Superabundant EMF and the Precautionary Principle

Gauss Network All-Japan Conference in Nerima, Tokyo

Report by Patricia Ormsby

More than 100 people from across Japan gathered in Nerima-ku, a suburb close to the heart of Tokyo, for Gauss Network's annual nationwide conference. Participants included both members and non-members of Gauss Network, but all shared a common concern about the environment and where technology is taking us. This year's conference focused on the multitude of electromagnetic field (EMF)-generating devices being increasingly used in daily life and on use of the Precautionary Principle to seek a balance between the benefits and risks associated with this. One example of the former is induction heating units being promoted as a replacement for gas ranges in kitchens. Tokyo Electric Power Co. has apparently formed a tie-up (of questionable legality-a point brought up in the April meeting of Gauss Network) with household electronics manufacturers to produce and promote these very high energy consuming devices. In earthquake-prone Japan, gas companies have developed devices for automatically turning off gas in the event of an earthquake or a gas leak, but no gas at all would be safer in that regard. Increasing the demand for electricity seems at odds with the times, as there were predictions of California-style power shortages for the summer of 2003, which turned out, luckily, to be unusually cool. However, demand for electricity may actually be decreasing due to the transfer of manufacturing to China. Some new apartments under construction are going 100% electric in urban areas and most consumers have no idea about the EMF involved. A few do, though, and the promotional pamphlets explain that some people may develop headaches, dizziness or other symptoms, but dismiss these as minor and no reason to be concerned--ignoring the fact of an acknowledged link between leukemia and ELF fields of 4 milligauss and higher.

Heading the list of speakers was Akifumi Ueda, one of the most active members of Gauss Network, author of the study on the effects of EMF from Tokyo Tower, head of the EMF Project of the Citizens' Science Initiative Japan. He presented a report on the WHO EMF Project Workshop, which covered a great number of topics of concern in international research trends, and compared the situation abroad with that in Japan. British researchers, he said, are starting to elucidate realistic mechanisms for initiation of leukemia by EMF. He pointed out problems with epidemiological studies, for example, almost all children in Japan now have cell phones, so it is hard to find controls. Furthermore the mode of irradiation changes with each new technological innovation, and this can mix up results. The effects of radiation from cellular phones can depend on the orientation of the antenna with respect to the head, the thickness of the skull, proportion of water in the brain tissue and other factors.

Many other countries are recommending against use of cell phones by children whose skulls are thinner and brains still developing, but Japan tends to jump into use of new technology without assessing its need or wisdom and is tending toward higher use of energy. In Germany, he said, they would prefer a darker meeting room with fewer lights. It is worth noting that Gauss Network's conference was held on the 5th floor of a building in a spacious room with windows and the fluorescent lighting was left off the whole time, and most people would not have noticed this because it was sufficiently light in the room.

In Europe, positioning of cell phone towers is discussed with the community. In Japan, it's a private matter between companies and landlords and considered proprietary information.

Following up on research indicating the probability of increased levels of EMF when used on trains, actual experimentation has been done in closed metal containers, confirming an increase.

Japan is pushing ahead with expansion of ground-based digital TV broadcasting, beginning with addition of eight new digital waves in Tokyo Tower. The plan may be accomplished with a 600- meter tower (nearly double size of Tokyo Tower, 333 meters tall) to be constructed in heavily congested urban areas.

The next speaker was Professor Koya Ogino, formerly of Kyoto University Nuclear Engingeering Department, now heading the Denjiha Kankyo Kenyusho (EMF Environmental Research Center). He spoke about the EMF problem and the Precautionary Principle, first mentioning the above-described induction heaters. Research has shown, he says, within a 99.9% certainty that extremely low frequency (ELF) fields are connected with increased leukemia rates.

Japan's media, however, communicate this very poorly (they're even worse than America's, he says). He showed a slide of one of Japan's sports dailies (newspapers containing a variety of news in addition to sports, but mostly read by men), that had an article on the destruction of cell phone towers in England by citizens. The author demonstrated ignorance of the real reasons.

