Biological Effects and Health Implications of Microwave Radiation

Pick of the Week #22: A Very Important Symposium!

Magda Havas

altFebruary 23, 2011.  Janet Healer reviewed studies of people occupationally exposed to radio frequency radiation.  Below are some excerpts from her document presented at the “Biological Effects and Health Implications of Microwave Radiation” symposium.  These are direct quotes with the numbered citations removed and my comments provided in square [ ] brackets.  I have tried to restrict quotes to studies that were conducted at or below our current guidelines of 1 mW/cm2, although in many instances exact exposure conditions are not provided.  Emphasis added.  Link to proceedings is available at the end of this document.

1.  page 90.  “There is increasing evidence that radio-frequency radiations can affect biological organisms, even at relatively low intensities, particularly under conditions of chronic exposure [WiFi in schools, offices and homes for example]. A substantial number of observations have been made at intensity levels below those presently accepted as tolerable for continuous exposure in the United States and most of Western Europe. To date, the deleterious effect of radio-frequency fields, particularly of microwaves, at relatively high intensities, e.g., 50 mW/cm2 or greater, has been recognized and attributed to heating. However, biological hazards may exist at lower levels, extending well below 10 mW/cm2, and effects at both high and low intensities may be attributable to more complex modes of interaction. At low intensities effects may be subtle, impairing performance; chronic, affecting general mental and physical health and longevity; and may also be mutagenic, affecting succeeding generations.

2. page 91:  “. . . the Moscow Institute conducted a 10-year study of over 1000 individuals exposed in various occupations over periods from months to as long as 20 years. The study included investigation of symptoms associated with chronic, long-term low-level exposures that “do not produce a thermal effect.” Effects of various frequency bands were compared from below the high-frequency (HF) [3 to 30 MHz] band up through the superhigh frequency (SHF) [3 to 30 GHz, wavelength 1 to 10 cm] band. A large portion of the work was done in the centimeter range with reported exposure intensities of 1 mW/cm2 and below [note 1 mW/cm2 is the current guideline in the U.S., Canada, and is recommended by both ICNIRP and the World Health Organization].  Even at these low intensities, systematic, long-term exposures were reported to produce symptoms. Similar observations have been made at these and lower frequencies extending into the ELF [extremely low frequency] region.

3.  page 92: “The symptomatology associated, in the Soviet literature, with prolonged exposure most commonly includes headache, increased fatigability, diminished intellectual capabilities, dullness, partial loss of memory, decreased sexual ability, irritability, sleepiness and insomnia, emotional instability, sweating, and hypotension. Shortness of breath (dyspnea) and pains in the chest region are also reported. [Note:  these are similar to symptoms of electrohypersensitivity].  Symptoms of disturbance of the vegetative nervous system including sinus arrhythmias, a tendency toward bradycardia [slowed heart beat], and other vagotonic changes are common observations.” [Note:  vagotonic changes refer to over excitation of the vagus nerve--a nerve that supplies the throat, voice box, lung, heart, and stomach--adversely affecting function of the blood vessels, stomach, and muscles resulting in dizziness, sweating, constipation, and pain].

4.  page 92: “The most commonly reported objective physiological changes [indicating that these symptoms are NOT psychological] are neural, cardiovascular, blood compositions, and endocrine functions.”

5.  page 92: “At low intensities, neural changes, like other reported biological shifts, are typically functional, are not accompanied by distinct pathological change, and disappear after the subject is removed from the radiation environment. Nervous system response is expressed in the electroencephalogram (EEG) and by altered response times. Commonly, responses are characterized by initial excitation followed by subsequent inhibition.”

6.  page 93: “Various biochemical, neurohumoral and metabolic disruptions have been observed which can affect neural and other body functions. Changes in histamine [leading to inflammation] in the blood (generally increases) have been reported. Decreased cholinesterase [enzyme affecting nervous system and immune system] levels are frequently reported in exposed people and also in animals where they have been observed in connection with altered neural response. EEG [brain wave activity] changes have been observed in some occupationally exposed people at microwave and lower frequencies. These changes are reported to be early occurring and often appear before other changes are detectable in the organisms. They are frequently reported to persist after the cessation of irradiation.

7. page 93: They [Czechoslovakian scientists] regard EEG shifts as a kind of early-warning system for detection of organism response to radio frequency radiation on a very subtle level.

