Having introduced into biological research the application of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, which uses and emanates radiofrequency radiation sometimes at a high level and maintained a laboratory focused on this method for nearly five decades, I have lived through a number of formal and informal committees evaluating effects of magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation on living systems. Some of the reported effects turned out to be real, others did not.
There are now hundreds of laboratories world-wide involved in the use of this methodology, not to speak of other fields, such as high energy physics and communication technology, in which radiation is ever present. All of the workers in this field have had to consider safety for their own sake and the sake of coworkers for whom they are responsible.
Anyone familiar with the state of our knowledge in this field has to point out that:
• The assertion that is the headline of the cited article: "There really are dangers from wireless emissions" cannot be supported by any existing scientific evidence.
• "The Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS) does exist, is well documented in Europe..." is simply not true, and
• Neither is the assertion that "it affects 5 percent of the population..."
To be sure anyone, any physician, can propose a new diagnosis and publish arguments to support it, in the hope that time will prove him right, as in the case of scurvy and diphtheria. But to assert that the proposed syndrome exists at this time as a well-documented medical diagnosis recognized as such by the medical profession or even the most knowledgeable part of it, is seriously misleading.
If the cited 5 percent estimate were anywhere near true, in our laboratory alone, in which over the years more then 300 individuals have been exposed for long periods of time to sometimes high levels of electromagnetic radiation (on a 24/7 basis), we should have seen at least 15 cases of the purported syndrome. In the field as a whole, there should have been hundreds. No such cases are known.
Yes, there was a recent report of a WHO committee, widely cited in the press, in which the phrase appeared that the use of cell phones as a contributing cause of cancer cannot be absolutely ruled out. Those familiar with the rules of scientific evidence know that to rule out an effect with certainty is impossible and that scientists and scientific committees often use such phrases to cover themselves, just in case. But the fact that something cannot be ruled out does not mean that it exists. Yet this is often the impression created by uncritical reporting.
It must be pointed out that if the health effects of low energy radiation were as dramatic as those of high energy X-rays, they would have become obvious long ago. This is not to say that more subtle effects don't exist. But to establish their existence will require very carefully controlled studies over a period of many years. In the meantime it remains one of the many unknowns with which we have to live. It pays to be prudent and careful and to remember that the excess of anything can be harmful. But to politicize issues that cannot be resolved in our time and to live in fear of the unknown is not helpful.
Oleg Jardetzky, M.D., Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology and Director Emeritus, Stanford Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
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