Information & Research

How Exposure to Base-Station Radiation Can Adversely Affect Humans

February 2002

by G. J. Hyland
Department of Physics International Institute of Biophysics
University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
and International Institute of Biophysics
Neuss-Holzheim, Germany

The claim made by the Mobile Phone Industry that the microwave emissions from the antennae of a GSM or TETRA Base-station are many times lower (by at least a factor of 1000) than the limit to which the UK Government’s Statutory Body – the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) – maintains it is safe for us to be exposed to, is perfectly true.

The current exposure limits, set by the International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), are, however, purely thermally based - i.e. they simply limit the intensity of the radiation to ensure that the amount of tissue heating by the absorption of microwaves is not in excess of what the body can cope with. If heating were the only effect of the radiation, existing guidelines would afford adequate protection; unfortunately, however, this is not the case. For microwaves are, after all, waves, and, as such, have properties other than solely intensity. In particular, the pulsed microwave radiation used in the GSM and TETRA systems of mobile telephony has certain rather well defined frequencies, which facilitate its discernment by the alive human organism, and via which the organism can, in turn, be affected in a purely non-thermal way. This is so because the alive human organism (and only the alive one) itself supports a variety of oscillatory electrical biological activities, each characterised by a specific frequency, some of which happen be close to those used in GSM and TETRA. Thus, the frequencies of the microwaves (particularly the higher ones used in GSM) that carry the voice information by means of appropriate modulations are close to those characterising the highly organised electrical activities that are involved in the control of certain biological processes in living organisms at the cellular level (including processes as fundamental as cell division), whilst the somewhat lower frequencies used in TETRA facilitate deeper penetration of this radiation. On the other hand, the rates at which the microwaves are emitted in distinct groups of flashes (or pulses) are close to the frequencies of some of the brain’s own electrical and electrochemical rhythms, which this makes them particularly vulnerable to interference (or even entrainment) by the radiation. [The basic ‘flash rate’ is 217Hz, but the flashes are emitted in groups of 25 at the rate of 8.34Hz. With increasing call traffic, the 217Hz pulsing gradually disappears, leaving only the ELF pulsation at 8.34Hz, which is in the range of the alpha brain wave activity!] It is to be stressed that unlike heating, such non-thermal influences are possible only when the organism is alive: the Dead have no electrical brain activity with which an external electromagnetic field can interfere!

What the Industry and the various regulatory bodies (such as the NRPB and ICNIRP) dispute is that the very weak, pulsed microwave radiation used in GSM and TETRA can non-thermally affect these various biological (electrical) activities in ways that can provoke adverse health reactions. Their difficulty in accepting this reality is due to an out-dated ‘linear’ mentality, within which forces the conclusion that exposure to weak radiation can entail only correspondingly weak effects, and vice versa. Whilst this is true in the case of inanimate systems and dead organisms, it is certainly not so either for energised electronic equipment, or for living organisms. For the latter, in consequence of their vitality, are themselves electromagnetic instruments of great and exquisite sensitivity, and thereby vulnerable to interference by weak external electromagnetic fields whose frequencies are close to those found in the alive organism. The situation is not dissimilar to the way in which the reception of a (turned-on) radio that is tuned to a particular frequency can be interfered with by a signal that is slightly off-station. In both cases, it is more a question of the ‘information’ content of a given (interfering) signal, rather than how much energy it contains (or equivalently, its ability to heat tissue). Whilst the importance of ensuring non-thermal electromagnetic compatibility between mobile phone radiation and energised electronic equipment (in aircraft and hospitals, and with heart pacemakers, for example) is accepted and generally respected, the same, unfortunately, does not yet obtain in the case of the alive human organism!

Despite persistent claims to the contrary by the Mobile Phone Industry, the existence of non-thermal effects of low intensity, pulsed microwave radiation is established beyond dispute, on the basis of many replicated experiments that have been performed over the last 30 years on a variety of living organisms. The results of these experiments have been published in international, peer reviewed scientific journals, and are endorsed by the 16 signatories (of international standing) to the 1998 Vienna Resolution, the only non-signatory being the head of the WHO Project on Electromagnetic Fields!

Of particular relevance is the way in which this radiation affects brain function – specifically, its electrical activity (EEG), its electro-chemistry, and the blood/ brain barrier - and degrades the immune system. For these established influences are of a kind that are consistent with the nature of adverse health reactions reported both by some users of mobile phones and by some people (involuntarily) subject to long-term exposure to the radiation from Base-stations. For example, the radiation is known to affect the dopamine-opiate system of the brain and to increase the permeability of the blood brain barrier, both of which are medically considered to underlie headache – one of the most persistently reported adverse health effects. Similarly, the duration of REM sleep is shortened by exposure to radio-frequency radiation, whilst nocturnal secretion of melatonin is partly inhibited, both of which are consistent with reports of sleep disruption. Furthermore, the fact that microwave radiation has been discovered to target the hippocampal region of the brain is consistent with reports of memory problems and, in some epileptic children, with an increase in the frequency of seizures. The latter finding is not at all unreasonable, given the known ability of a visible light (such as a stroboscope) flashing at a rate somewhere between 15-20 times per second to provoke seizures in the 5% minority of epileptics who are photosensitive. For visible light and microwaves are both simply different realisations of electromagnetic radiation, and the microwave radiation used in GSM and TETRA similarly ‘flashes’ in a way that the brain is able to recognise, as has already been mentioned; unlike visible light, however, pulsed microwaves can penetrate the skull directly. Of particular concern is that the flash frequency of the TETRA signals is not only within to the range where photoepilepsy can be provoked, but is also very close to the frequency that causes the maximum loss of calcium from brain cells, thereby potentially undermining the integrity of the nervous system.

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