Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 12

© 1999-2011 The Institute of Science in Society

Non-Thermal Effects of Electromagnetic Fields

Electromagnetic fields too weak to heat up the body had been linked to cancer and other illnesses since the 1960s. The current ‘safety’ limits are still inadequate to protect workers and the public from these effects. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho exposes the bad science at the centre of the controversy.

The current debate over the health hazards of mobile phones is a continuation of the debate over the health hazards of weak electromagnetic fields in the entire frequency spectrum that began in the


The first experiment on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields dates from the end of the nineteenth century when Russian scientist Danilevsky observed effects of radio-frequency fields on a muscle preparation that included the nerve supplying the muscle. Investigations peaked simultaneously with the development of radar between 1930 and 1940, but ended abruptly with World War II.

Interest in the subject was rekindled by the discovery that animals and plants failed to thrive and even died in areas exposed to radio waves beyond a certain minimum power density; and also by complaints of workers at radar stations. Research resumed in the 1950s in the former Soviet Union and the United States, as well as in Poland, Italy, and later, Britain.

Public debate over the health hazards of electromagnetic fields began in the United States. In 1973, biologist Robert Becker was approached by the US Navy Commander Paul Tyler to serve on a panel of experts to evaluate some experiments that the Navy had funded. These were in connection with an antenna system the Navy was planning to build in northern Wisconsin that involved grids of buried wires that would extend over thousands of square miles of land. It was to be used for communication with submerged submarines.

Because of the large size of the antenna system, and fears that the non-ionising electromagnetic radiation (NIEMR) it would emit might have impacts on health and the environment, Congress had ordered the Navy to carry out the studies.

The New York Academy of Sciences had sponsored a conference on "Electrically Mediated Growth Mechanisms in Living Systems", and Becker had delivered a brilliant keynote paper that summarised his work up to then, which revealed how electrical fields and currents produced by the body are controlling growth and regeneration. By the 1960s, Becker had already proposed a theory that an electrical communication system exists within all living things, and also showed that externally applied fields could influence the processes of growth and regeneration.

But Becker was also worried about the undesirable, harmful effects that could come from exposures to external electromagnetic fields that were often orders of magnitude stronger than the fields within the living body. He had taken on a graduate student, Andrew Marino to conduct some studies on mice and rats.

Marino had indeed found that animals exposed to NIEMR suffered adverse effects, when Becker was asked to review the studies that the Navy had funded.

There were seven scientists on the panel reviewing more than 30 studies. Nearly two-thirds of the studies had found biological effects from exposure to NIEMR; and these were in a variety of species, including slime-mould, rats, birds and humans. The upshot was that all the panel members thought the proposed antenna was a potential hazard to human health, and they drew up a long list

of recommendations and further studies.

In the middle of deliberations, someone pointed out that the Navy’s proposed antenna produced NIEMR similar to that produced by high-voltage powerlines, and that in the largest lines carrying 765 000 volts, the strength of the NIEMR might be as much as a million times stronger. That threw the panel into disarray. The discussions became heated, but eventually, the scientists agreed they had to recommend some action: that the Navy should inform a special committee advisory to the President that many Americans might be "at risk" from NIEMR from power lines.

Marino, who told his story in a book published years later had no idea that he and his supervisor were about to be drawn into one of the most acrimonious and lonely battle against the industrial- military complex, and prominent figures in the scientific establishment were to play the key role in victimising him and his supervisor. When it was all over, Becker would lose all grant support, and would have to close his laboratory in Syracuse, New York, after 20 years of pioneering research on the electromagnetic basis of living organisms.

Marino had found that animals exposed to NIEMR of 60Hz from the wall outlet gained less weight and drank less water. The exposed animals also had altered levels of blood proteins and enzymes. That was precisely the same NIEMR that would come from power lines. He had repeated the experiment twice, with the same results.

By then, at least two 765 000 volt lines were being planned, and Marino and Becker were called to give evidence at a powerline hearing which arose from Becker’s warnings. Their experiments had confirmed what the Navy’s own studies had found. Becker had no doubt that the power line was a potential health risk.

Unfortunately, they were up against Herman Schwan and other scientists who would be defending the industry and their own prestige in the scientific establishment.

