The GameChanger: revision of dosimetry by Schmid & Kuster

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In the spring of 1999, while I was still working as an Assistant Professor at the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital, I took part in the planning meeting of the EU REFLEX Project. At that time I was virtually unknown in the area of cell phone radiation research and for the invitation to join REFLEX project I need to thank Bernard Veyret, whom I meet once, at the radiation meeting in Capri.

Two persons, one present and one absent from the REFLEX meeting, impacted heavily on the direction of the research executed by my group at STUK.

The present person was Mays Swicord of Motorola, who was invited by Franz Adlkofer, to be coordinator of the REFLEX project, to provide advice. It was Mays Swicord who got visibly agitated and outright dismissed my pilot results that I presented at this meeting. In his opinion it was wrong to use high SAR even if exposure system had water cooling to keep temperature of the endothelial cell culture at 37 + 0.2-0.3oC.

The results that I presented showed dramatic changes in protein expression in human endothelial cell line EA.hy926 exposed at 10.0 SAR. Mays Swicord said, very authoritatively that what we did was wrong, even if the temperature was controlled. As a beginner in this research arena, I took Mays’ advice seriously and we changed our exposure conditions to ca. 2.0 SAR (as it was calculated later it was 2.3 SAR).

Our logic to use 10.0 SAR was that effects observed at low SAR, close to the safety standard of 2.0 SAR, are difficult to detect. Thus, we wanted first see what is happening at high SAR, with temperature controlled, and then scale down exposures to closer resemble safety standards.

However, it was not good explanation to Mays Swicord. He strongly advocated use of 2.0 SAR at the most. As it appears now, see the rest of the story below, we made mistake by subduing to peer pressure of Mays Swicord.

The absent person from the first REFLEX meeting was Niels Kuster, who provided dosimetry support for the project. As I learned later, it was a great pity that Niels was absent and did not counter comments from Mays Swicord.

In the autumn 1999 Niels visited my lab in Helsinki and we discussed preliminary results of my research group. Niels was excited when got to know about the significant changes in protein expression observed at exposure level of 10.0 SAR. He was clearly disappointed when got to know that we scaled-down exposure to be close to the current safety standards. Niels suggested to continue experiments at high SAR but, we already decided to follow the general trend – exposures at 2.0 SAR.

Niels was right when asked for continuation of experiments at higher SAR and we were wrong to not listen to him…

The general trend of exposing cells at 2.0 SAR was strongly advocated and propagated by the scientists from the telecom industry. It was a strong peer pressure from, among others, Mays Swicord, Joe Elder and C-K Chou of Motorola, USA, and Sakari Lang and Jafar Keshvari of Nokia, Finland, that caused lack of in vitro studies at SAR higher than 2.0. These five scientists mentioned above were the most active in exercising peer pressure.

It was a normal occurrence at the scientific meetings, and I attended really a lot of them, that whenever scientist reported biological effects at SAR over 2.0, the above mentioned industry scientists, singularly or as a group, jumped up to the microphone to condemn and to discredit the results. The argument was always the same – safety standards are set at 2.0 and examining effects above it is futile. Furthermore, any study with SAR above 2.0 was suggested to be caused by thermal effect. It meant, according to these industry scientists that the obtained biological data were irrelevant.

It was the continuous and relentlessly executed peer pressure from the industry scientists that discouraged, and in the end prevented, scientists from the academia to do freely research at SAR higher than 2.0, even when the exposure chamber had cooling system.

Later on, as I gained some experience in cell phone radiation research, I considered the limitation of 2.0 SAR as not correct. In my opinion the in vivo exposures in human head models justified the use of higher SAR. I spoke about it already in the autumn 2002.

In the spring 2002 my research group published the first study where we presented observation that cell phone radiation at average SAR of 2.3 caused activation of p38MAP kinase/Hsp27 stress response pathway in EA.hy926 cells. Our exposure equipment was not perfect and the distribution of radiation field was not uniform. In center of the cell culture dish the SAR was even up to 5.5 whereas at the edges of the cell culture dish it was well below 1.0. Summa summarum, the average SAR in our culture dished was ca. 2.3 SAR.

Then, I saw images of SAR levels and radiation distribution in human head models and I thought that our experimental setting with non-uniform SAR distribution in cell culture dish resembles the in vivo situation in human head.

I reported this idea at the meeting in London, UK, in the autumn 2002 (2002 London Subtle termal Leszczynski; see slides 4 and 29). Unfortunately, this presentation, and also presentations in several other meetings, of this idea, did not resonate among the scientists. In fact, I had relatively heated discussion in London with Nokia’s Jafar Keshvari, whom I meet there for the first time. According to him, all what I said and did was wrong. Needless to say, I strongly disagreed with Jafar then, as I disagree now, too.

