Day 1 of BioEM2014: some thoughts on EHS, tablets and skin

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The first day of BioEM2014 is over. No “earthquake” in bioelectromagnetics science but… some interesting gems and comments.

Meeting was opened with decorum – lecture by Carl F. Blackman, 2014 recipient of the D’Arsonval Award, the highest scientific honor that can be bestowed by the Bioelectromagnetics Society. Carl is also not just a scientist who gets this award; he is one of the six original founding members of the Bioelectromagnetics Society.

Carl’s talk, as expected, was easy and entertaining, though it had some somber moments like e.g. remembering US governmental agency allowing him to work on EMF effects, but health effect’s research was off-limits – forbidden.

Carl provided an interesting word of caution concerning research on cells grown in a laboratory. The cells, in order to grow, need to be kept in incubators that upkeep constant temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels. All incubators are equipped with electric motors facilitating continuous movement of atmosphere inside an incubator. These motors are sources of an EMF that is not considered by scientists. He also pointed that similar problems, of an unaccounted EMF, might be posed by wiring of the buildings. Such unaccounted EMFs might cause problems in finding, or in replication, of biological effects.

Another interesting comment was about glass vs. plastic bottles for storing cell growth media and glass and plastic lab ware used in growing cells in a laboratory. There is, as Carl said, a “plastic effect” – results done in earlier studies using glass lab ware are not replicable using plastic lab ware…

Another interesting statement in Carl’s talk was about EHS: “people claiming to be EHS might indeed be affected by EMF”. Furthermore, Carl mentioned that apparently EHS studies were not designed properly because the scientists designing them have no understanding of EHS. Such EHS-related statements, coming from the D’Arsonval awardee, carries scientific weight and should be seriously considered by anyone and by everyone.

One of the two morning parallel sessions (session 02) was about effects of EMF on children. The first talk was by Mary Redmayne, currently from Monash University in Australia. Mary has given a very comprehensive review of the spectrum of precautionary policies exercised by different organizations and countries. In short – it is a mess. The aim of the WHO EMF Project to harmonize safety standards and policies around the world seems to be badly failing. In fact, WHO itself is contributing to this standards and policy mess by providing contradictory statements, as seen in one of Mary’s slides. ICNIRP is quoted as follows “Different groups in a population may have differences in their ability to tolerate a particular NIR exposure. For example, children…” and “[I]t may be useful or necessary to develop separate guideline levels for different groups within the general population” (ICNIRP 2002 General approach to protection against non-ionizing radiation. Health Physics vol 82, no 4, pp540-548 ).

Something does not add up in what WHO and ICNIRP say…

There was also a very interesting observation, in Mary’s presentation, concerning what general public considers as a standard operating position of tablet computer and what the industry considers it to be. The industry considers it to be some 20cm away from the body and at this distance, the compliance of EMF emissions with the safety standards is tested. However, the general public thinks otherwise and people, including small children, keep tablets on their laps, often for hours at the time. It means that the compliance with the safety standards goes “down the drain”.

How it is possible that the industry tests such devices in conditions that are completely different from how these devices are used? Why people are not warned that the industry’s standard operating position has nothing to do with real life?

In the afternoon, one of the two parallel sessions (session 04) dealt with dosimetry. I went there to listen to a particular talk given by Theo Samaras on absorption of EMF in skin. I was delighted to see that, at last, skin is getting someone’s attention. Thus far most of the research focused on exposures to our internal organs; and skin, the largest and the most exposed organ of our body was left without attention. Theo’s presentation had one very interesting and very important point: “From the results it becomes clear that the maximum SAR affecting a large number of cells in the skin can be several times higher than the average SAR”. It means that although, on average, skin cells are exposed to SAR considered as safe by the ICNIRP standards, there are some of the cells receiving several times higher exposures. Such high exposures will certainly cause physiological stress to the overexposed cells. We need to remember that it is enough to affect a single cell to cause development of cancer. Besides cancer, physiological stress to some of the cells may lead to impairment of skin physiology that could lead to impairment of protective capabilities of the skin.

As Theo said me later, at the coffee break, the new 5G technologies will produce EMF emissions that will be nearly entirely absorbed by skin. It is time to finally take a close look at what EMF exposures cause to skin physiology.