Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age - A conversation with Dr. George Carlo

Dr. George Carlo is a leading authority on the dangers of radio frequency 
radiation and a world recognized medical scientist, author and lawyer. His 
career spans 30 years and more than 150 medical, scientific and public 
policy publications in the areas of public health, workplace safety and 
consumer protection.

Common Ground: Your experience with radio wave health risks goes back
a long time. How did you first become involved?

Dr. Carlo: This goes back to 1993 in the US when questions were raised about mobile
phones being a possible cause of brain cancer. The US Congress held open hearings and it
became clear that cell phones had been exempted from premarket testing. Normally, a
consumer device that emits radiation, such as a mobile phone or cell phone, would go
through a process of pre-marketing testing that would include a series of in vitro and in vivo
studies to evaluate predictions of risk to the population that would use them. Cell phones,
however, were exempted from that testing based on pressure from the mobile phone industry
in 1984. That input was based on science that was present in the public domain at the time
that indicated that the only health effect that could follow from microwave exposure had to do
with the heating of biological tissue. And because cell phones operated at very, very low
power, they would not be able to heat tissue. They were, therefore, excluded from the
onerous process of pre-market testing. That exemption was known as the "low power
exclusion, and in retrospect, that one political mistake has put millions of people at risk of
serious disease.

Following the public hearing, Congress took serious issue with both the Food and Drug
Administration, which was the agency of record responsible for these radiation emitting
devices, as well as with the mobile phone industry itself. Congress put both on the spot and
the mobile phone industry agreed to put up what became $28.5 million dollars in research
funding as long as the FDA did not ban mobile phones at the time. I was the person given the
responsibility of overseeing and conducting that research. Between 1993 and 1999, with
more than 200 doctors and scientists from around the world participating, and the Harvard
School of Public Health reviewing more than 56 studies, we ran what still remains the largest
program ever conducted in the world on the dangers of mobile telephony and wireless
communications in general.

CG: When you went public with your findings in 1999, it created great 
controversy. Your findings about cell phones increasing brain cancer are 
still dismissed by the industry and government regulatory agencies. How is 
this possible?

Dr. Carlo: This is not based on mere differences of opinion. Our findings in 1999 were the first
to indicate increases in brain cancer among cell phone users and other studies have since
corroborated those findings. In the peer-reviewed published literature today, more than 300
statistically significant findings show excess risk of brain cancer and other tumours 
among people who use mobile phones. We have mechanistic studies that show 
how the cancer increase happens following exposure. That government agencies and the
industry can deny the existence of those findings is astonishing.

CG: Standards adopted by the World Health Organization, our own Health 
Protection Agency and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
suggest there is no problem with current levels of exposure from cell phones and base
stations. What are your views on those limits set in relation to the sort of work you have been

Dr. Carlo: Those standards are irrelevant. Remember, this is high technology and every six
months the technology changes. It evolves so rapidly that the old days are three or four years
ago. The ICNIRP guidelines came into being in 1998, and are based on information that was
developed many years prior to that. In this particular area, that is ancient history. The ICNIRP
guidelines are also based on thermal mechanism data based on heating. The heating
mechanism, with regard to information-carrying radio waves, is mostly irrelevant to the
situation we have today.

Our view is that this has now become a medical problem we are beyond the 
time where discussing the science regarding "is there a problem" has public 
health value. We have patients in many countries who have these very obvious membrane
sensitivity symptoms. Membrane sensitivity syndrome has been around for about 25 years.
Originally, this type of condition was the result of a high level of exposure to chemicals; we
used to call it chemical sensitivity. Now we have identified the same type of condition in
patients who are exposed to various types of electromagnetic radiation. It is a medical
problem because we have people who are sick and need medical 

People with membrane sensitivity syndrome can be in a room where somebody 
turns on a cell phone and they will end up having an immediate adverse and 
traumatic reaction. They develop internal bleeding and they will have blood 
in their stool. The condition is very debilitating. It prevents people from 
being able to work. They cannot earn a living; they have difficult 
relationships with their children and their spouses give up on them. 
Families are shattered. It is a very serious medical condition with wide 
ranging ramifications.

CG: Medically, how does this happen?