Therefore, with the extreme delight I read the recent paper in Bioelectromagnetics The Discrepancy Between Maximum In Vitro Exposure Levels and Realistic Conservative Exposure Levels of Mobile Phones Operating at 900/1800 MHz” by Gernot Schmid and Niels Kuster.

Here are few quotes from this gamechanging paper by Schmid and Kuster:

  • In the majority of published in vitro studies, the applied avgSARculture values chosen for RF exposure levels were on the order of 2 W/kg or less
  • The SAR level of 2 W/kg is widely known as the basic limit for localized exposure defined by widely adopted guidelines of the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection [ICNIRP, 1998] and, as such, is often used by design and/or requested by funding agencies as maximum in vitro exposure level” [bold text DL]
  • Another rationale for the use of avgSARculture values of 2 W/kg or less is to ensure RF induced temperature increase in cell culture is below 0.1 8C that may cause thermally induced biological effects
  • In the context of in vitro evaluations, it is rarely discussed that exposure levels occurring locally at cell layers close to the skin or at interfaces of materials with largely different dielectric constants can be significantly higher than the psSAR10g for which 2 W/kg (general public) and 10 W/kg (occupational exposure) are the widely adopted limit values for compliance with safety guidelines” [bold text DL]
  • Kuster and Schönborn [2000] have suggested that, for in vitro experiments to adequately assess health risks associated with the use of wireless communication technologies, exposure levels applied must be considerably higher or at least equal to the maximum values locally induced in vivo in a user’s tissues.” [bold text DL]
  • The reported maximum exposure levels engendered by modern mobile phones held against the ear or body may approach the psSAR10g limit of 2 W/kg, which raises the important question of whether the avgSARculture levels applied during in vitro experiments, particularly those with cell types found in peripheral tissues (blood cells, keratinocytes, fibroblasts, etc.), are sufficiently high enough to represent realistic maximum mobile phone exposure.”
  • In general, it can be seen clearly that peak local SAR in skin and blood is substantially higher than 2 W/kg in all cases, which is reasonable when the relatively wide depth of averaging in computation of the 10 g average
  • For irradiation of the TLMVT with the phone model, peak local SAR values at 900 and 1800 MHz of 12.4 and 30.7 W/kg, respectively, in the main blood vessel and 7.3 and 17.1 W/kg, respectively, in the skin were obtained.” [bold text DL]
  • local SAR, particularly in superficial tissues, is substantially above 2 W/kg, even though the mobile phone model meets the psSAR10g basic restriction for compliance testing.” [bold text DL]
  • This means that substantial volumes of cells contained in the skin (e.g., fibroblasts and keratinocytes) and the blood (e.g., lymphocytes and leukocytes) may experience significantly higher SAR during phone calls under realistic worst-case conditions than has been tested in most of the in vitro studies carried out so far.”
  • Our results show that exposure levels used in most in vitro studies published so far concerning possible adverse effects of exposure from GSM mobile phones are too low to be meaningful in the context of the peak local tissue exposure expected under conservative conditions during mobile phone use operating in the frequency bands 900 and 1800 MHz, in particular for cells contained in superficial tissues as skin and blood.”
  • This limitation of in vitro studies could be overcome by including avgSARculture levels that extend to higher than 20 W/kg, which, however, would require additional control experiments to probe the effect of RF-induced temperature increases, that is, >0.1 8C versus effects of non-RF induced temperature increases.”
  • Our purpose in writing this paper is to quantify discrepancies between SAR levels applied during in vitro experiments and actual SAR levels observed in vivo, an issue we have raised on several occasions. We encourage all researchers working in this area to discuss these findings in future reviews. In future calls for research and recommendations of funding agencies, we strongly recommend the addition of exposure levels well above 2 W/kg for experiments intended for use in the context of risk assessments.” [bold text DL]

There seems to be a lot of experimental work that needs to be re-done. It is a pity that it took such a long time to make this issue clear. However, it is out in open now. As saying says: “better later than never”.

Article by Gernot Schmid and Niels Kuster is The GameChanger, with a far reaching consequences and impact on the future research. At least it should be.


30 thoughts on “The GameChanger: revision of dosimetry by Schmid & Kuster

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  14. Dear Mr. Leitgeb,

    WordPress failed to inform me of your last comment so I just noticed your reply on browsing through Dariusz’ articles.

    Thanks for taking the time to craft such an elaborate reply including opinions on politics.
    Unfortunately it doesn’t answer my simple question, which was purely a science question.