8. page 94: “Numerous Soviet studies cite cardiovascular disturbances which they widely regard as the predominant vegetative response to radio-frequency irradiation. In general, cardiovascular responses are characterized by hypotension, dystonia [neurological movement disorder causing sustained muscles contractions leading to twisting or repetitive movements of the body], and vagotonic reactions. Electrocardiographic (EKG) studies of exposed people and of animals, report a predominance of bradycardia, arrhythmia, and particularly sinus arrhythmias. Depressed intracardial conduction, commonly intraventricular, and lowered EKG waves, particularly T-waves, are also reported. Shifts are reported more often in persons with long histories of occupational exposure. Some examinations suggest a heightened susceptibility of persons with predisposition to, or a history of, cardiovascular disease. In the interest of occupational hygiene, many Soviet investigators (and at least one U.S. researcher) have recommended that cardiovascular abnormalities be used as screening criteria to exclude people from occupations involving radio-frequency exposures. [Note that we have anecdotal evidence that children in schools with WiFi or with WiFi in their home experience a racing or irregular heart beat that normalizes when they are not exposed.]

9. page 94: “An extensive examination program was conducted by the Institute of Labor Hygiene and Occupational Diseases, Moscow, involving over 500 individuals, periodically exposed for periods up to approximately10 years to cm and longer wave radiations at low intensities (e.g., below 1 mW/cm2, and up to several mW/cm2). This program revealed a variety of cardiovascular shifts predominant among which were bradycardia and vascular hypotension [low blood pressure]. Differences in responses to acute exposures of higher intensities and longer term chronic exposures at lower intensities were noted. Although these effects are generally reported to be reversible, a few exceptions are noted for certain individuals chronically exposed over many years, who showed pronounced pathological conditions.”

10. page 94: “In the blood, alterations have been reported in the protein fractions, ions, histamine content, hormone and enzyme levels, and immunity factors, but most frequently reported are changes in cellular composition.”

11 page 94: “Increased thyroid gland activity and sometimes enlargement is the most commonly reported endocrine response of exposed people. Adrenal changes are also reported.”

12. page 94: “A few occupational studies have suggested possible disturbances in some reproductive system functions. Several foreign low-intensity animal studies report reproductive system disturbances and cases of adverse effects on progeny, although contradictory evidence has also been reported. Of particular significance are possible genetic changes which might occur in large populations over long periods of time. Very little genetic data exists, although one U.S. study suggested a possible relationship between paternal radar exposure and mongoloidism.

13. page 94: “A 1967 Polish paper discussing ophthalmological aspects of safety standards for workers during operation of electromagnetic-field generators in military installations, indicates concern for workers with some eye ailments when working in microwave ‘fields as low as 0.01 mW/cm2.” [Note: This value is 1% of the current WHO guideline!]

14.  page 94. “There is general agreement among Soviet and Eastern European investigators that systematic chronic exposure to low-intensity radiations (around 10 mW/cm2 and lower) can have an adverse effect on health. Their standards are more restrictive than those of the United States by several orders of magnitude (e.g., 0.01 mW/cm2 for continuous daily microwave exposure). Furthermore, separate standards exist for various frequency ranges below the microwave region (e.g., 60 kHz-30 MHz, and 30-300 MHz). In Czechoslovakia maximum permissible exposures distinguish between pulsed and continuous-wave radiations and are more restrictive for the pulsed case (0.025 mW/cm2 vs 0.01 mW/cm2).” [Note:  WiFi and mobile phones use the more harmful pulsed radiation.]

15. page 95: “In summary, considerable investment of time, money and talent have been made in foreign programs to study the effects of low-intensity occupational radio-frequency exposures in man. These studies have resulted in the accumulation of a large body of research data, which in aggregate cannot be ignored even though in many details it must be substantiated.” [Note:  So why has it been ignored and why are federal and international health authorities denying that a problem exists below the thermal guidelines currently at 1 mW/cm2 in many countries?]

A total of 119 references were cited.

Can anyone guess when this was published?  Would you believe 41 years ago in 1970!!!

Cleary, S.F.  (Editor).  1970.  Biological Effects and Health Implications of Microwave Radiation, Symposium Proceedings, Richmond Virginia, September 17-19, 1969. Sponsored by Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University with the support of Bureau of Radiological Health, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Environmental Health Service.  275 pp.