Dr. Carlo: The pathological mechanisms are the key to both understanding the problem and
prescribing preventive and therapeutic inteventions to solve the problem. All electromagnetic
radiation in the electromagnetic spectrum is not created equal. We have done work that
identifies at least four different effect windows with different mechanisms of harm that are
very unique. One effect window is what you have from the extremely low-frequency
electromagnetic field, the power line frequency, if you will. What happens at that part of the
electromagnetic spectrum is that the magnetic field is dominant. In an electromagnetic field,
there is always a magnetic field and an electric field travelling perpendicularly. The magnetic
field produces an electric field and the electric field produces a magnetic field and the
magnetic field produces an electric field. That is why it radiates because it is a self-
propagating system. But at the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum, the magnetic field is

When you have an ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) field that is pushed by high 
power, you have a direct magnetic impact on the local physiology of cells 
and tissues. We know that that mechanism involves disrupting what we call 
gap-junction communication between cells. I do not need to go into all of 
that, but the fact is that we understand how it works. It is a direct 
magnetic effect and because magnetic fields have existed in nature since the 
beginning, we, as human beings, have developed compensatory mechanisms so 
that there is a threshold. There is a degree of magnetic field that we can 
sustain without being adversely affected. So unless you have a very high 
amount of power pushing that magnetic field, as you would have underneath a 
power line, for example, you do not cross the threshold for this direct 
magnetic effect. That is the ELF window.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the ionising radiation window and 
at the high end of the spectrum, with ionising radiation, the electric field is so predominant
that you have extremely high energy. Those electromagnetic waves up in the ionising range
and they come from sunlight and lightning and a bunch of other natural sources as well break
apart chemical bonds. Because that damage is so determinative or severe, we believe that, at
least in terms of clinical manifestations, there is also a threshold. That means there is a safe
level. In between, you have the radio frequency radiation window; that is the third window.
What we have learned is this: a raw microwave signal, 1,900 megahertz, in other words, is
oscillating at 1,900 million cycles per second. To put that in context with your heart, your heart
beats at two hertz, two cycles per second. So a raw microwave is beating at 1,900 million
cycles per second. That is too fast for your body to pick up; your body simply does not
recognize it. The only time your body recognizes it is if you put 100 watts of power behind that
signal and then you can heat tissue and meat like you would in a microwave oven. So when
you put high power behind a microwave, you cause heating. That is the thermal window that
the current government standards address.

Now, because the raw microwave is invisible to biological tissue unless 
pushed by high power, it is not a problem. However, with wireless 
communication, we must carry information and we have to be able to have that information
deciphered at the other end of a phone call so that when we talk on the phone we want
somebody to hear us talking. In order for that to happen, the information has to be packeted
and it is bundled in packets  based on amplitude modulation. Another factor is that for the
phone companies to make money, they must have multiple people talking on one 
frequency band at the same time. So for that to happen, you have breaks in 
the modulation to make room for new calls. That is either going to be code 
domain breaks or time domain breaks, so that what you have is a circumstance where a
packet of data moves and then it stops and then it moves and then it stops because of this
multiple access. When that happens, it forms a secondary wave.

The best analogy we have been able to come up with for a secondary wave is 
the old clothesline, which would be on a pulley. An empty clothesline is 
like the raw microwave signal the 1,900 megahertz carrier signal, for 
example. Putting clothes on the clothesline is the equivalent of these data 
packets and when you move the clothes through space on the clothesline, they wave back
and forth: the secondary wave. That wave is what we call the 
information-carrying radio wave. The wave that is formed by the packeting of information
oscillates in the hertz range and in the hertz range, the body can recognize it. Here is what
happens: at the level of the cell membrane whether it is a brain cell, a blood cell, a nerve cell,
a liver cell, a bone cell or a skin cell there are protein receptors on the cell membrane and
their job is to keep track of what is going on in the environment around the cell. You have
chemical receptors and you have vibrational receptors. The vibrational receptors are able to
pick up radio signals that oscillate in the hertz to kilohertz range.

