee (IEGMP, 2000) did recommend this was because they followed a precautionary approach, not based on validated assumptions about higher electromagnetic susceptibility by children. We choose to consider the available scientific data. This did not lead us to the idea that precaution is necessary.

One can think of a number of arguments why children should make less use of their mobile phones than they do now, but a suspicion for
health effects lacks any sound scientific ground.

Eric van Rongen*
Health Council of the Netherlands
The Hague, Netherlands


* Correspondence to: Eric van Rongen, Health Council of the
Netherlands, The Hague, Netherlands
Received for review 1 April 2004

DOI 10.1002/bem.20042
Published online in Wiley InterScience

( http://www.interscience.wiley.com ).

--------

Opinion:

The Health Council of the Netherlands is one of the older 'independent' expert advisory groups in the world, being established in 1902. However, all that worldly experience has not stopped the council from a tendency to favor scientific viewpoints over health risks that are promoted by the very same interests that have produced those risks in the first place.

Lets briefly consider (a)the cell phone issue and then (b) the Health Council's expert advice on depleted uranium.

(a) It is particularly interesting to note how the Health Council has re-defined the Precautionary Principle to one also promoted by the cellphone industry:

"The Precautionary Principle is not, by definition, the same thing as taking measures to reduce exposure. It can also include other actions." The Committee states, "carrying out further research...together with monitoring scientific developments and publishing its findings...are adequate steps in the current context of precautionary measures."

So, in other words, as long as industry funded research is progressing-that is the Precautionary Principle in action and no need to take any further action. They then conclude "Furthermore the Committee feels that there are no health based reasons for limiting the use of mobile phones by children."

This is in line with their earlier 2002 report where they stated: "It is unlikely from a development point of view that major changes in brain sensitivity to electromagnetic fields still occur after the second year of life". ( How they came to this subjective conclusion is unclear - given the lack of scientific research in this area.)

"The Committee therefore concludes that there is no reason to recommend that mobile telephone use by children should be limited as far as possible.". . .The Committee also concluded that the scientific information concerning non-thermal effects* discussed in its report provided no reason to apply the precautionary principle"

So the Health Council gives us:

*a new definition of the precautionary principle - the very same one written up by the cell phone industry;

*questionable conclusions matching the industry viewpoint;

* and a rejection of non-thermal effects - again the old industry line.

Is this quality unbiased science?

To better get a feel of the type of reasoning the Health Council can apply to health issues there is none better than its amazing stand on the supposedly safety of depleted uranium.

(b) The HCN on Depleted Uranium:

In spite of all the scientific evidence to the contrary the Health Council concludes:

"For "relevant exposure scenarios" the Committee does not anticipate that exposure to DU will result in a demonstrable increased risk of diseases and symptoms among exposed individuals as a result of a radiological or chemical toxic effect exerted by this substance."

Now "relevant exposure scenarios" is the sort of trick statement one could find in small print in a policy from a Nigerian insurance company. A "relevant exposure scenario" is one where "the strategy for protection laid down in the rules and regulations governing radiation protection...as regards limiting radiological and chemical toxic risks" is followed.

This is like saying that exposure to asbestos is not a health hazard for "relevant exposure scenarios" that is - wearing full protective suits and masks.

So as long as one goes to war with full radiological protection and knowledge, exposure to DU is safe! Such a statement shows a complete lack of awareness of what really happens on the battle field - especially for Iraq.

If this was a health insurance policy with our hypothetical Nigerians they could say to all those irradiated soldiers making claims: I'm sorry but didn't you read the fine print? - for obviously if you are contaminated with DU you didn't follow instructions!

Does the HCN's assurance of DU safety for "relevant exposure scenarios" also cover the citizens of Iraq, especially including children who are breathing in DU from the thousands of destroyed military vehicles and spent ammunition still littering their country? Perhaps the HCN should air drop them copies of the relevant rules and regulations for radiological protection - in Arabic of course.

Further on the health Council also resorts to the tried and true risk assessment spin of using risk comparisons:

" The radiation dose caused by incidential exposure to DU in the exposure scenarios considered is limited compared with the radiation dose received during a lifetime of exposure to natural uranium, as at the common levels of exposure to natural uranium a contribution to the induction of cancer in the population cannot be demonstrated, the Committee concludes that the same is true for exposure to DU. This general conclusion is also valid for the appearance of lung cancer and for the appearance of leukaemia after the inhalation of dust containing slightly soluble uranium compounds."

However, if the HCN had done their risk comparison more accurately by making a comparison with with naturally occurring Radon the above assurance could NOT be made. The beauty of risk comparisons is one is free to choose from a almost endless list to support your particular opinion.

What the Health Council of the Netherlands has done with its advice on DU is to downplay the health impact in such a way that the DU weapons industry can quite happily continue business as usual.

SO when you read that the experts at the Health Council of the Netherlands say that its okay for children to use mobile phones - read the fine print!

Don Maisch

References

Health Council of the Netherlands: Reports 2002,
http://www.gr.nl/pdf.php?ID=859
and: http://www.amta.org/default.asp?Page=300

J. Radiol. Prot. 22 (March 2002) 100-101,
http://www.iop.org/EJ/abstract/0952-4746/22/1/603
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