Schwan had come to United States from Germany in 1947 under Project Paperclip, a controversial government programme to import German scientists after WWII. He worked for the US Navy until 1950 when he became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Schwan had done some research on NIEMR in Germany during the war. After arriving in the US, he began to publish papers saying that ‘the laws of physics’ showed that the only effects of NIEMR on living things would be through heating or electric shock.

Schwan’s writings were bound up with the federal government’s concern, which surfaced in the 1950s, over military employees who were reporting various injuries from working around radar – eye injuries, temporary and permanent sterility, internal bleeding and other problems. In response to these complaints, an Air Force surgeon, Colonel George Knauf was asked to determine how much NIEMR was safe. Knauf and Schwan began to work together, with Schwan being the expert on biological effects.

Schwan regarded the stories of non-thermal injuries anecdotal and unreliable. Accordingly, he regarded NIEMR safe if it did not cause heating. What was the maximum level? Schwan ‘s answer was that the body could handle a certain amount of heat, for example, by sweating, but if the heat reached the point at which the body’s regulatory mechanisms broke down, temperature would rise and injury would result. According to his calculations, the ‘safe’ level would be 10 milliwatts per square centimetre (mW/cm 2 ).

This level was adopted provisionally by the Department of Defence in 1955, and Knauf got the go- ahead to fund a series of animal experiments to verify Schwan’s calculations.

One of the researchers funded was Solomon Michaelson at the University of Rochester, who used beagle dogs as a test animal, and, "in a revolting series of experiments, he literally cooked dogs alive with NIEMR at levels of 50 to 100mW/cm 2 ". He recorded burns, fluid oozing from the brain and eyes and body temperatures rising to 106-108F.

Other investigators confirmed Michaelson’s work. Gross acute effects had been observed at NIEMR levels only slightly above the safety limit set by Schwan. There was not one instance of an experiment funded by the programme that was conducted at power densities below the limit. In other words, non-thermal effects were never investigated.

Schwan was subsequently appointed chair of a committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), whose goal was to set a NIEMR limit or industry. It came as no surprise that ANSI accepted Schwan’s position and 10mW/cm 2 became the "safe" level for such industries as radar and radio and others whose employees would be exposed to electrical equipment.

Over the next twenty years, Schwan published dozens of papers and gave hundreds of lectures, which culminated in his election to the National Academy of Engineering.

What Schwan said in most of his papers was that there were no known biological effects of NIEMR below 10mW/cm 2 . There were in fact such reports, particularly from the former Soviet Union, that were never acknowledged by Schwan. Schwan’s limit came solely from calculations based on non- biological models, or dead tissues; and all subsequent experiments were simply rationalisations of it, as Marino pointed out.

Michaelson, too, declared that so long as NIEMR levels were below Schwan’s limit, they were completely safe. He was especially critical of Soviet scientists who found non-thermal effects below that threshold, and had set safety limits far more stringent that that in the US. He said that the harm done to industry and the military from such stringent limits would outweigh any proposed public- health benefit.

In 1965, the safe exposure limit set for the general public in Czechoslovakia was in the range of microwatts/cm 2 , ie, a thousand times smaller than that in the United States.

Michaelson’s public declarations brought him many important appointments to committees of the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, President’s Office of Telecommunication Policy, Electric Power Research Institute, etc.

Both Schwan and Michaelson were to be major witnesses on behalf of industry against Marino and Becker.

It turns out that in the mid-1960s, the power industry in the US had already obtained copies of Soviet studies on the biological effects of NIEMR from powerlines. The American Electric Power Company (AEP), one of the largest in the US, commissioned a study by scientists in Johns Hopkins University, the results of which were released in 1967. In a survey involving 11 linemen, two were found with reduced sperm count. In a second study, mice exposed to NIEMR were not harmed, but their offspring, which were not exposed, were stunted. No more follow-up studies were carried out, and request by the John Hopkins team for further funding was turned down.

At an international conference on high-voltage powerlines in Paris in 1972, Soviet engineers announced for the first time to the West that they had performed investigations on the effects of NIEMR on workers and concluded they needed protective clothing. They reported reduced sexual potency and adverse effects on the central nervous system, the heart and circulatory system.

The power industry released translations of the Soviet reports, which were prefaced by Howard Barnes, an engineer for AEP involved in the John Hopkins studies. The Soviet scientists had studied hundreds of linemen, compared to the 11 in the American study. And while the American study involved only physical examinations, the Soviets had performed psychological and neurological tests as well.

