STUK in Finland misinforms the Government, Parliamentarians and the general public

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STUK in Finland provides outdated information about cell phone exposures. Is this just the lack of the knowledge or negligence or ignorance or something else…?

Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, known also as STUK, abbreviation derived from its Finnish name Säteilyturvakeskus, is a governmental organization responsible for assuring radiation safety in Finland. It provides expert advice to the Government, Parliamentarians, the industry and the general public about the diverse issues associated with radiation use and exposures.

One of the areas supervised by STUK experts is safety of wireless communication. In this duty, STUK seems to be failing because it provides outdated and simply erroneous information about the radiation safety of cell phones.

Do not keep the cell phone in pocket or anywhere close to the body – this advice we have heard recently pretty much. Especially men are warned not to keep call phones in front pockets of trousers for the possible risk of damage to sperm.

Recent analysis by Fiona Mathews and collaborators,  and commented e.g. in Science Daily, has refueled the concerns of the possibility of sperm damage by cell phone radiation.

Some people take the advice of keeping the phone out of pockets seriously some are ignoring it, and some provide bogus advice. Recently, Professor Jorma Toppari from Turku in Finland engaged in providing health advice even though he clearly does not know what he is speaking about. In respect of cell phone radiation, he is not an expert; he is a lay person, just as anyone in the street.

This is what Prof. Toppari says, in his own words, about the possibility of sperm damage by cell phone radiation [translation by DL]: “Teoreettisesti kännykän sähkömagneettinen säteilykenttä voisi nostaa lämpötilaa kudoksessa, mutta housun taskussa pidetty kännykkä ei voi nostaa kiveksen lämpötilaa riittävästi haittavaikutuksen syntymiseksi ainakaan sillä mekanismilla.” [Theoretically cell phone radiation might increase the temperature of the tissue, but cell phone kept in the pocket of trousers cannot raise the temperature of the testes to level sufficient to affect this organ through temperature-related mechanism].

Firstly, Prof. Toppari should be made aware that there exist the so-called non-thermal effects of cell phone radiation. How they can affect our health; we do not know sufficiently well because the appropriate studies were not yet done. As surprising as it might sound, it is the truth. Secondly, even minute changes in temperature might affect the function of our organs. The best example is microwave hearing. The temperature change in the cochlea is of minute size (millionth of Celsius degree), but this minute change is sufficient to cause effect – the microwave hearing.

I do not claim here that we know whether cell phone radiation damages the sperm. However, claiming the knowledge of the opposite, in the current situation of very uncertain scientific knowledge, shows complete ignorance and disregard for the scientific process.

The somewhat known advice of not keeping cell phone close to the body, including pockets, is often ignored by the users. They seem to trust in the protection given by the current safety standards.

Furthermore, because of the lack of accurate information, the users are confused why their advice is to keep the phone away from the body and not in the pocket. Using a cell phone, we keep it in hand and put it to our ear, so why not to keep the phone in the pocket?

Here is a brief explanation why:

  • the amount of radiation that is absorbed by our body when using the phone, fulfils the current safety standards only when the phone is at a distance of 1.5 – 2.5 cm away from the body. This information is provided by the manufacturers in the booklets accompanying cell phones.
  • there are, however, exceptions to this requirement of safety – these are the so-called extremities. For safety standards our bodies are “divided” into the trunk, where are located all vital organs, and the extremities – parts of our body that are considered as not so vital. The extremities are arms, legs and… ears. Exposures for extremities may exceed current safety standards. This is why we can keep cell phone in hand, even though our hand gets more radiation than the safety standards permit. Ears, or more exactly earlobes are extremities too, and they provide a spacer of ca. 2.5 cm to put a distance between our skull and brain and cell phone. When we put the cell phone to our ear, the safety standards are fulfilled for the skull and brain but exceeded for the earlobe.

That is an explanation for the seemingly contradictory information – keep your phone away from your body but… when using keep it in hand and put it to your ear.

As long as cell phones were simple, used just for calling or sending SMS, the radiation exposures were limited to calling and listening. However, with the era of smart phones, everything has changed and the expert advice should too.

However, this seems not to be the case in Finland. The experts form STUK – Radiation and Nuclear Safety authority still give the following advice: when the user talks then he/she is exposed to radiation but when the phone is idle then the exposure to radiation is practically negligible.

This is wrong advice. This is not the truth.

STUK experts should know it and should act and update their information accordingly. Instead, they are not only silent but provide wrong advice.

The misinformation of the general public in Finland by the STUK experts happens via lectures by STUK expert and via STUK website.

On May 6, 2014, Finnish Parliamentarian, Eeva-Johanna Eloranta, organized seminar at the Parliament. In this seminar Head of Non-Ionizing Laboratory of STUK, Dr. Toivonen, presented STUK’s opinion on the dangers of cell phone radiation. In the presentation slides (Eduskunnan-kansalaisinfo-6-5-2014-STUK) the following advice was provided [translation by DL]:

  • slide #5 – “Valmiustilassa puhelin säteilee hyvin vähän” [on idle cell phone emits very little of radiation]
  • slide #10 – “Valmiustilassa puhelin ei juurikaan säteile” [on idle cell phone emits very little of radiation]

On STUK’s website, similar information is provided (screenshot of the page taken on June 18, 2014 at 15:10: screenshot) [translation by DL]:

  • ”…yleensä säteilylle altistuu merkittävästi vain puheluiden yhteydessä…” […user is significantly exposed to radiation only during speaking on the phone]
  • ”Valmiustilassa matkapuhelin ottaa harvakseltaan yhteyden tukiasemaan, jotta matkapuhelinverkko tietää sen sijainnin, ja paikkatietoa vastaanottaessaan puhelin ei säteile.” [When not in use (not speaking on the phone), cell phone only seldom is contacting cell tower to inform the network about phone’s location; when receiving location information from the network phone does not emit radiation]

The information concerning radiation emissions for idling phone is wrong. It applies only to the old phones. It does not apply to the smart phones.

