Report from the BioEM 2021
Ghent, Belgium, September 26 – 30. 2021
(opinions presented in this report are solely of the author)
Few topics out of many…
- 5G now and in the future
- ICNIRP and IEEE-ICES safety limits
- WHO systematic reviews
- Quality of EMF scientific studies
- Electromagnetic hyper-sensitivity or sensitivity to EMF?
The yearly BioEM (bioelectromagnetics) conferences are the largest gatherings of scientists examining biological and health effects of exposures to electromagnetic fields (EMF). The conferences are organized by the Bioelectromagnetic Society (BEMS) and European Bio-Electromagnetics Association (EBEA). In 2019 begun Covid19 pandemic has affected also BioEM conference. BioEM202 planned for Cambridge, UK, was cancelled. BioEM2021 was relocated from the originally planned meeting in Hawaii, USA to Ghent in Belgium. Organizing logistics for the conference is always a challenge but, in the current Covid19 world, the challenge of organizing conference is much greater. Additionally, travel limitations imposed by the pandemic, led to organization, for the first time, of a hybrid meeting where both, presentations and participants were simultaneously on-site and on-line. Keeping conference schedule in such hybrid meeting is of paramount importance and BioEM2021 organizers have excelled, as I witnessed while on-site in Ghent. The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) of the BioEM2021, led by Luc Martens, has succeeded and, in this challenging time, has organized nearly flawlessly running conference. And, finally, the attendance, both on-site and on-line, was impressive, 282 registered participants. Not bad for pandemics time. Kudos to the LOC!
From my past experience, as Chair of the Technical Program Committee (TPC), organization of high quality and interesting scientific program for the BioEM conference is always a challenge. This year, this challenge was potentiated by travel restrictions imposed on all speakers and poster presenters. Program of the conference, roughly, consists of two parts. One, where the TPC has influence on what will be presented and second where TPC relies on what research teams submit for platform and poster presentations.
The part of conference where TPC decides the scientific content are plenary lectures, workshops and tutorials.
- Plenary 1: Rahim Tafazolli, UK: 5G Overview and what Next
- Plenary 2: Akram Alomainy, UK: Exploring the potentials of EM waves from body-scale to nano-communications for healthcare applications
- Plenary 3: C. K. Chou, USA & Akimasa Hirata, Japan: A comparison between the recently released IEEE standard and ICNIRP radiofrequency guidelines: What are the differences, and do they make a difference?
- Plenary 4: Simona Salati, Italy: Electrogene transfer: challenges and recent advances in DNA-based vaccines
- Workshop 1: Organizer Peter Jeschke: Local exposure in the context of risk assessment: Theory and practical demonstration
- Workshop 2: Organizer Rene De Seze, France: Effects of low-intensity RF on thermal regulation
- Workshop 3: Organizers Frank Barnes & Ben Greenebaum, USA: Ultraweak and weak static, ELF, and RF field effects on biological systems
- Workshop 4: Organizer Dariusz Leszczynski, Finland: Sensitivity to EMF: The Present and The Future
- Tutorial 1: Michael Levin, USA: Endogenous bioelectric networks underlie embryogenesis, regeneration and cancer: from basic mechanisms to electroceuticals
- Tutorial 2: Emilie van Deventer, Switzerland, & Paul Whaley, UK: Systematic reviews in Bioelectromagnetic research and introducing COSTER recommendations
- Tutorial 3: Myrtill Simko & Mats-Olof Mattsson, Sweden, Vijayalaxmi & Kenneth Foster, USA: Study Quality and Reproducibility – Pillars for safety assessments and medical applications in Bioelectromagnetics
1. 5G now and in the future
Three of the plenary sessions dealt with the past and future of the wireless technology and with assurances of its human health safety.
Rahim Tafazolli and Akram Alomainy provided two excellent lectures and a very convincing evidence to support the notion that the development of wireless technologies is of great importance to the humanity. I don’t necessarily agree with all what they said but… lectures, per se, were of high quality.
Rahim Tafazolli has briefly reviewed the history of development of wireless communications and what will be the next steps in developing 5th and 6th generations of wireless technology (Fig.1 & Fig.2).
Review of these two figures clearly indicates that all and any of the anti-5G activist groups, calling for stopping and dismantling the already existing wireless technologies, are the lost cases. Currently it is not possible to prevent deployment of wireless technologies. However, what needs to be assured is the safety, for humans and fauna and flora, of the radiation levels emitted by these technologies. The currently deployed new generations will employ not only the currently used EMF frequencies below 6GHz, but will diversify into 26 – 300 GHz frequencies. What is currently ongoing in deployment of the 5G technology is a compromise between coverage, speed and cost (Fig.3).