But Barnes, in his introduction, invoked an argument that’s all too familiar in the current GM debate. He pointed out that there were then 500 000 miles of high-voltage lines in the US, and there wasn’t a single report, not one confirmed case, of anyone being killed or made ill by the NIEMR

from such lines, so they must be safe.

As in the case of GM food, that statement was based on there having been no studies on the effects of living near the power lines.

The story that unfolded makes riveting reading. Research findings were suppressed and falsified. Important scientific witnesses failed to turn up or were not contactable. Committees were stacked with industry-friendly scientists.

Marino, Becker and citizens won in the end, at tremendous personal costs to themselves. They prevented one of the two big power lines from being built, and the company that built the first announced it would not build another 765 000 volt line.

Most revealing in the entire episode was the way Schwan defended the indefensible orthodoxy. He denied all scientific evidence that went against his a priori calculation based on the ‘known laws of physics’ and the utterly false assumption that the living organism was to be regarded as no different from dead or inanimate matter.

As Marino wrote, "

weeds in the garden of known physical laws. Because the know laws did not predict the results of the studies, Schwan’s reaction was to denigrate them, rather than assume that there existed unknown laws, or unknown interpretation of known laws "

Schwan was not alone, the scientific establishment had thrown its weight behind his position until it became untenable. But there has been little change in scientific outlook since.

To this day, the ‘safe’ exposure limits recommended by the international authority, International Committee for Non-Ionising Radiation (ICNIRP) take no account of non-thermal effects, despite the mounting evidence of health hazards from such effects.

By the 1980s, Marino could already point to the studies reporting NIEMR links to depression and suicides in England, to cancers in both children and adults in Colorado in the United States. Housewives in Oregon who lived in houses with radiant electric heating were subject to increased cancer risk. In Sweden, a correlation was reported between cancer in juveniles and proximity to high-voltage power lines in the Stockholm area. A cluster of rare and lethal ovarian tumours was found in five young girls living near a 69 000 volt line in Florida.

Similar association between NIEMR and cancer was reported in Wichita, Kansas. Men and women living in counties containing cities near Air Force bases were more likely to get cancer than people in similar counties not located near Air Force bases.

Finally, a correlation between electric blankets and miscarriages was also reported.

Successive reports since then, including the latest from the UK National Radiological Protection Board that accepts the links to childhood leukaemia, stops short of drawing any firm conclusions because of the absence of "any proven biological mechanisms".


seemed to view the studies [reporting non-thermal NIEMR effects] as

Mobile Phones & Cancer

In October, 2002, cell biologist Fiorenzo Marinelli and his team at the National Research Council in Bologna, Italy, reported that radio waves from mobile phones could promote the growth of cancer cells.

The team exposed leukaemia cells to 900-megahertz radio waves at a power density level of 1 milliwatt per squared centimetre (mW/cm 2 ).

After 24 hours of continuous exposure to the radio waves, the researchers found that certain ‘suicide genes’ were turned on in far more leukaemia cells than in a control cell population that had not been exposed, and 20 per cent more exposed cells had died than in the controls.

But after 48 hours exposure to the radio waves, the apparently lethal effect of the radiation went into reverse. Instead of more cells dying, the exposed cells were replicating furiously compared to the controls. Three genes that trigger cells to multiply were turned on in a high proportion of the cells. The cancer, although briefly beaten back, had become more aggressive.

Marinelli presented the results at the International Workshop on Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on the Greek island of Rhodes.

He suspects that the radiation may initially damage DNA, and that this interferes with the biochemical signals in a way that ultimately triggers the cells to multiply more rapidly.

Meanwhile, a research team in the University of Florence reported that normal human skin fibroblasts, placed over an active cell phone for 1 h, also showed significant changes. The fibroblasts shrivelled up, and several genes indicative of stress response became expressed, that are involved in cell proliferation, growth inhibition and cell death. There was a significant increase in DNA synthesis and in key molecules that signal cell division. These findings are similar to those reported earlier from yet another laboratory.

Dariusz Leszczynski at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Helsinki found that one-hour exposure to mobile phone radiation caused cultured human cells to shrink.

Leszczynski believes this happens when a cell is damaged. In a person, such changes could destroy the ‘blood-brain barrier’ that normally prevents harmful substances in the bloodstream from entering the brain and damaging it.

