For more information about Dr Neil Cherry and his work, please visit his
Public concern about this question led to an international scientific
workshop on possible biological and health effects of RF electromagnetic
fields. This was held in Vienna and attended by international
Report on an interview with Dr Neil Cherry who attended this workshop.
Why was the workshop held?
Public concern in Austria about the health effects of cellphones and cell
towers led a group of five senior academics to call an international
workshop on the biological and health effects of electromagnetic radiation,
including cellphones and cell towers.
Who organised the workshop?
The workshop was arranged by a group of academics, mainly health
professionals, who are also experts in risk management and risk assessment.
They came from five departments of the University of Vienna and one
department of the University of Salzburg. They have an international
reputation which was built up through their work in the chemical and
nuclear industry. They are very experienced in risk research, but new to
the area of electromagnetic radiation.
Who was invited?
About twenty five international experts who were independent of industry
and the military were invited to the workshop at the University of Vienna.
The organisers were delighted that they managed to attract the leading
experts mainly from the United States, Canada and European countries, who
were doing the fundamental research. These experts were to present the
latest research but also to put it into the historical context.
Because of the public concern about the cellphones and cell towers in
Austria money was raised from health funding authorities to hold this
What was Dr Cherry's role?
He was invited because of the paper he had presented in Auckland in
February 1998 to an electromagnetic radiation workshop. It was entitled,
"Should cellphones have health warnings?" The paper he presented in Vienna
was entitled "Should cellphones have health warnings because of the
evidence of the risk of brain tumour?" He found that he was included among
these people whom he holds in high esteem in a specific role - to integrate
the scientific results of many disciplines to show the interlinking of the
information. As a New Zealand university researcher who is totally
independent, Dr Cherry has the role of reviewing and cross-linking the
results of the work of the others.
Survey of cellphone users in Norway and Sweden
Dr Kjell Hansson Mild reported on an extensive survey of ten thousand cell
phone users in Norway and Sweden conducted because of the concern about
symptoms such as dizziness, discomfort, concentration problems and memory
loss experienced by people using cellphones. Even larger responses
included fatigue and headache and a sense of warmth on and behind the ear
along with a tingling sensation and burning of the skin. These symptoms
were of particular significance because the ordinary use of the telephone
does not produce the sense of warmth. It is the microwave radiation from
cellphones, at sufficient intensity to produce warming, which, in this
research, is associated with neurological symptoms.
In the extremely large sample in the report , when the data was ordered by
the number of calls per day and by the number of minutes per day on average
spent on the cellphone every symptom showed an increase with usage. Both
in the Swedish and the Norwegian users there were very strong increases of
symptoms with usage. For up to two minutes usage a day 6% of users
developed headaches, for two to fifteen minutes usage a day the number of
users affected increased to 10%, for fifteen to sixty minutes a day it
rose to 17%, and for more than sixty minutes a day to 22%. For the other
symptoms - dizziness, discomfort, loss of concentration and memory loss -
the proportion of users affected was lower, but all showed an increase of
symptoms with increased usage.
Fatigue was a major effect in Mild's survey of cellphone users. This was
also found in people living near the Schwarzenburg radio tower in
Switzerland, for people exposed chronically to low intensity radio.
Microwaves have been associated with headaches for over thirty years, and
there are a growing number of cellphone users who are reporting symptoms of
confusion, memory loss, disorientation and dizziness.
Dr Cherry's paper
In his paper he presented ten epidemiological studies in which exposure to
radio or microwaves had been found to produce a statistically significant
increase in brain tumours in exposed occupations and military groups. He
acknowledged that none of these studies involved cellphones, but stated
that to claim that radio and microwave cannot be associated with brain
tumour was scientifically wrong.
In analogue cellphones there is a very high frequency FM radio. (FM is
used for radio and television signals.) Digital cellphones are similar to
radar, using pulses carried by microwaves. Servicemen or workers exposed
to radar and radio get more brain tumours. Therefore there is a chance,
and there is evidence, that cell phone users could be at risk of increased
numbers of brain tumours.
Disagreement about the interpretation of the Korean War Study
Dr Cherry used the Korean War Study as one of his examples of studies
showing increases in brain tumour in radio/microwave environments. Dr
Michael Repacholi challenged this, saying that the authors concluded there
were no effects from the radar exposure and it was wrong to use data from
the paper in a way the authors didn't.