Smart phones, when we do not speak, might emit even more radiation that our body may absorb, when we keep the phone in pocket or elsewhere close to the body. Smart phones constantly update information from the Internet, when checking emails, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, newsmedia and whatever else we use on our smart phone. Therefore, smart phones should NEVER BE KEPT IN POCKETS close to the vital organs because they emit significant amounts of radiation also when we do not speak.

STUK experts certainly know it, but they ignore to inform us, citizens.

I asked an expert from the Cellraid, Ltd, a new start-up company developing applications for monitoring exposures to radiation emitted by wireless communication, to review STUK statements on its website.

Cellraid’s expert reviewed the last two paragraphs of text, beginning with the words “Uusia matkapuhelimia, etenkin älypuhelimia…”, [translations in brackets by DL].

  • STUK – ”Puhelin kuitenkin säteilee vain lähettäessään tietoa…” [Cell phone radiates only when sending out information]
  • Cellraid – This is true… phone causes RF exposure only when transmitting information
  • STUK – ”…joten yleensä säteilylle altistuu merkittävästi vain puheluiden yhteydessä.” […user is significantly exposed to radiation only during speaking on the phone]
  • Cellraid – This is not true. Currently, exposures from data transfers exceed exposures from phone calls.
  • STUK – ”Puhelun aikana matkapuhelin säteilee tyypillisesti noin puolet ajasta eli silloin kun siihen puhutaan. Puhelun aikana puhelin on yleensä kiinni korvassa, jolloin iso osa säteilystä imeytyy suoraan päähän.” [During phone call cell phone emits typically half of the time of the phone call]
  • Cellraid – This is partially true. I do not know where they have come up with the 50%. It is true that modern systems utilize DTX (only transmit when there is voice activity) but 50% sounds very low. I would consider that it is much higher… most likely closer to 100% than to 50%.
  • STUK – ”Nettiä selatessa tietoa lähinnä vastaanotetaan ja matkapuhelin säteilee vain pienen osan ajasta. Suurempaa datapakettia (esimerkiksi isoa kuvaa tai videota) lähettäessään puhelin voi säteillä pitkäkestoisemmin.” [Surfing net, information is mostly received and exposures to radiation are for short part of time. Sending out large data packet (e.g. photo or video), phone can emit radiation for a longer time]
  • Cellraid – This is partially true. Under typical web browsing situation phone retrieves website and then majority of time is spent on reading trough the website. However, more and more of the web usage is video usage or looking at image rich websites, and this is clearly causing exposures from phone.
  • STUK – “Tiedonsiirron aikana puhelinta ei yleensä pidetä kiinni kehossa.” [During data sending phone is usually not touching the body]
  • Cellraid – This is not true. There is significant data usage while cell phone is seemingly in idle. While cell phone is not used it still updates email, Facebook, twitter, phone software, etc. During this activity phone is typically in the pocket. So this statement is simply false. Furthermore, when people are using tablets, they are typically leaning to the body. So, it could be argued that the most of the tablet usage is causing direct exposure to the body.
  • STUK – ”Valmiustilassa matkapuhelin ottaa harvakseltaan yhteyden tukiasemaan, jotta matkapuhelinverkko tietää sen sijainnin, ja paikkatietoa vastaanottaessaan puhelin ei säteile.” [When not in use (not speaking on the phone), cell phone only seldom contacts cell tower to inform the network about its location; when receiving location information from the network phone does not emit radiation]
  • Cellraid – This is not true. This was true before the era of smart phones. Now this is not anymore true as smart phones are constantly using data traffic for email and social media applications. Smart phones are not idle when in the pocket.
  • STUK – “Tiedot lähtevät hyvin lyhyenä pulssina, joten siitä ei aiheudu juurikaan altistusta käyttäjälle.” [Information is sent out in short pulses, and this does not cause radiation exposure to a user]
  • Cellraid – It is true. When the cell phone is checking/downloading email, it is not a constant activity (like voice call), but it is activity that lasts several seconds or even tens of seconds each time.
  • STUK – “Vastaanottaessaan puhelin ei säteile, joten esimerkiksi sähköpostin tai kuvan vastaanottaminen ei aiheuta altistusta.” [Receiving information, cell phone does not emit radiation, therefore, receiving email or image does not expose user to radiation]
  • Cellraid – This is partially true. If a cell phone simply received information it would not radiate. However, there is no such thing as just receiving. When the phone is receiving data, it is also acknowledging all the data packets to network. So, even when it is receiving it is still transmitting at the same time…, and it is radiating during that time.
  • STUK – “Myöskään kuvien ottaminen tai matkapuhelimen muistiin tallennettujen kuvien ja tiedostojen katselu ei aiheuta altistusta.”[taking photos or looking at photos stored on cell phone does not cause radiation exposure]
  • Cellraid – This is partially true… assuming that phone is configured so that when taking pictures no meta-data (location) is saved. By default, most phones are configured to save location. In this case, there is a small burst of data sent even when taking picture.

The STUK’s website information is full of not true and partly true statements.

Is this the safety information that we, the citizens of Finland, should get and for what we pay with our taxes?

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