An international group of research scientists has come together to challenge ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. The new panel wants a complete revision of ICNIRP’s guidelines for exposures to radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The researchers are demanding the adoption of more scientifically rigorous standards, which better protect public health and the environment.
“We are calling for an independent evaluation of the limits,” Joel Moskowitz of Berkeley Public Health, an arm of the University of California, told Microwave News. This needs to be done, he said, because ICNIRP’s guidelines are “based on smoke and mirrors.”
Moskowitz is one the organizers of the new group of scientists, which calls itself the International Commission on the Biological Effects of EMF (ICBE-EMF). Among its 11 principals or Commissioners are Henry Lai and Ronald Melnick of the U.S., Igor Belyaev of Slovakia and Suleyman Dasdag of Turkey (full list below). Moskowitz is one of the new panel’s eight “special experts,” as are Sweden’s Lennart Hardell and Wenjun Sun of China.
ICBE-EMF is promoting precautionary policies to minimize potential adverse effects, especially for children, pregnant women and those with EM hypersensitivity (EHS). ICNIRP has ignored them.
ICNIRP, founded by Michael Repacholi in 1992, issued its first set of exposure guidelines in 1998. They were last updated in 2020. The ICNIRP limits are now the most widely-used metric for assessing radiation safety.
14 False Assumptions
ICBE-EMF’s opening salvo is a peer-reviewed paper with a detailed deconstruction of 14 assumptions that, it states, are “inherent” in ICNIRP’s RF radiation guidelines. The paper, which runs 25 pages with 230 references, was posted by the journal Environmental Health on October 18.
The fallacies at the heart of these 14 assumptions, ICBE-EMF argues, have led ICNIRP to adopt limits that are “wrong” and that “fail to protect public and environmental health.”
The first and most important of these assumptions is that adverse health effects are caused only by heating and only by exposures above an SAR of 4 W/Kg. The second is that RF radiation cannot damage DNA without causing tissue heating. All 14 assumptions are spelled out in the table below.
The 4 W/Kg threshold for ill effects is now over 40 years old. It was first endorsed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) in 1982 and has remained unchanged since then. ICNIRP used 4 W/Kg for its first set of exposure guidelines, issued in 1998, and it has remained the basis for most RF–exposure standards in Western countries, including those used by the U.S. FCC. When ICNIRP updated its guidelines in 2020, it kept the 4 W/Kg threshold.
As ICBE-EMF points out in its new paper, the 4 W/Kg threshold was derived from just a couple of studies that investigated behavioral effects in a small number of animals following short-term RF exposure. ICNIRP has never made any allowance for possible effects due to long-term exposures.
A supplementary table (Appendix 1) lists 131 experimental studies that found RF-induced oxidative stress below 4 W/Kg.
Melnick took the lead in writing the paper, with substantial contributions from the other ICBE-EMF Commissioners and their advisors. Melnick, now an independent consultant, worked for nearly 30 years, until 2008, at the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) where he designed the protocol for its $30 million project on wireless radiation.
When the study was completed, the NTP concluded that it showed “clear evidence” of cancer among rats exposed to wireless radiation. ICNIRP was not swayed: It called the NTP findings unconvincing. ICNIRP deemed the study insufficient to recommend precaution.
No Response from ICNIRP
The editors at Environmental Health offered ICNIRP the opportunity to publish a reply in the same issue of the journal as the ICBE-EMF paper —if the journal received a manuscript within 30 days. ICNIRP declined.
“We would have liked to respond, but we decided not to,” Eric van Rongen, the vice chair of ICNIRP, told Microwave News. “It would have cost a lot of time,” he said, “and we preferred spending that on our actual tasks.” Van Rongen recently retired after a long career at the Health Council of the Netherlands.
Following in the Footsteps of ICEMS
Old hands in the RF community have seen this play out before. Twenty years ago, a similar group of dissident scientists formed an association which sought to counter ICNIRP’s then-emerging hegemony on EMF/RF exposure standards. That organization was very much like ICBE-EMF and had a nearly identical name: the International Commission on Electromagnetic Safety, or ICEMS for short. Three of its founders are now helping ICBE-EMF get off the ground.
ICEMS was conceived in September 2002 at a conference held in Catania on the east coast of Sicily. It was formally registered as a non-profit in Venice the following year. ICEMS’ guiding principles were laid out in the Catania Resolution — it runs just a few paragraphs but offers a message not unlike ICBE-EMF’s 25-page paper.
“There are plausible mechanistic explanations for EMF-induced effects which occur below present ICNIRP” guidelines, the Resolution states (see below). It was signed by 18 scientists, including ICBE-EMF’s Carl Blackman, Henry Lai and Lennart Hardell.
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