Radiation-induced changes in the cells could also interfere with normal cell death when the cell is damaged. If cells that are ‘marked’ to die do not, tumours can form.

This research is particularly important, Leszczynski said, because it demonstrates that mobile phone radiation too weak to heat up the cells can still affect them.

David de Pomerai, molecular toxicologist at the University of Nottingham, provided the first clear evidence on such non-thermal effects of mobile phone radiation. He found that nematode worms exposed to radio waves had an increase in fertility - the opposite effect from what would be expected from heating.

De Pomerai also insisted that a consensus is emerging that electromagnetic waves such as those used in mobile phones can indirectly damage DNA by affecting its repair system without heating the cell. "Cells with unrepaired DNA damage are likely to be far more aggressively cancerous," he said.

Non-thermal effects due to weak electromagnetic radiation are at the heart of the debate on the health hazards of mobile phones and other electrical installations in the environment.

These recent results should be seen in the light of the report released in March 2002 by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), which concluded that children exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation in the home could be doubling their risk of leukaemia (see "Electromagnetic fields double leukaemia risk". This series).

One doesn’t have to be a cell-phone user to become exposed to the radiation. You could be living near a base-station that’s beaming the radio waves at you (see Box 1). Or you could be exposed as a passenger on a crowded train full of mobile phone users.

Tsuyoshi Hondou, a physicist from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, currently working at the Curie Institute in Paris, calculated that in a typical Japanese railway carriage with mobile phone users surfing the net, the radio waves rebounding from the metal wall of the carriage would give an

electromagnetic field that could exceed the maximum exposure level recommended by the International Committee for Non-Ionising Radiation (ICNIRP), even when the train is not crowded.

Hondou’s calculations show that it is possible to exceed ICNIRP exposure limit if 30 people, each with a mobile phone that emits radio waves at a power of 0.4 watts, all use their phones at the same time.

The ICNIRP limits have already been severely criticised for being set far too high, and are aimed at protecting people from acute heating effects only, and take no account of non-thermal effects.

An inquiry in April 2000 by the British government found no evidence of any health risks from mobile phones. But the report nevertheless recommended a precautionary approach until further evidence emerged. In particular, it suggested children should not use mobile phones excessively.

Box 1

How do mobile phones work?

Mobile telephony is based on radio communication between a portable handset and the nearest base-station. Every base-station serves a ‘cell’, varying in radius from hundreds of metres in densely populated areas to kilometres in rural areas, and is connected both to the conventional landline telephone network, and by tightly focused microwave links to neighbouring stations. As the mobile-phone user moves from cell to cell, the call is transferred from one base-station to the next without interruption.

The radio communication depends on microwaves at 900 or 1800 megahertz (MHz) (a million cycles per second) to carry voice information via small modulations of the wave’s frequency. A base-station antenna typically radiates 60W and a handset between 1 and 2 W (peak). The antenna of a handset radiates equally in all directions, but a base-station produces a beam that is much more directional. In addition, the stations have subsidiary beams called side-lobes, into which a small fraction of the emitted power is channelled. Unlike the main beam, the side-lobes are located in the immediate vicinity of the mast, and, despite their low power, the power density can be comparable with that of the main beam much further away from the mast. At 150 to 200m, the power density in the main beam near the ground level is typically tenths of microWatt/cm 2 .

A handset in operation also has a low-frequency magnetic field associated, not with the emitted microwaves, but with surges of electric current from the battery that’s necessary to implement ‘time division multiple access’, the system used to increase the number of people who can simultaneously communicate with the base-station. Every communication channel has 8 time slots (thus the average power of a handset is 1/8 of the peak values, ie, beween 0.125 and 0.25W), which are transmitted as 576 microsecond bursts. Together, the 8 slots define a frame, the repetition of which is 217 Hz. The frames transmitted by both handsets and base-stations are groups into ‘multi-frames’ of 25 by the absence of every 26 th frame. This results in an additional low frequency pulsing of the signal at 8.34Hz, which, unlike that at 217 Hz, is unaffected by call density, and is thus a permanent feature of the emission. With handsets that have an energy-saving discontinuous transmission mode (DTX), there is an even lower frequency pulsing at 2 Hz, which occurs when the user is listening but not speaking.

Thus, the fields to which users are exposed can be quite complex.