Newspapers do mention newly imposed fines for driving while using a cell phone. The research shows, though, that the distraction continues for a considerable time after terminating the call, and what would be optimal would be to have people not drive for at least ten minutes after calling. (But this would require educating them.)

Prof. Ogino also spoke about the research by a Dr. Kimata in 2002 demonstrating that atopic dermatitis increases in intensity with exposure to microwaves. That author went on to demonstrate a connection microwaves and allergic rhinitis. (At this point I had to restrain myself from causing a commotion. About a year and a half ago I produced a new hat for myself with laminated aluminum foil covered with cloth for comfort and to avoid comments. I anticipated no other benefits of it over my older hat, in which the aluminum tended to bunch up and slide around. But I benefited enormously, with my arrhythmia clearing up within a few days and virtually no problem later that year with rhinitis due to cedar pollen allergy, which has come to afflict so many people, especially urbanites, in Japan, including those with no family history of allergies. I had come down with that in 1992 after moving into a second-story apartment with power lines outside, and suffered terribly three months of every year since. Needless to say, the media blame one thing or another, none of which are very convincing, for this crisis, but none of them have mentioned the possibility of EMF.

I have not seen Dr. Kimata's research mentioned by the media. His reports can be found in Allergy Immunology 129 (2002) 348 and Brain, Behavior and Immunity 17 (2003) 134.)
Omega see: Enhancement of allergic skin wheal responses and in vitro allergen-specific IgE production by computer-induced stress in patients with atopic dermatitis
Kimata, Hajime pp. 134-138

There is also research on EMF exposure, PCB exposure and prostate cancer.

Apparently, with regard to the 3rd generation of cell phone technology, the companies have done no research at all on its effects, satisfied that their research on earlier technology is sufficient. But each mode brings in a different mix of frequencies. The Pokemon incident occurred several years ago when flashing of bright colors at a frequency of 15 Hz sent kids viewing TVs at close range into seizures.

While reports have been written saying a minimum of 300 m is needed from cellular towers to homes, companies continue to justify their lack of concern by comparing the strength of their fields with that of the Earth. We have been hampered by the difficulty of isolating pure effects of EMF from other related effects. Tissue heating rather than non-thermal effects is frequently postulated as the cause of leukemia. At 0.4 mG and above, childhood leukemia rates are raised by a factor of 2.6, and only Japanese researchers persist at saying there is no connection between ELF and leukemia.

Although in 2000, newspapers in Japan warned against children's use of cell phones, that has been all but forgotten.

Germany and England are doing research in the vicinity of actual towers, and the results are likely to be included in the WHO's assessment.

Prof. Ogino then presented a graph which showed a drastic increase in miscarriages and SIDS in Japan in recent years, with no corresponding increase in Germany. An article on risk assessment (Science 165:1232 (1969)) compared Japan's wild forward push with America's more cautious approach. It brought up the idea of the Precautionary Principle.

Among questions and comments by the audience to Prof. Ogino was a suggestion for research on the effects on embryos, as dioxin has been shown to be a very powerful poison, and at tiny concentrations it exhibits a window effect on embryonic development because it mimics hormones. This is similar to the window effects (effects observed only in very narrow ranges of conditions) found for EMF.

Prof. Ogino noted that ion channels are affected by certain frequencies and levels of EMF, causing sudden release of calcium. For that reason, electric power at 50 Hz may be safer than at 60 Hz. He concluded that a much lower level of EMF in our living environment (a 0.001 level) is worth pursuing, but although these window effects are found at even lower levels, when one cell phone on the moon would be the brightest source of microwaves reaching the Earth, it is impossible now to go back to natural levels and unrealistic to attempt to meet absolute safety.

