A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Money Talks and WHO Follows

August 8, 2005

EPRI, the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the electric utility industry, has lots of money and is not shy about using it to push its agenda.

Today, EPRI is the only source of research funds on power line EMFs in the U.S. In recent times, practically all of EPRI’s money has been devoted to pushing the idea, championed by staffer Rob Kavet, that contact currents —not EMFs— are responsible for the oft-observed increase in childhood leukemia. Kavet may be on to something, but at the moment only Kavet himself and his contractors embrace this hypothesis.

Actually, there is another: The WHO EMF Project in Geneva.

EPRI was one of the sponsors of WHO’s workshop on EMF risks to children, held in Istanbul last summer.

EPRI also paid Leeka Kheifets to prepare a review of the epidemiologic evidence for the EMF-childhood leukemia link. She presented a draft at the meeting; the final paper, “The Sensitivity of Children to Electromagnetic Fields,” appears in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics, which is posted on the Internet. (You can download a complete copy of the Pediatrics paper for free.)

Most of you will remember that Kheifets was a coconspirator, with Mike Repacholi, in the infamous flip-flop over applying the precautionary principle to EMFs (see MWN, M/A03 and M/J03). After announcing a decision to adopt precautionary policies, they backed off without any explanation for the reversal.

Before joining Repacholi in Geneva, Kheifets worked at EPRI in California for many years, where she was Kavet’s boss. She now has a position at the University of California, Los Angeles. She continues to do a lot of work for Repacholi.

Kavet’s non-EMF theory gets top billing in both Kheifets’s review paper, and the workshop report.

Kheifets and Repacholi, as they have done in the past, cast the EMF-childhood leukemia association as still highly uncertain due to the lack of a mechanism. They write:

“At present there is no experimental evidence that supports the view that [the EMF-childhood leukemia] relationship is causal.”

What is left out of both papers is the fact that at least six different labs have shown that power-frequency EMFs can break DNA. It’s true, we don’t know how EMFs can do this, but it has been observed experimentally over and over again.

Kheifets and Repacholi must be aware of the DNA work.

If EMFs can break DNA, EMFs can certainly play a major role in the etiology of childhood leukemia. But this is an inconvenient fact for both EPRI’s Rob Kavet and WHO’s Mike Repacholi. They have common interests: In addition to both supporting Kheifets, neither wants to endorse precautionary policies to protect children from EMFs.

Here’s the payoff —from the conclusion of the Pediatrics paper (with some emphasis added):

For ELF (power-frequency) fields, there is some evidence that exposure to environmental magnetic fields that are relatively high but well below guidance levels is associated with an increase in the risk of childhood leukemia, a very rare disease (even if the risk is doubled, it remains small at 5-8 per 100,000 children per year). Although the evidence is regarded as insufficient to justify more restrictive limits on exposure, the possibility that exposure to ELF magnetic fields increases risk cannot be discounted. For the physician faced with questions from, for example, a couple planning a family and concerned about this issue, or from someone pregnant and occupationally exposed to relatively high ELF magnetic fields, standardized advice is not possible. Instead, physicians could inform their patients of possible risk and advise them to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of the options available to them (of which EMF reduction is but one consideration). Some simple options include reducing exposure by minimizing the use of certain electrical appliances or changing work practices to increase distance from the source of exposure. People living near overhead power lines should be advised that such proximity is just an indicator of exposure and that homes far away from power lines can have similar or higher fields.

This may read like it was written at EPRI, but the paper is signed by Kheifets, Repacholi, together with Rick Saunders (on leave from the U.K. Health Protection Agency) and Emilie van Deventer, all affiliated with the EMF project at the World Health Organization.

How much money does EPRI give the EMF project every year? How much support did EPRI provide for the Istanbul workshop? And how much did Kavet pay his old boss Kheifets for the literature review? We don’t know because Repacholi continues to refuse to open up his books.

But whatever the cost to EPRI, you can be sure that Kavet’s managers back in Palo Alto, California, are pleased.

One final footnote: Kheifets was recently hired to serve as a consultant to the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to help develop state EMF policies. She will receive approximately $58,000, plus expenses. In her application, she told the presiding administrative law judge that, “I believe that rigorous application of Precautionary Framework to EMF is appropriate.”

Hmmmm....We wonder how we should interpret the word “rigorous.” Actually, it doesn’t matter. It’s doubletalk. The capital “P” and “F” indicate that she is referring to Repacholi’s framework and we know that neither of them has any interest in applying precautionary EMF policies (see our July 5 post).

When Kheifets applied for the CPUC job, she requested that her personal financial information be kept confidential because its release “would unnecessarily intrude on [her] privacy.” Maybe so, but it would reveal how much EPRI and Repacholi are paying her, while she gives advice —on behalf of the rate-paying public— to California regulators.

Most surprising of all is that, in his ruling granting her request, the judge noted that not one of the many EMF activist groups in the state of California challenged Kheifets’s application.