As advantages of the wireless re-evolution were, as always, pointed out for the 5G the health care applications, manufacturing applications, connected vehicles or gaming and entertainment. For the next step, the 6G, were mentioned interactive tele-health-care, cooperative manufacturing, driver-less cars and cooperative transport, new generation of gaming and entertainment and… teleportation, kind of teleportation. At the center of all of it, of the future of 5G and 6G applications is the artificial intelligence (AI) that is to control all of the 5G and 6G workings (Fig.4).
How complex and “futuristic” future is being entertained by engineers was shown in the idea of, kind of, teleportation. By “kind of” teleportation is understood transferring image(s) of the person(s) from place where they physically are present to surroundings far away. This means that e.g. one-on-one meetings or group meetings or even conferences with substantial number of participants would be possible to arrange with participants being on-site and participants that would be “teleported” and their images and voices would be present in meeting’s location. A form of “teleportation” is possible already, with the existing technology, but it is still relatively crude and only sound and a coarse quality image of the person are being “teleported” as seen in photo showing Tafazolli talking on the phone with a teleported person (Fig.5).
However, the vision for the future is to “teleport” not only image and sound but also other human senses using wireless sensors inside or on the body (Fig.6).
The second plenary lecture by Akram Alomainy has, sort of continued where Tafazolli left off. At the center of the future is the catchy idea of making “smart” of everything in our lives (Fig.7).
Alomainy has presented an idea of sensors inside and on the body as tools for the futuristic healthcare. These sensors, either swallowed or implanted or placed on the skin when printed on clothes or tattooed on the skin would transfer data on the current physiological status of the person and transmit information, on very short distances, using THz frequencies (Fig. 8 & 9).
It is called nano-scale communication of nano-networks. The latest developments in graphene-based electronics opened the doors for electromagnetic communication of nano-devices using THz frequency band. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, neither Tafazolli nor Alomainy asked or mentioned the possibility of interference of the radiation with health and/or molecular level physiological processes, especially when exposures will be lasting for long periods, even lifetime.
2. ICNIRP and IEEE-ICES safety limits
The third plenary session consisted of two presentations where representatives of ICES and ICNIRP compared exposure guidelines provided by the two organizations. First of all, both organizations claim that their guidelines for safe exposures are protecting health of any person, no matter age or health status or length and severity (within the guidelines) of exposure.
C-K. Chou of ICES presented what are the differences between workings and protection standards developed by ICNIRP and IEEE/ICES. Figures 10 – 15 show some of the opinions of C-K. Chou.
It clearly appears that the ongoing harmonization of safety standards between IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP makes the differences to disappear.
The focus of the presentation was on science, as it is understood by IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP members. It is important to mention “as it is understood by” because there are numerous scientists and groups of scientists that disagree with interpretation of scientific data by IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP.
It is also important to note the difference between memberships of IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP (Fig.10).
C-K. Chou has correctly pointed out that the 14 members of ICNIRP do not include industry representatives. However, C-K. Chou did not mention that the vast majority of the 130 members of IEEE/ICES are representatives of the industry and that C-K. Chou, although retired, chairs the IEEE/ICES and continues to represent the industry. In fact, long before his formal retirement, C-K. Chou chaired the IEEE/ICES.
Thus, the members of two safety standards setting groups are either members of the industry they regulate or have very close friendship ties with industry representatives, clearly visible during the scientific conferences, and possibly prone to lobbying. One does not have to be employed by the industry to act in the interest of the industry. There are well known numerous examples of “independent” scientists that had industry interests “deep at heart”.
The examples differences/similarities in understanding and interpretation of science by IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP are here below:
IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP claim that their safety guidelines protect all users, no matter their age or health status, no matter how long and how frequently they were exposed to wireless radiation. However, users need to consider that majority of these assurances are not based on science but are assumptions. There are no studies that would examine effects of exposures on people with ill health. In fact, people with ill health are “automatically” excluded from any research studies, including studies on sensitivity to wireless radiation. There are no studies that would examine impact of life-time exposure, starting just after birth, on health. There are no studies on impact of co-exposures to wireless radiation and chemicals in environment on health of people. Thus, while using wireless devices, users should be aware that the health safety assurances made by IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP are mostly based on assumptions, not on science.
Users should be also aware that e.g. ICNIRP has no legal responsibility for correctness/in-correctness of the advice it provides for the industry, governments and the WHO.