The next speaker was Yasuko Katoh from Sapporo, Hokkaido, who is herself electrosensitive. She has done a study on the prevalence of EMF sensitivity and found people in their 40s and 50s most heavily affected and that women are overwhelmingly more affected (82%). In a conversation later she postulated that serotonin levels are lower in women and that this might be the reason women are more likely to be affected. She showed slides of plants with deformities found 100 m from a base station. The people living nearby also complained of hypersensitivity. (I will translate her report into English and present it separately.) She says homeopathy looks good with regard to treating electrosensitivity.

Next came reports from activists across Japan battling against poor placement of cellular phone towers or against high-tension lines, including one damaging a forest in Kyushu (Aya no Mori) which has been selected by UNESCO as a candidate for World Heritage protection. These activists say they lose their court battles, but learn a lot. They say it is hard to find lawyers who are interested in helping, because it is a sticky problem. In particular, it seems everyone is battling against Docomo, previous subsidiary of Japan's relatively recently privatized telephone company NTT. They all describe gangster-like tactics: secretiveness, night-time activity making it necessary to post guards 24 hours a day, windows broken by rocks, threatening phone calls, citizens injured in clashes, police called in to get the company to desist. Activists express concerns on the effects on crops in farming areas, but it is not only an environmental problem-inhabitants' rights are disregarded. Activists in urban areas hear of the 300 m distance suggestion and realize there is no such space in urban areas. They must confront not only the companies, but also the landlords who profit from the placement. One urban activist wondered that if tenancy were to decrease in buildings sporting cell towers, would landlords be less willing to rent space to these companies.

Finally, Prof. Hideo Nagano of Hosei University Human Environment Studies Department gave a germane talk on the legal picture in Japan as compared with the US. His specialty is US law, and he has studied cases involving citizens against EMF sources. He said that although it would be easier to get scientific evidence of carcinogenicity admitted in the US than in Japan, so far this has not been seen as sufficient even in the US. In both the US and Japan, if you can prove a decline in real estate value due to nuisance, you can win. America, he noted, has better zoning laws than Japan, giving local municipalities more jurisdiction.

There have been wins based on spoiled appearance. This, in turn, has led companies to disguise antennas. As more scientific evidence becomes available, the likelihood of winning a suit in the US on the basis of health effects increases. When that happens, perhaps Japan will pay attention.

In Japan, proof of five times higher risk of disease is needed, but what is available is on the order of two times for leukemia. You also need a majority of specialists agreeing. If cell phones produce a different kind of cancer from that, you will have to wait around for scientific proof of a cause-effect relationship for that particular kind of cancer. Citizen concerns about dangers have no legal force if overwhelming evidence of danger is not present. In this case it is particularly hard to win against large public projects.

Prof. Nagano pointed out a need for a system for presenting information on possible alternative locations for towers at as big a distance as possible from schools, hospitals, etc. He also said that damage to the scenic value may be the basis for a suit against public works, and he thinks it would be possible to win a case in Japan based on loss of value. But this would work only in the case of public works. Cell towers are another matter because they are private property of the companies.

Questions to Prof. Nagano included how to obtain evidence if no one is allowed access to information on location of base stations. He agreed this was a problem. In the US, a citizens representative will be on the zoning board and have access to information. Another question was whether it might be possible to sue over making a building a target for terrorists intent on disrupting communications. He answered probably not.

Afterwards, the General Meeting of the Gauss Network was held, with an accounting report and suggestions elicited for directions for future efforts. These included working with citizens of Saitama where a huge digital TV tower will be built, investigating ubiquitous technology, and developing a base of information on unseen hazards such as constantly radiating microwave ovens. In some condos, built with automatic dishwashers in the kitchen which constantly put out large amounts of EMF even when not in use, people sitting on the other side of the counter are exposed to 4-5 mG to their lower abdomen. Installation of inverters can raise EMF levels a lot, as happened at Hosei University. These produce a wide variety of frequencies and noise. If they disrupt radio reception, it is pretty strong. The Gauss Network has about 900 members, and is growing slightly. About 20 come regularly to monthly meetings held in Tokyo. They rely solely on membership fees, contributions and attendance fees at conferences for funding.

Informant: Raoul Treigner


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