A huge body of research shows how prolonged EMF exposure can cause severe physiological and neurological effects. But, at the same time, another significant chunk of studies shows absolutely no effects. So, what’s the truth? Is EMF science really inconclusive, as the people and corporations against EMF advocacy say?
Today, our knowledge about this subject comes from rigorous scientific research. So why is it that, even now, we’re divided on the biological effects of EMF?
To understand this, we must first dive deep into the history of EMF science and identify the causes of disagreements between scientists on this matter. And that’s what we’re going to do in this post.
This is part one of a seven-part series where we explore EMF science as it is now, discover the hurdles it faced throughout history, and look at those trying to advance and suppress the truth about EMF.
EMF in Layman’s Terms
Before we delve into the history of EMF science and biology, let’s first look at what EMF is.
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EMF or electromagnetic fields (a type of radiation) are energies that are created when electric and magnetic fields combine. We’re exposed to both natural and artificial forms of these energies every day.
Natural EMFs come from sources like the sun, the earth’s own magnetic field, and lightning strikes. And artificial or human-made EMFs come from sources like power lines, electrical wiring, electrical appliances, electronic gadgets, network towers, and more.
When we talk about EMFs, we’re referring to radiation that operates in lower frequencies, also known as non-ionizing radiation.
There are radiations that operate on ultra-high frequencies like X-rays, gamma rays, ultraviolet rays, and nuclear radiation. These are ionizing in nature which means they can knock electrons out of atoms.
For clarification, look at the image below of the electromagnetic spectrum. This explains the positions of all types of radiations, ionizing and non-ionizing.
You can also read my post, “EMF in Simple Words,” for more information.
Now, no one doubts the fact that prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation (like X-rays and UV rays) is harmful to your health. But years of research studies have found that prolonged exposure to non-ionizing radiation can cause problems ranging from minor sleep disorders to chronic diseases like cancer.
Despite this research, many still disagree and say that non-ionizing radiation is safe.
Is Science Divided on EMF’s Health Effects?
Because EMF is an energy we can measure, we don’t have to leave the question of its safety to one’s personal beliefs. To date, there have been thousands of research studies showing infertility, tumors, cancers, sleep problems, and more as a consequence of prolonged EMF exposure.
But there are also studies that, from their own research and experiments, haven’t found any of these problems associated with EMF exposure.
So, this leaves the general public confused as to what’s true and what’s not. After reading this post and all the other ones in this series, you should be able to make an informed decision for yourself.
So, let’s begin.
What Concerned the Military?
In the middle of the 20th century, people were already aware of the tissue-heating abilities of radio frequency and microwave radiation. This called for thorough research on the medical and therapeutic applications of this type of radiation.
But this soon changed with the second world war.
This was when radar technology, which emitted large amounts of radio frequency and microwave radiation, began gaining popularity.
After that, for various reasons, the research on EMF’s biological effects shifted from a medical pursuit to a military-industrial pursuit.
By 1971, the military had been using radar technology for decades. And during that time, they noticed that men who worked with radar had developed some serious health problems, including baldness and sterility.
This was when the US Navy decided to take action and try to understand if there was a connection between radar exposure and these problems.
To bring this plan to life, the Navy assigned this task to Zory Glaser, a young Ph.D. working at the Naval Medical Research Institute.
Dr. Zory Glaser: One of The Pioneers of EMF Research
Having freshly acquired his Ph.D. from the Polytechnic University of Brooklyn, Dr. Glaser’s first major job was at the US Naval Medical Research Center.
When the Navy assigned him the task of creating an inventory of the science of biological effects resulting from RF exposure, he soon created a bibliography, where he reviewed and cited over 3,000 scientific studies on this subject.
You can find his bibliography on his own website, ZoryGlaser.com, published with the help of Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University.
Impressed by his work, the Navy asked him to maintain his bibliography over time, which he actually did over the coming decades. Today, his bibliography contains data from over 6,000 separate studies.
From Dr. Glaser’s work, we know that for over 50 years, the US and former-Soviet military have been aware of the biological effects of radiofrequency and microwave radiation.
Besides Glaser’s work, a scientific study published by a surgeon working under the US Public Health Service also demonstrated lethal results from exposure to ultra-shortwave EMF in mice.
The surgeon said that even if the EMF is at non-thermal levels, it can still be fatal for animals.
Two years later, German researchers also reported fatalities in rats, mice, and flies from similar short-wave exposures.
Besides fatality, these researchers also identified problems like cataracts, heart problems, and testicular degeneration.
The EPA & EMF
Cut to 1983. This was the year when Motorola made its first cell phone, the DynaTAC 8000X, public. It cost $3,995 to acquire, equivalent to $11,458.61 in 2023 (inflation-adjusted). And it looked like this.
Because of the cost, even until 1989, only 1.4% of the US population had access to a cell phone.
Still, public concern had grown to a point where the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) under the US Congress published a paper calling for cell phone users to practice “prudent avoidance” with EMF in their homes.
The same year, Paul Brodeur, an investigative science writer, wrote an article highlighting the public health threat of power line frequency EMF. The article also mentioned the lack of government action on the subject – which caused it to make the national headlines.
This caused the awareness of EMF’s potential dangers to enter the public sphere. As this awareness grew, it forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate a review of what the scientific community knew to date about the biological effects of exposure to RF/MW radiation.
EPA Designates EMF a Possible Human Carcinogen
With all the scientific literature evaluated, the Office of Health and Environmental Assessment (OHEA) under the EPA recommended designating EMF as a “probable human carcinogen.”