Finally, it is possible to consider that it is somewhat worrisome when the group dominated by industry scientists (IEEE/ICES) and the group of (self-proclaimed) independent scientists (ICNIRP) both arrive at exactly the same conclusion, in the science area that is very ambiguous and interpretation of data might vary significantly depending on understanding of words – caution and precaution…
3. WHO systematic reviews
One of the very much awaited presentations was from Emilie van Deventer, of the WHO EMF Project, on the ongoing preparation of systematic reviews of the science on RF-EMF and health. The presentation was pretty standard, majority was on what is WHO, what WHO does and how WHO EMF Project works. Boring stuff that is repeated time after time since Mike Repacholi was head of EMF Project. Instead of going straight to the point, Emilie van Deventer… wasted time.
Few years ago WHO EMF Project has prepared review of science using predominantly ICNIRP scientists. However, before anything significant could have been done using this review, the rules at the WHO have been changed and, in order to prepare significant science-based advice, the review of science needs to be based on the systematic review protocol.
“A systematic review is defined as “a review of the evidence on a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select and critically appraise relevant primary research, and to extract and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review.” The methods used must be reproducible and transparent.”
Thus, the WHO EMF Project has invited scientists to apply for the possibility of performing one of the 10 systematic reviews for the WHO EMF Project. Importantly, WHO invited only self-organized groups of scientists, individual scientists wishing to participate in the process were… automatically excluded.
Who at the WHO decided which groups of applicants were selected and what were the exact criteria for selection remains secret.
Emilie van Deventer was unwilling to share such information. She was also unwilling to reveal who were approved by the WHO groups of scientists that are performing systematic review. Only now the identity of the scientists is being revealed but not because of the openness of the WHO EMF Project or its head, Emilie van Deventer. Revealing happens because the scientists, before performing review, must submit protocol to the specialized systematic reviews database that is, unlike WHO EMF Project, open and free to access and get information.
Look at the groups of scientists that were approved by the WHO shows that the WHO has failed, badly failed.
The first failure was to call for self-organized groups of scientists. It is obvious that such groups will, and are, consist of scientists with similar scientific opinions. Scientists with differing views are excluded. The most visible it is in group of scientists approved to perform systematic review of epidemiological cancer studies. The published protocol’s authorship is as follows:
The effect of exposure to radiofrequency fields on cancer risk in the general and working population: A protocol for a systematic review of human observational studies.
Susanna Lagorio, Maria Blettner, Dan Baaken, Maria Feychting, Ken Karipidis, Tom Loney, Nicola Orsini, Martin Röösli, Marilia Silva Paulo, Mark Elwood
The group consists of scientists considering that it is proven that RF-EMF exposures do not cause cancer and they co-authored such review studies and presented such conference presentations. The group is dominated by the current and past members of ICNIRP (Feychting, Karipidis, Röösli). Finally, Blettner was one of the two scientists, out of 30, that opposed classification of RF-EMF as possible human carcinogen (IARC 2011). It is easily predictable to what conclusion this review team will come, no matter protocols…
What is striking is the complete lack of scientists who have different opinion, and consider the RF-EMF as possible or probable or even certain cancer risk factor, and who are very prominent in this research area, such as Lennart Hardell, Elisabeth Cardis, Bruce Armstrong, Anthony Miller, Joel Moskowitz, Michael Kundi, Seung-Kwon Myung, Yun-Chul Hong, to name just few.
As it is now, the review will be single-sided and results is already known… no need to bother (?).
The same, or very similar, goes for all of the WHO EMF Project’s systematic reviews. Several researchers are involved in several reviews. Why? Shortage of researchers or shortage of researchers with “appropriate” opinions? Approved groups of scientists are, a priori, biased towards no effects.
Some consider that just the publication of detailed systematic review protocol will prevent biased evaluation of science. It is considered that because scientists will need to justify all their opinions expressed in the systematic review it will prevent bias. It is very naïve. For example, already now IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP provide justifications as to why they consider that health effects are not caused by the RF-EMF exposures. The same scientists, some of which will work on systematic reviews, will be asked to provide justifications of scientific opinions. While systematic reviews provide good protocol for what needs to be considered when thoroughly reviewing scientific evidence, these protocols do not prevent scientist-related bias because scientists provide justifications of what is good and what is bad science.
This is why systematic reviews of the WHO EMF Project are already a failure and will not resolve the problem of diverse, of the opposite opinions, on RF-EMF and health.
This all will be called “conspiracy” but this happens when WHO EMF Project is secretive and does not openly inform what is going on.