A review published in The Lancet the same year by Gerard Hyland, physicist at Warwick University, listed numerous studies over the past 30 years that showed microwaves do have a range

of non-thermal effects (see Box 1 and Box 2).

Some of the findings, such as increases in chromosome aberrations, DNA single- and double-strand breaks, promotion of cancer in cells, and in transgenic mice, are all consistent with the recent reports. Hyland is extremely critical of the current exposure limits set by the ICNIRP.

Box 2

In vitro nonthermal effects of microwaves

Elicits epileptic activity in rat brain slices in conjunction with certain drugs.

Affects cell division of yeast and on the genome conformation of E. coli.

Synchronises cell division in yeast, S. carisbergenis.

Switches on -phage and colicin synthesis in bacteria.

Alters ornithine decarboxylase activity in cultured cell line.

Reduces T lymphocyte cytotoxicity.

Increases permeability of red blood cell membrane.

Affects calcium efflux in brain cells.

Increases chromosome aberrations and micronuclei in human blood lymphocytes.

Promotes cancer synergistically with cancer-promoting drugs such as phorbol esters.

Box 3

In vivo non-thermal effects of microwaves

Causes epileptic activity in rats, in conjunction with certain drugs.

Depresses chicken immune systems (melatonin, corticosterone and IgG levels).

Increases mortality of chick embryos.

Affects brain electrochemistry (dopamine, opiates).

Increases DNA single- and double-strand breaks in rat brain.

Promotes lymphomas in transgenic mice.

Synergeistic effects with certain psychoactive drugs.

A delayed increase in spectral power density (particularly in the alpha band) corroborated in the awake EEG of adults exposed to mobile phone radiation. Influences on the asleep EEG include a shortening of rem sleep during which the power density in the alpha band increases, and effects on non-REM sleep.

Exposure to mobile phone radiation also decreases the preparatory slow potentials in certain regions of the brain and affects memory tasks.

Resting blood pressure was found to increase during exposure to radiofrequencies.

Dr Zenon Sienkiewicz, a radiation biologist at the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), told BBC News Online that there was still no hard evidence that showed mobile phones causing harm in real humans, rather than human cells in a test tube.

He said: "The bottom line is there are no known mechanisms by which mobile phone radiation can increase the risk of cancer."

Hyland disagrees. He points out that mobile phone radiation has been found to affect a wide variety of brain functions - such as electrical activity (EEG) electrochemistry and the permeability of the blood/brain barrier - and to undermine the immune system.

Although the precise mechanisms are unclear, Hyland pointed to an "undeniable consistency between some of these non-thermal influences and the nature of many of the health problems reported", such as headache, sleep disruption, impairment of short term memory, increases in the frequency of seizures in some epileptic children when exposed to Base-station radiation, and of brain tumours amongst users of mobile phones.

Thus, reports of headache are consistent with the effect observed on the dopamine–opiate system of the brain, and the increase in permeability of the blood-brain barrier, both of which have been medically connected with headache. The reports of sleep disruption are consistent with the observed effect of the radiation on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and on melatonin levels; whilst memory impairment is consistent with the finding that microwave radiation targets the hippocampus. Epileptic seizures are known to be induced by visible light flashing at a certain low frequency, and there is no reason to suppose that microwave radiation, which can access the brain directly through the skull, flashing at a similar frequency, cannot cause the effect. Indeed, exposure to such microwave radiation is known to induce epileptic activity in certain animals; and there have been reports of increased seizures in some children suffering from epilepsy that were exposed to base- station radiation.

Finally, mobile phone users show statistically significant increase (by a factor of between 2 and 3) in the incidence of a rather rare kind of tumour (epithelial neuroma) on the side of the brain nearest the mobile phone.

What then is the appropriate exposure limit? Hyland points out that some experiments are indicating non-thermal thresholds for biological effects of the order of microwatt/cm 2 . Adverse effects have been reported, however, at power densities a few tenths of that value at distances of 150-200m from a typical 15m high Base-station mast and within the range of the more localised side-lobes in the immediate vicinity of a mast. Incorporating a further safety factor of 10 to allow for the possibility of long-term exposure, the power densities should not exceed 10 nanoW (billionth of a Watt)/cm 2 .

Electromagnetic Fields Double Leukemia Risks

The radiation emitted by power cables, pylons and electrical appliances in the home may be causing cancer in two children in Britain every year, according to new epidemiological evidence.