Following this, a 1990 New York Times article quoted then-OHEA Director, Dr. William Farland, saying, “Over the past few years, more and more people have begun to say there does seem to be something there, that we need to do more work, whereas before we were saying that it was not worth pursuing. This is an important step in getting more research done.”
But soon, the EPA removed this wording from their report. Why?
The EPA explained that designating EMF as a “carcinogen” (along with other Class B carcinogens such as DDT, PCBs, and formaldehyde) was “not appropriate” until better data existed demonstrating this link.
As an external observer, it is nearly impossible to say what really triggered the EPA to remove this potentially-explosive language from its report. And if we look at it, the reason they gave sounds perfectly valid.
But what’s interesting is that their 1990 EPA draft, which removed the carcinogenic designation, coincided with an aggressive effort from the wireless industry to refute any such potential associations between cell phone radiation and negative health outcomes—particularly cancer—in humans.
But even after EPA’s language removal and the wireless industry’s aggressive effort to refute the link between EMF and health problems, EMF concerns started taking off in 1993.
EMF Goes Mainstream: Widower on a Mission Against Cell Phones
One evening in 1993 marked a significant moment for EMF advocates when David Reynard, a businessman from Florida, appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live. His appearance was to announce his lawsuit against the cell phone industry.
Reynard explained that his 33-year-old wife, Susan, had died of a brain tumor a few months before. And her fatal illness was directly linked to her cell phone use, he alleged.
He said that Susan had started using a cell phone just four years earlier when she became pregnant. Despite unusual complications, Susan gave birth to a healthy baby, six weeks premature. But, amidst the joy, the family heard disheartening news. When the doctors took her for an MRI, they found a tumor growing in her brain.
Here’s how the conversation between Larry King and David Reynard went:
Larry King: “When did you start to think, ‘This has something to do with the cellular phone?’”
David Reynard: “I think when I saw the first MRI and saw the location of the tumor. It appeared that it was in the location directly next to the antenna, and the tumor seemed to be growing inward from that direction.”
In the show, Reynard made a compelling presentation of the X-rays, which showed how the tumor was growing right next to where his wife held the phone against her head.
“I don’t think [people] realize… that these are microwave devices,” Reynard said. He then made a bold comparison between cell phones and cigarettes, expressing his firm belief that the wireless devices should also carry FDA health warning labels on the packaging.
While his evidence was circumstantial at best, his lawsuit was enough to make national headlines, which created a public relations nightmare for telecom companies.
Telco Crisis Management
- “Widower on a mission against cellular phones.”
- “Telephone firms fight cancerous connection.”
- “Woman’s death fuels phone fears, cancer scare rocks cellular industry.”
- “Cellular phone scare hits stock markets.”
These are some headlines that made national news immediately after Reynard’s lawsuit.
The aftermath of this was devastating for telecom companies. One of the articles went on to say that potential customers who had been signing up at the rate of 7000+ phones a day were now asking pointed questions or delaying purchases.
Although the Florida Circuit Court threw out Reynard’s case in 1995 based on insufficient evidence, the deed was done.
- Motorola’s shares plunged by 20%
- McCaw Cellular Communications, another large cell service provider at the time, saw a 15% decrease in their shares
This immediately forced the wireless industry into crisis management mode. Thomas Wheeler, then president of the Wireless Trade Group (WTC), called a public conference and issued a statement saying, “more than 10,000 studies over 40 years showed no evidence linking cell phones and health hazards.”
The problem was that even Wheeler couldn’t produce any valid studies because all the ones he cited assessed microwave ovens.
This triggered U.S. Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, to convene a spur-of-the-moment telecommunications meeting. He asked to hear testimony about the safety of cell phones. And it became clear that no regulatory agency had required cell phone manufacturers to do any pre-market testing or post-market surveillance on the health effects of their product.
And although the FDA had released a statement saying “there is no proof that cellular telephones are harmful,” even they encouraged limiting your time on your cell phone.
The WTR Research
Upon feeling the pressure, Thomas Wheeler pledged $25 million towards a research initiative to dispel fear among the public.
He set up a research program called Wireless Technology Research (WTR) to conduct these studies and appointed Dr. George Carlo, a well-known epidemiologist and medical scientist, to head this research.
Dr. Carlo and his team of 200 scientists started performing thorough experiments. They found that prolonged EMF exposure could cause irreparable DNA damage in cells.
These conclusions didn’t sit well with the wireless industry. They responded by cutting Dr. Carlo’s funding and trying to discredit him along with his six years of research.
“Today, I sit here extremely frustrated and concerned that appropriate steps have not been taken by the wireless industry to protect consumers,” expressed Dr. Carlo.
“Indications are that some segments of the industry have ignored the scientific findings suggesting potential health effects, have repeatedly and falsely claimed that wireless phones are safe for all consumers, including children, and have created an illusion of responsible follow-up by calling for and supporting more research.”
But this issue hadn’t seen its end.
Motorola’s War Gaming (Preview)
It’s not just Dr. Carlo’s work that the telecom industry tried to discredit. The same thing happened to Drs. Lai & Singh. Their research also demonstrated DNA damage from non-ionizing EMF exposure.
Motorola made full efforts to discredit, defund and get Lai & Singh fired. And in retrospect, we know this effort was intentional because an internal memo leaked from inside Motorola reads that Motorola executives believed they had “sufficiently war-gamed” Lai and his study.
We’ll talk more about Lai and Singh’s research and the backlashes they faced in this series’ second post. So, stay tuned.
What’s the truth? Who should you believe? There are two sides to this coin. One side fears for public health, and the other fears for their revenue. Join us as we unravel the real truth piece by piece in this seven-part series.
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