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 doing? 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 attention. 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 predominant. 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 (www.buergerwelle.de/pdf/emr_autism_acnem_final_1.pdf). 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 (www.safewireless.org).