The study, commissioned by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) concluded that one in 200 British children are exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation in the home and that this could be doubling their risk of leukaemia.

Dispute over the possible links between electromagnetic fields and cancer goes back to the 1970s in the United States and before. A series of laboratory and epidemiological investigations worldwide came up with contradictory and inconclusive findings.

But the argument has dramatically shifted in favour of there being a causal link with the publication in March 2002 of the long-awaited report by a team of scientists headed by Richard Doll of the Cancer Studies Unit at Oxford. Doll is renowned for his role in proving that smoking is the principal cause of lung cancer.

The danger occurs with exposures to electromagnetic fields of 0.4 microTeslas (or 4 milliGauss) and greater, levels that the NRPB says one in 200 children in Britain - and many abroad - receive in their houses.

For comparison, the earth’s magnetic field is about 50 microTeslas. The earth’s field, which includes other natural frequencies, has been with us since life began. And many organisms are

adapted to it. Birds, for example, use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate long distances in their annual migration.

Since the discovery of electricity and the invention of radar in the 1930s, human beings have been saturating our everyday environment with a spectrum of artificial electromagnetic radiations (see Box 1), the harmful effects of which have become increasingly apparent.

Electromagnetic waves and the electromagnetic spectrum

Electromagnetic waves propagate through empty space at the speed of light, ie, 300 000 kilometres per second, and include the light that enables us to see, which vibrate at frequencies of about 10 14 cycles per second. They have both an electrical component and a magnetic component vibrating at right angles to each another.

The entire electromagnetic spectrum is extremely wide, ranging from waves that vibrate at less than one cycle per second, or one Hz (Hertz) – named after Heinrich Hertz, the German physicist who discovered electromagnetic waves in 1888 – to 10 24 Hz. The corresponding range of wavelengths – speed/frequency – is from 3 x 10 8 metres to 3 x 10 -15 metre.

Above the visible spectrum are the ultraviolet rays, X-rays and -rays, the ‘ionising’ radiations that break molecules up into electrically charged entities, and can damage DNA, causing harmful mutations.

Below the visible spectrum, are the ‘non-ionising electromagnetic radiation’ (NIEMR), emitted by electrical power stations, transmission lines, radio and TV towers, mobile phone base-stations, microwave ovens, radar, electric blankets, radios, TVs, computers, mobile phones, and other electrical appliances.

The report reveals for the first time that less than half of the exposures are due to nearby high- voltage power lines and electricity sub-stations. The remainder are probably from a combination of wiring, computers, televisions and other electrical equipment, but needs further research.

The effect is too small to have been detected in the UK Childhood Cancer Study conducted in 1999.

However it was spotted in a pooled analysis of 3,247 cases of childhood leukemia in Europe, North America and New Zealand published last year.

The report stops short of drawing any firm conclusions because of the absence of any proven biological mechanisms by which such low levels of non-ionising electromagnetic radiation can trigger cancer.

Source: "Electrical connection" by Rob Edwards and Duncan Graham-Rowe. New Scientist 6 March 2002.

The Excluded Biology

Successive reports have confirmed that electromagnetic fields too weak to cause burns and heating are linked to cancers and other illnesses. But these are still dismissed because of the presumed absence of "possible biological mechanisms" that could account for the effects. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reveals a biology that can explain the effects, but has been ignored and excluded from mainstream discourse.

There has been very little funding on research into the biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields. Investigations that are carried out encounter both methodological and conceptual hurdles. The laboratory findings have been conflicting. It is difficult to reproduce the same conditions, as ambient fields can vary from place to place and even in the same location at different times. It is difficult to control for the physiological conditions of the organisms, even if the same cell lines, the same strain of mice are used. But above all, the effects are difficult to explain in terms of known biological mechanisms.

It is true that there is nothing in mainstream mechanistic biology that would enable us to understand how electromagnetic fields below the "thermal threshold" could have any effects. That, despite the fact that consistent changes in gene expression and DNA breakages – considered to the ‘most solid’ evidence - have now been obtained (see "Mobile phones & cancer", this series).

The "thermal threshold" is usually taken to mean the level at which burning or heating occurs. But there is a more important meaning that comes from classical thermodynamics, a subject area that deals with energy transformation. Here, the "thermal threshold" refers to the small fluctuation in energy that occurs at random in a population of molecules at thermodynamic equilibrium.