    You wrote in your initial comment:
    “you might be aware that recommended limits are a “safety” factor [below] first health-relevant effects”

    I did notice your quotes around the word “safety” but if ICNIRP are correct in their scientific evaluation, then practically any safety factor on top of first health-relevant effect levels will surely remove all health-relevant effects.

    So my question is still: where are the medical EMF applications supposed to come from?
    Mr. CK-Chou can also feel free to jump in and elaborate here.

    Thank you.

  15. It is an ongoing challenge to communicate in a way that leaves little room for misunderstanding. To respond to Mr. Ericson’s comment, although – or because – I was not involved, in deriving limits, I would like to make the following points:
    1. It is necessary to remind that agreeing on limits is a political issue rather than a scientific one. Science provides information on existing knowledge, but it is a political issue to take the decision on limits. This is for a simple reason: Limits are not for free. There is a price to be paid for them – in terms of money, discomfort, time, unintended side-effects etc.. As an example, if ELF MF limits were so low that electric trains, subways cars (with or without eletric drive!) or electric appliances etc. could not be used, this would hardly be accepted by the public – and in addition would lead to the use of probably more harmful alternatives. Likewise, if speed limits were too low, in spite of the established protective effect, they would hardly be accepted. Obviously, there is a need for a compromise to find an acceptable limit for whatever factor. However, such a compromise is not made by scientists but in a democratic society needs involvement of the “payers” and “winners”. While the price can be readily quantified, it is a much greater challenge to quantify the benefit of very low EMF limits, in particular with regard to hypothetical risks – and benefits.
    2. In my comment regarding the “safety” factor for good reasons I put the word “safety” in asteriks. This should make aware that the term requires caution because of its frequent controversial Interpretation – and misuse. There is common agreement, that limits need to keep distance from the objective of protection – such as a reference (adverse health) effect. However, there is a considerable difference between a “reduction” factor which (just) accounts for the overall uncertainty coming from different sources such as limitation of knowledge and methodology, biologic variance, vulnerabilities etc. However, such a reduction factor must not be misinterpreted (or misused) as “safety” factor. This is for obvious reasons. It (just) defines the range within which the reference effect might still be encountered. Only in ADDITION to that, a safety factor would provide safety in terms of accounting for uncontrollable cofactors such as insufficient compliance with limits or additional exposures such as from mobile sources, to assure the objective be achieved even in realistic daily life situations. While the reduction factor could be assessed by uncertainty analysis, by its nature the safety factor is based on subjective judgement. To prevent from misuderstanding: This was a general remark for clarity. It is not my intention to comment on whether the actual reduction factor in EMG Guidelines include also some safety and whether it is appropriate or not.
    3. It is a common source of conflict to demand limits are set such as to guarantee that no risk at all exists. This is just because this necessarily leads to frustration. The reason is because it is an illusion to believe that zero risk (in a theroretical sense) could be provided. This is simply not achievalble inparticular if also hypothetical risks should be included. In fact, in various laws such as for safety of products, installations, vehicles, buildings etc., our society has defined “safety” not as freedom of any risk. This would just not be feasible. The common understanding is much more realistic. Safety is (just) defined as the level of acceptable risks. Not more, but not less. As a consequence, this legal approach requires (just) reasonable – and not every possible – effort to reduce risks. Therefore, the debate whether EMF limits might or might not be associated with residual risks and whether these might be unacceptable is a pragmatic rather than an ideologic one. The reason is, that the decision whether a remaining (hypothetical or real) risk is acceptable is (and needs to be) based on a social compromise – like in any other field such as speed limits, limits for X-ray exposure, air pollution etc .
    4. Having said this, it should be clear that reports on “effects” found below existing limits are not per se already sufficient for challenging Limits. They need further assessment to clarify, whether such effects are real, and if so, whether they might be induced also in humans, and if so, whether they are large enough to be physiologically relevant, and if so, whether they are large enough to be health relevant – which are scientific issues. But in case effects would indeed be health relevant, it is still necessary to decide upon whether they consitute an unacceptable risk – which is a political issue. To repeat it, there are not the scientists who make limits but political institutions.
    I hope, I made my point clear enough to prevent from further misunderstanding. It would be a considerable progress if the EMF debate would be less emotional and aggressive, and not blaming scientists for social compromises on limits made in political institutions.

  16. Thanks Rich. Great to hear that you agree with my opinion. Best and see you in Asilomar! Dariusz

  17. I want to thank Dariusz for bringing this article to our attention. I agree that it is definitely a game changer and I hope that it will change the way we test for the cellular and tissue effects of mobile phone transmission.

