A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

Time To Stop the WHO Charade

July 5, 2005

Now we know what Mike Repacholi has been doing since the infamous Mike-and-Leeka flip-flop of 2003. Back then Repacholi and his assistant Leeka Kheifets decided that there was no need to apply the precautionary principle to EMFs—soon after telling everyone that the time for action had finally arrived.

It appears that for the last two-and-a-half years, when not shuttling from one meeting to another, Mike has been cataloguing ways the WHO can avoid taking precautionary steps to reduce EMF exposures.

Mike’s apologia will be presented next week at a three-day workshop in Ottawa, July 11-13. He calls it a policy framework. We call it a sham. Mike has assembled a list of reasons for doing nothing. Electric utilities and telecom companies could have written the WHO plan. They may well have played a leading role.

You can see where Mike’s sympathies lie from the workshop agenda: the GSM Association, the U.K. National Grid, the American Chemical Council, Shell Canada, have all been invited to speak, together with an assortment of academics, risk consultants and a few of his WHO buddies.

Mike has not even made a pretense of having a balanced program. Absent are labor, consumer and environmental groups, save one small Canadian organization. John Swanson of the National Grid will be in Ottawa, but Alasdair Phillips, England’s leading and most knowledgeable EMF activist, will not be there—no doubt because he would openly challenge Repacholi’s pro-industry sympathies.

Power lines or mobile phones are not really even on the workshop agenda. Only Mike is slated to address the EMF issue. Instead, the Ottawa workshop will address many of the major social risks that are in the news: global warming, mad cow disease, and even a flu pandemic which could wipe out many of us long before the ice caps melt. Mike’s message is loud and clear: Don’t worry about a tiny—and unlikely—EMF health risk when there are more important threats on the horizon.

Back in early 2003, there were enough reasons to invoke the precautionary principle for power-frequency EMFs and for RF from mobile phones. Over the last year, more studies have reaffirmed the need for caution. Three different data sets now implicate long-term use of mobile phones with acoustic tumors: Two from the Öreboro group and one from the Karolinska group. The University of Vienna has found support for Henry Lai and NP Singh’s studies showing that RF radiation can break DNA—these results from the REFLEX research program indicate that RF radiation may well be genotoxic after all. And even more recently, an Australian researcher reported additional evidence that RF can break up DNA.

Just last month, a British team published a paper in the British Medical Journal showing that children living near power lines had higher than expected rates of leukemia. The National Grid’s Swanson is one of the authors of that paper, but at this point he is not slated to discuss it in Ottawa.

Mike has no use for any of this new information —none of it is cited in his framework—because he has already made up his mind that nothing needs to be done. When the REFLEX DNA work first hit the media, Mays Swicord and his gang at Motorola didn’t have to say a word because their man in Geneva, Mike Repacholi of the World Health Organization, was ready to speak for them. Mike offered immediate reassurances that the Vienna results are spurious and may be discounted. “One has to question what went wrong, or was different, for them to get the results they claim,” Mike told the New Scientist.

Mike wants us to believe that his is the voice of reason, but, in fact, it is his views that are out of step with those of many national governments. China, Italy, Switzerland and Russia have all adopted precautionary exposure limits —directly rejecting Mike’s pleas for harmonizing radiation standards. Expert panels in England, France, Germany and Russia have all issued statements discouraging children from using mobile phones.

To his shame, Mike was the only member of Sir William Stewart’s panel to object when, in 2000, it was the first to call for children to avoid cell phones. English kids, like others everywhere, love their mobile phones and use them all the time. Neither they nor most of their parents have ever heard of Sir William’s cautionary advice. But even though largely ignored by consumers, Sir William, with this single recommendation, underscored our ignorance about radiation health effects and prompted continued health research. He set a tone for others to follow.

Sir William’s imperative is to protect public health. That is also supposed to be Mike’s mission at the WHO. But his words and action make it clear that his principal interest is in the well-being of his corporate friends.

As the old saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a sure bet, that it’s a duck.” Mike’s actions and words are those of an industry operative. And for all we know he may be one.

Mike has repeatedly refused to disclose who is paying for his EMF project and all its conferences and workshops. We do know that WHO does not foot the bill. Mike has to raise his own budget and travel funds. We also know that he found a way to skirt the WHO rules that bar direct industry support —the mobile phone manufacturers have said that they provide him with $150,000 a year with additional money for meeting and travel expenses.

But where does all the other money come from? What’s stopping Mike from doing the right thing? Why doesn’t he issue a simple and clear message that EMFs and RF radiation present possible health risks and that, until more answers are in hand, we should try to reduce unnecessary exposures. All he needs to do is to offer a single sentence of advice: Be careful until we know more about the health risks. That’s it. A simple public health message of caution from the World Health Organization.

It's time for the Mike-and-Leeka charade to come to an end. Show us the money, Mike. Show us who’s paying the bills. Maybe then we will know who you are really working for.