Dr Cherry was supported by Dr Carl Blackman of the US Environmental
Protection Agency (USEPA) when he countered that the data was more
important than the conclusions, and if the data analysed in an appropriate
manner showed effects, then that was an appropriate interpretation of that
Cellphones and blood pressure alteration
Dr Stanislaw Szmigielski, a senior epidemiologist from Poland, and author
of the Polish Military Cancers Studies, presented the latest results of
their research into blood pressure changes. Dr Szmigielski reminded the
workshop that epidemiological studies of RF/MW-exposed personnel and
residents should not only be related to power density measurements (PD) but
also to cumulative radiation dose (RD). Measurements showed that daily
mean doses were equivalent to 1/50th of the daily peak exposures.
He then presented results of a study on blood pressure which followed from
their previous work which documented dose-response increases in ECG
abnormalities and shifts in blood pressure. When effect increases with
dose this is a very strong result. Their latest, and larger, study
confirmed the results of the previous work, with statistically significant
differences being found in heart dysfunction in RF/MW exposed workers.
Dr Cherry took the opportunity to ask Dr Szmigielski about exposures
related to his studies on RF/MW and cancer in the Polish military. Dr
Szmigielski strongly denied that the effects they were finding could be
related to thermal levels of exposure. He referred to the strict
monitoring and reporting regime to which all personnel were subject and
which protected them from extreme exposures which would have thermal
How public concern develops into epidemiological studies
There is almost always a delay between the occurrence of public health
effects and avoidance or minimization measures. A new substance or
technology is introduced. It is found to be useful and becomes widely
People start noticing an increase in a symptom which they suspect might be
due to the chemical or device being used. Safety assurances are given by
manufacturers and government agencies. A search of the diverse sources of
scientific studies reveals evidence of associations, cellular changes or
animal effects, but there is no direct human evidence of effects. Early
human studies often don't find evidence of effects, or some find a small
but statistically insignificant rise in symptoms. Cancers have latencies
of decades for many adult cancers. That is, it takes typically eight to
thirty years for damaged cells to develop into full-blown cancers.
Subsequently, occupational groups who have a distinctly higher chance of
exposure are studied and found to have a higher incidence of the disease
symptoms. The study is repeated and confirmed. We then have evidence of a
human health effect, and exposure standards are set below the level at
which effects have been found (by association), with significant safety
factors to allow for the general population, which includes a proportion of
very vulnerable and susceptible people.
The association between cellphones and brain tumour is following this
pathway. Local people notice that friends or family, with no history of
brain cancers, get brain tumours at relatively young ages. An undertaker
notices a pattern of brain tumours in younger people. Workers who started
using cellphones quite early after their introduction get brain tumours and
go to court for compensation. Cases are dismissed for lack of strong
evidence or are settled out of court. An oncologist notes the public
concern, looks at local cancer records and notices a rise in brain tumour
which approximately parallels cellphone usage. Dr Cherry searches the
scientific literature and finds in many studies ample evidence of
biological effects - cancer in cells and animals, and an increase in the
incidence of brain tumour in personnel exposed to radio and microwave.
The cellphone industry, government and international officials, including
the World Health Organisation (WHO), reassure the public that there is no
cause for concern.
Several countries have agreed to study cellphone users over several years
to see if effects can be detected.
Dr Chris Konig from the Public Health Department in the City of Salzburg
explained that in that city they had adopted an interim public exposure
standard based on a study which showed cellphone effects on sleeping
subjects, and a safety factor of 500, resulting in a preliminary public
exposure standard of 0.1mW/cm2
(Safety factors used for toxic chemicals range from 1 to 10,000.)
The Vienna Workshop's contribution
Scientists who have done the fundamental research on biological
cells and animals were brought together with those who have carried
reviewed the epidemiological evidence, and those who have reviewed the
integrated evidence, including a WHO official. The scientists agree
there is ample evidence to recommend caution and minimal exposure from
cellphones particularly, but also from cellsites.
The WHO official, Dr Michael Repacholi, retains the view that there is
evidence which justifies public concern nor which will require
support for a guideline or standard based on avoiding thermal
Need to minimise risk by minimising exposure
Dr Cherry concludes that there is a large body of scientific evidence
associating low level radio and microwave exposure to biological
cells, including DNA breakage, cancer increases in mice and rats, and
tumours in exposed workers and military personnel.
There are suggestions and concerns that more of the cellphone users
be getting more brain tumours. Dr Cherry recommends that since the
scientific evidence points strongly towards the probable link (not yet
proven), between cellphone use and cancer, the prudent approach is to
minimise risk by minimising exposure.
For discussion of further research presented at the workshop and for the
resolutions of the participants at the end of the workshop be sure to read
Part 2 of the interview with Dr Cherry.
You may also wish to read
earlier articles based on interviews with Dr
Cherry and dealing with the dangers of electromagnetic radiation.