  18. Thanks for sharing this.
    It is an other testimony as how the industry paid scientist effect the all science to show “no proof” of biological damage from RF.
    The SAR is a scam, it stands for nothing. Human head and tissue is not made of plastic and water with sugar and salt in it. Human tissue have hot spots in it and the effect is not heat related.

    Darius, I congratulate you on this post!
    All the best

  19. Question for C-K. Chou:

    Mr. Chou, the last paragraph of your comment below seems a bit ambiguous to me. Please correct me if I’m reading it wrong, but here’s how I understand it:
    You begin by mentioning “50 years of studies looking for EMF bioeffects”, seemingly implying that any have yet to be found. You follow by mentioning the need to close a few knowledge gaps and then you urge a move to instead explore “what EMF can do for people”. You round it all off nicely with a promising picture of medical applications of EMF.

    I’m confused because if EMF bioeffects have yet to be found and the assumption is that there’s nothing to find below the industries safety limits, then where are the medical EMF applications supposed to come from?
    For example, Mr. Leitgeb commented that the safety limits already remove all health-relevant effects and as another example, at a EU hearing on EHS in November, a representative from the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, Mr. Grafe, reminded us all that: “we are already at a zero-effect level”.
    Do we agree that medical effects are also health-relevant?

    Please clarify.

  20. Dr Leitgeb makes an apparent good point, except – where is the justification for “safety” reduction factors altogether as being non-arbitrary, with true regard for public health, the ultimate point of reference (despite corruption/complicity in that field)? (Maybe with a wink they were drawn up under influence from those who knew or suspected that possibly damaging peak exposures would far exceed the average?) Why should as reported Swicord et al object so vehemently at > official SAR exposures, if there is a valid safety factor? Findings of suggestion of harm at such levels could in fact serve (or be twisted) to justify as non-arbitrary those safety reductions. PR worries get the better of sci (as eg Robert C Kane contended in his book)?

  21. “human beings are enjoying an increased quality of life”

    What place for a comment like this in a researcher’s mind? (From previous comments it seems to affect Dariusz L et al as well. Oh, the philosophic naivete of scientists.) There is the obvious technophilic assumption, never mind all the rest of well-attested to corruption in the field, which grosser aspects need not have touched the d’Arsonval honoree to suggest bias, at a minimum affecting inclination to turn away from research avenues possibly inconveniencing the technophilic.

    I as public and enviro health advocate have been decidedly unaffected in “electrophobia” by the alleged media misinformation. And given the enormity of the situation, rather minimalist mainstream media attention at that, what one can expect from media “convergence”. How much did Brodeur’s responsible coverage itself (notwithstanding Steneck’s somewhat shabby treatment of him, as I recall) provoke this convergence effort, to make surer the relative unavailability of some things in mass media disturbing to perpetrators in this and other fields?

    Dr Chou: Rather, decreased enjoyment in quality of life would correspond well to, for example, inexorable rise in public health care costs since mass wireless deployment.

  22. In research are everyday habits in RF use taken into account. A student sitting at a laptop, with a tablet within reach and a cell phone at the hip, in a wifi environment ( all three devices receiving and sending)? The public needs real life examples of what those habits can do to
    a human biologically and real life, visuals on how to reduce exposure. The average citizen in North America does not even know what RF is let alone, how to protect themselves. I have belonged to RF conscious Facebook groups, and have also spent hours researching the internet and have yet come across a visual to inform me of exactly what biological effects may or may not be occurring with certain real life situations.

  23. Dear Norbert, reading the Schmid & Kuster paper you will see how many research groups were misled and wrongly justified their experimental exposures with 2.0 SAR value. The table presented in the manuscript is extensive and… NOBODY earlier spoke that scientists are making mistake by under-exposing cell cultures. Whenever someone said that used 2.0 or lower SAR because of safety limits, nobody opposed it and nobody said this is too little… Even you, Norbert, did not stand up and say it… Thanks for commenting, Dariusz

  24. Dariusz, thanks for the important update. Another aspect of this issue are the peak exposure values. The ICNIRP recommendations specify the limit of SAR of 2 W/kg as an average value over a period of six minutes and permit much higher peak values, for example peak value of 200 W/kg delivered using pulses of duration of 10 microseconds with up to 1000 pulses each second so that the average is still 2 W/kg. Such exposure might occur from RADAR . So biological effects of strong pulsed and repetitive exposure is relevant too. If the effects were only thermal this averaging would be OK but proteins in the living tissue might react to the very strong although short duration fields differently. This is relevant to mobile telephony too. In the new mobile telephony LTE (“4G”) standard the peak to average ratio depends on implementation of the base station, I think the ratio varies in the range of about 2 to 10, so we may get there peak SAR of up to 20 W/kg with the average SAR being still the ICNIRPs 2W/kg.
    Best regards, Michael