There is only one science evaluation example where the group of expert consisted of scientists with very diverse, even opposing, opinions. It was IARC 2011 that classified RF-EMF as a possible human carcinogen.
WHO EMF Project had a chance to perform unbiased systematic reviews of RF-EMF science and provide reliable science-based opinion on exposure and health. They preferred to do business as usual and rely on ICNIRP members and on secretive dealings when appointing/accepting applying teams. Systematic reviews endeavor has failed already.
The next step, once the 10 systematic reviews are published, will be evaluation of the whole scientific evidence by WHO-appointed Task Group. Emilie van Deventer mentioned in her lecture that soon the WHO will publish a call for applications for experts to the Task Group. The WHO call has been now published and the deadline for applications is November 30, 2021. The problem of the Task Group call is secretiveness of the WHO processes, complete and utter lack of transparency. WHO can do whatever see fit and is not obliged to inform what they do, how they do and why they do what they do [emphasis added]:
“WHO reserves the right to accept or reject any expression of interest, to annul the open call process and reject all expressions of interest at any time without incurring any liability to the affected applicant or applicants and without any obligation to inform the affected applicant or applicants of the grounds for WHO’s action. WHO may also decide, at any time, not to proceed with the establishment of the Task Group, disband an existing Task Group or modify the work of the Task Group.
WHO shall not in any way be obliged to reveal, or discuss with any applicant, how an expression of interest was assessed, or to provide any other information relating to the evaluation/selection process or to state the reasons for not choosing a member.”
I wonder how many scientists with ICNIRP & non-ICNIRP opinions will be taken to WHO Task Group. It is seriously concerning that the WHO EMF Project will not be obliged provide justification why applications were rejected, as stated in the call. It gives a room for abuse and bias.
4. Quality of EMF scientific studies
There is a problem in science – most of the published research studies are un-replicable. It is general problem and not only problem of EMF research.
Several speakers have presented opinions on the quality of the EMF research and what should be done to improve it. These presentations echo opinions these scientists published recently:
- Myrtill Simkó and Mats-Olof Mattsson. 5G Wireless Communication and Health Effects—A Pragmatic Review Based on Available Studies Regarding 6 to 100 GHz.
- Vijayalaxmi and Kenneth R Foster. Improving the Quality of Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research: The Need for a Carrot and a Stick.
One conclusion from these presentations is – we need better quality of research and better research funding is pre-requisite necessary to achieve it.
5. Electromagnetic hyper-sensitivity or sensitivity to EMF?
One of the workshops dealt with the issue of electromagnetic hyper-sensitivity.
Three of the speakers had three different opinions. The first speaker (Dieudonné) considered the EHS to be solely the result of nocebo. The second speaker (Röösli) considered the symptoms to be real but likely unrelated to EMF exposures, though he called for more research to improve the quality of scientific evidence. The third speaker (Leszczynski) considered that it is logically possible that EHS might be caused by EMF but claimed that the available scientific evidence is of insufficient quality to reliably prove, or disprove the causality link (see abstracts, see slides, see videos). Leszczynski called for change in research approach. Instead of EHS being predominant research topic, he called to focus on sensitivity of people to EMF, which sensitivity might lead to development of different health problems (e.g. cancer, fertility, neurological diseases) in some sensitive persons. Leszczynski suggested that the majority of the population might be well protected by the current safety limits but there is part of the population that is more sensitive to EMF and is becoming the “collateral damage” caused by technological progress. These sensitive persons should be found, using biochemical markers studies, and protected as much as possible. Leszczynski has called for a change in direction of sensitivity to EMF research from plain provocation studies to the combination of provocations and high-throughput gene, protein and metabolite screening.
Usually, BioEM conferences give good idea of what is happening in EMF research. This year, due to continuing pandemic, BioEM2021 was less comprehensive. Many scientists decided to stay away. Many were worried that the hybrid-meeting, with on-site and on-line presentations will be messy and difficult to follow. BioEM2021 have proven this suspicion as wrong. In fact, it might be a good idea to keep possibility of hybrid-meeting in the future, not all scientists have funding and time in June to travel.
Scientifically, the conference was interesting and provided information on several important topics.
- 5G – no way to stop the progress but do we need all forms of the progress
- Safety – claims might be overrated because research is insufficient
- WHO – continuous secretiveness is bad for trusting opinions provide by WHO
- Quality – quality of studies is continuous problem, not only in EMF research
- EHS – we need to focus on sensitivity because we are facing problem of collateral damage from EMF