As the information-carrying radio wave comes in the vicinity of the cell, 
the vibrational protein recognizes it within milliseconds. But because in 
the beginning there were no information-carrying radio waves they are not 
natural; they are completely manmade the body interprets the 
information-carrying radio wave as a foreign invader. When that 
interpretation happens, a message goes inside the cell that says: "We are 
under seige; we need to protect ourselves." First, the active transport 
channels, which are the avenues where nutrients pass into the cell and waste products pass
out, begin to close down. As the active transport channels begin to close down, you have a
circumstance where nutrients that are in the river between the cells are not able to get into
the cell. When nutrients cannot get into the cell, the cell becomes nutrient and energy
deficient. When the cell becomes energy deficient, it is not able to communicate with
surrounding cells, so that you have a disruption in what we call intercellular communication.

If you think about it, when cells are working together talking to each 
other and working together you have a tissue. When tissues are talking 
together and working together, you have an organ. When organs are talking 
together and working together, you have an organism, like a human. So when 
you disrupt intercellular communication, you are disrupting a fundamental 
physiological process. What happens is that intercellular communication is 
disrupted. Messages between cells cannot be sent because the cell does not 
have enough energy to do that. At the same time, because these active 
transport channels have closed down, waste product builds up inside the 
cell. When waste product builds up inside the cell, you have a very high 
concentration of highly reactive molecules called free radicals. Free 
radicals, like the free radicals in the 1960s, love a party. Inside the 
cell, the party is going on at the mitochondria, which is where all of the 
respiratory functioning of the cell takes place. The free radicals, 
preferentially, will go to the mitochondria and disrupt the functioning of 
the mitochondria. In disrupting the functioning of the mitochondria, you 
create cellular dysfunction, meaning that the cell is not able to do its job properly
That is why, for example, if you have a cell whose job is keeping the blood-brain
barrier closed and that cell is now dysfunctional, the blood-brain barrier opens. Indeed,
we and others have seen leakage in the blood-brain barrier as an effect.

Additionally, the free radicals interfere with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) 
repair inside the cell. We know this now because several studies from around the world have
shown the formation of micronuclei following exposure to these information-carrying radio
waves. A micronucleus is a piece of DNA  that functions well enough to form a membrane
around itself, but it has no  other purpose. As long as it stays inside the cell it is okay, but
when the cell is disrupted at the mitochondria level, it goes through a process that 
we call apoptosis, or programmed cell death. The cell actually commits 
suicide to make room for another cell to come in. This happens on a regular 
basis. Every six months or so, you turn over all of your cells because of 
apoptosis. When apoptosis happens, the cell membrane disintegrates and 
whatever is inside the cell goes into the space between the cells and the 
micronuclei go into the space in between the cells.

Under normal circumstances, a message would be sent to the immune system 
saying, "We have micronucleus here. Send some macrophages so we can get rid 
of it." The problem is the intercellular communication has been disrupted 
and the message to the immune system does not get there. So now you have a 
micronucleus that is a piece of wild DNA sitting in a nutrient-rich 
environment and it is free to clone and proliferate. That is the mechanism 
for the development of a tumour. If you look at the biological cellular 
mechanism, we have a basis now to explain the diversity of symptoms that we 
see in the people in our registry. We published a paper late last year 
proposing a link between the increasing incidence of autism around the world and exposure
to information-carrying radio waves 

CG: So where do we go from here?

Dr. Carlo:Well there are a couple of things that are obvious. First, over 
the past 15 years, the issue has evolved from a scientific determination of 
whether or not there are health problems caused by wireless technology to 
the realization that we have an emerging medical crisis for people who are 
electro-hypersensitive. We have a potential link to autism and other serious health effects.
Many of us believe that the threat posed by wireless technology is the most serious we will
face in our lifetime. The top priority for us now is to address those medical concerns. Second,
it is  clear that government agencies will not be able to mobilize themselves fast 
enough to help. The inertia in those agencies prevents efficient adaptation 
and the problem is further complicated by the enormous political influence 
of the wireless industry compounding that inertia. It is going to be up to 
individuals to take steps to protect themselves and their families.

Dr. Carlo's career spans 30 years and more than 150 publications in the 
areas of health, workplace safety and consumer protection. His most recent 
book, Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age, co-written with 
Washington columnist Martin Schram, is printed in five languages. Dr. Carlo 
is presently Chair of the Science and Public Policy Institute based in 
Washington, D.C. His current focus is the Safe Wireless Initiative project