  25. Dear Darius, I wonder that you are wondering. If you havea look at the guidelines, you might be aware that recommended limits are a “safety” factor blow first health-relevant effects. Therefore, to challenge limits, it might be one approach to expose at the limit, However, to reassure limits it would need to confirm that no relevance effects well above the limits! There is no need for – or accusation of – any advice from a peer but just for a look at the rational of guidelines.
    Norbert Leitgeb

  26. Pingback: Game Changing publication: The discrepancy between maximum in vitro exposure levels and realistic conservative exposure levels of mobile phones operating at 900/1800 MHz. | EMRSA

  27. If it takes some scientists too many years to catch up technically with what is otherwise obvious to clear-eyed lay onlookers, it takes longer still to get governments to act on new advice, when scientists’ opinion should never have been given weight over lay.

    This reminds me of, as told in Brodeur long ago, when that Capt Tyler said, “”[…] if standards “must be set now, then try for as high a level as possible,” for the simple reason that “if adverse effects are determined in the future, it is far easier to lower the standards than to relax them”. ”

    At the bottom end, the research end to support perpetrators’ policy – and yes ‘perpetrator’ is an appropriate word – you get averaging out of interesting results (from microlevel lack of distinctions in tissue reactivity, to neglecting by statistical averaging some ‘ehs’ experimental subjects’ uncanny ability to indeed detect what was fired at them) so no one can authoritatively glance at what is really going on at the truer exposure levels even a bit higher.

    And I recall, Dariusz L, in a mid-2000s letter exchange in some journal, where you were challenged, as in how dare you select interesting items to examine from within what other researchers present in their work as a necessary mush.

    And what about unmeasurable micro-heating? What about steepness of exposure gradients? What about largely absent much longer experimental exposure durations at low SAR? And isn’t SAR an altogether crummy way to approach all of this!

    This topic is tired, isn’t it, however excited some may get at the supposed game change.

  28. Dear Dariuz.
    As always, you have published a Much Needed observation.
    This observation will help many of us to understand what really is going on with our health.
    Please keep up the good work
    Best regards.
    Agnes Ingvarsdóttir

  29. I have expressed my opinion on RF biological effects research in my d’Arsonval Award acceptance paper, p.13 of Concluding Remarks, “Thirty-Five Years in Bioelectromagnetics Research” in Bioelectromagnetics 28:3-15, 2007.

    As the progress in technology continues and human beings are enjoying an increased quality of life, it is essential for scientists to ensure that safety is not compromised. Scientists must be very careful in reporting their findings. Mistakes must be minimized and stopped at the first level of scientific research. As in an Egyptian saying ‘‘it takes one person to throw a rock into to the well, and it will take 10 people to get it out.’’ Let us make sure that what we do is right the first time. If there is a mistake, one should be courageous to admit it promptly. Scientists should aspire to explore the unknowns through sound and well-planned research and not to make the situation worse through reporting what might be erroneous conclusions that take a long time to clear up. As stated by the Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group of the Institution of Engineering and Technology in Europe: ‘‘. . ..scientists have an overriding responsibility to ensure that their findings are robust before publication, notwithstanding the various pressures to publish their work.’’ [IET, 2006].

    Communicating with media is important. Currently, media reports are rarely reviewed by the source, unlike the peer review process in scientific publication. Media reports are mostly on the spotlight stories instead of on weight of scientific evidence. In my opinion, accumulated misinformation from the media is the source of electrophobia in the general public. It is the responsibility and moral obligation of scientists to bring ‘‘verified’’ information to the public through media.

    After more than 50 years of studies looking for EMF bioeffects, it is time for the Bioelectromagnetics research community to clarify the identified gaps in knowledge on EMF bioeffects as listed in the WHO research agenda and move on to study what EMF can do for people. Dr. d’Arsonval would have been pleased to learn that what he started in the late 19th century on medical applications of EMF holds promise for much fruit in the 21st Century.

  30. The perfect solution would be, of course, to replace the cell-phone users brain with a bucket of homogenous liquid goo to make -them- compatible with the SAR testing method instead of the industry engineers having to change -their- minds.

    Due to the ethical problem with the above brain/liquid swap solution and since the cell-phone manuals already require the user to keep a minimum distance between phone and body at all time (=not touch it at all), then why not simply require the cell-phone user to spin around while keeping the phone stationary in mid air, in order to aquire a more uniform distribution of the RF energy into the entire head contents of the user?

    Is that unreasonable?

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