Click here to download this document as a searchable pdf (7.1 MB).

This was a very important symposium with more than 30 additional papers presented.  The panel discussions alone are illuminating.


1. Preface

2. Chairman’s Remarks, Stephen F. Cleary

3. Welcome, William T. Ham

4. Introductory Comments, Stephen F. Cleary

5. Federal Responsibility in Radiological Health, John J. Hanlon

6. Physical Characteristics of Microwave and Other Radio Frequency Radiation, Joseph H. Yogelman

7. Interaction of Microwave and Radio Frequency Radiation With Biological Systems, Herman P. Schwan

8. Heat Stress Due to R. F. Radiation, William W. Mumford

9. Biological Effects of Microwave Exposure, Sol M. Michaelson

10. Thermal and Nonthermal Cataractogenesis by Microwaves, H. D. Baillie

11. Studies of Biological Hazards from High-Power HF Band Transmitters, G. C. Henny, M. Tansy, A. R. Kall, H. M. Watts, and F. Campellone

12. Nonuniform Biophysical Heating with Microwaves, R. S. Pozos, A. W. Richardson, and H. M. Kaplan

13. Experimental Microwave Cataract: A Review, Russell L. Carpenter

14. Clinical Microwave Cataracts, M. M. Zaret, I. T. Kaplan, and A. M. Kay

15. The Dissipation of Microwaves as Heat in the Eye, H. D. Baillie, A. G. Heaton, and D. K. Pal

16. Review of Studies of People Occupationally Exposed to Radio Frequency Radiation, Janet Healer

17. Interaction of Microwave and Radio Frequency Radiation with Molecular Systems, Paul O. Vogelhut

18. Effects of Microwaves on Optical Activity, G. L. Rehnberg, A. A. Moghissi, and E. W. Pepper

19. Studies on the Effects of 2450 MHz Microwaves on Human Immunoglobulin G 104 V, G. P. Kamat and D. E. fanes

20. Molecular Mechanisms for Microwave Absorption in Biological Systems, K. H. Illinger

21. Cellular Effects of Microwave Radiation, John H. Heller

22. Effects of Microwave Radiation on Lens Epithelial Cells (Summary), C. A. Van Ummersen and F. C. Cogan

23. Effects of 2450 MHz Microwave Radiation on Cultivated Rat Kangaroo Cells 123, K. T. S. Yao and M. M. Jiles

24. Effects of Microwave and Radio Frequency Energy on the Central Nervous System, Allan H. Frey

25. Clinical and Hygienic Aspects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields, Christopher H. Dodge

26. The Neural and Hormonal Response to Microwave Stimulation of Peripheral Nerves, Robert D. McAfee

27. Behavioral Effects of Low Level Microwave Irradiation in the Closed-Space Situation, D. R. Justesen and N. W. King

28. Behavioral Effects of Low Intensity UHF Radiation, Susan F. Korbel

29. Bird Feathers as Sensory Detectors of Microwave Fields, ]. A. Tanner and C. Romero-Sierra

30. Maximum Admissible Values of HF and UHF Electromagnetic Radiation at Work Places in Czechoslovakia, Karel Marha

31. Quantifying Hazardous Microwave Fields: Analysis, Paul F. Wacker

32. Quantifying Hazardous Microwave Fields: Practical Considerations, Ronald R. Bowman

33. Microwave Leakage Instrumentation, Paul W. Crapuchettes

34. Microwave Hazard Control in Design, W. A. Geoffrey Yoss

35. Radio Frequency Radiation Hazards to Personnel at Frequencies Below 30 MHz, S. ]. Rogers

36. Panel Discussion I: Microwave Measurements Methods and Standards for Biological Research and Hazards Surveys, S. W. Rosenthal (Moderator), A. Frey, F. Lemaster, R. R. Bowman, H. Rechen, ]. Osepchuck, and S. Michaelson

37. Panel Discussion II: Future Needs in Research on the Biological Effects of Microwave and R. F. Radiation, A. M. Burner (Moderator), N. Telles, S. Michaelson, A. Frey, E. Alpen, R. L. Carpenter, C. Susskind, and]. H. Heller

38. Index

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