Some biological effects are indeed associated with electromagnetic fields so weak that the energies in those fields are below the energy of random thermal fluctuations, and thus, according to classical physics, cannot possibly have any effect.

The big fallacy is to assume that living systems are at thermodynamic equilibrium, which they are not. Systems at thermodynamic equilibrium are devoid of organised activities or structures, such as the mixture of gases in a closed airtight container that one finds only in textbooks.

Organisms, in contrast, are open systems maintained far away from thermodynamic equilibrium by virtue of their ability to capture and store energy.

Systems full of non-equilibrium energy are excitable, ie, they need only the slightest provocation to give, at times, disproportionately large effects. Unlike typical mechanical processes where effects are proportional to, and determined by the magnitude of the force, living processes are highly non- linear and unpredictable.

The weather is an example of non-equilibrium, non-linear process. It is predictable locally in the very short-term, but not in the medium and long-term, as typical of systems exhibiting deterministic chaos. Edward Lorenz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered deterministic chaos in the 1960s while trying to write down mathematical equations that could predict the weather; only to discover that his equations said predictions are impossible.

The weather is ‘deterministic’ because one can write down equations that describe the process; but the equations give unpredictable, chaotic behaviour. The equations cannot be solved mathematically, but they can be simulated on a computer. Computer simulations clearly show that a slight perturbation, or the tiniest difference in starting conditions, and there is no telling where the system will go. This is the ‘butterfly’ effect: a proverbial butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest could affect the weather in London.

Living processes are the same. The healthy heartbeat, the electrical activities of the brain, the behaviour of ant colonies, ecosystems, and a host of other living functions, all exhibit chaotic dynamical behaviour. They tend to be quasi (almost but not quite)-periodic, the periodicities are a complex of many periods, and they can swing between different quasi-periodic states. But they are not at all random.

One can plot a ‘phase-space’ diagram of the dynamical behaviour and get weird and wonderful shapes called appropriately, ‘strange attractors’ which show there is method in the madness. The Lorenz attractor is like a pair of goggles.

We already have examples of living organisms being sensitive to very weak signals in the environment. Pesticides and other industrial poisons are associated with cancers at concentrations of

parts per billion (see ISIS Report, October 2002).

The upshot is that many of the standard statistical tools are inadequate to cope with biological behaviour. And special statistical techniques have already been borrowed from non-linear physics in order to describe and analyse biological activities. An emerging discipline of ‘dynamic diseases’ is based on detecting deviations from the chaotic dynamics of healthy biological rhythms. Heartbeat and other biological rhythms can be read in rather the way that traditional Chinese practitioners read an individual’s status of health from the person’s pulse.

Andrew Marino, a pioneer investigator of the non-thermal effects of electromagnetic fields (see "Non-thermal effects of electromagnetic field", this series), also initiated the use of statistical methods to analyse his experiments on the basis that the biological phenomena under investigation are non-linear.

The reliability of the procedure was tested using pairs of untreated controls, and by sampling a known non-linear system, such as data obtained by computer simulation of the Lorenz equations for a weather system at two different temperatures.

Marino’s team found that the untreated pairs of controls gave little or no statistical differences when analysed according to either the linear or the non-linear model. The data from the Lorenz equations, on the other hand, gave no statistically significant difference when analysed with conventional linear statistics, but gave a highly significant difference on the non-linear model.

In replicate experiments, male and female mice were exposed continuously to very weak, 60 Hz electromagnetic field for certain periods of time, and the effect on 20 immune parameters measured. They found that in all the experiment, exposure to the electromagnetic field resulted in statistically significant changes - in four to ten of the parameters - when and only when the response of the animals to the fields was analysed as if it were governed by non-linear dynamics.

Non-linear chaotic dynamics is not the only reason why weak electromagnetic fields should affect living systems.

Robert Becker, Marino’s supervisor, had done a series of experiments beginning in the 1950s showing that the body of all organisms has a Direct Current (DC) field, and that electric currents produced all over the body are involved in controlling growth and regeneration. By the 1960s, Becker had already proposed that an electrical communication system exists within all living things, and demonstrated that externally applied fields could influence the processes of growth and regeneration.

The fields and currents identified by Becker were actually found much earlier by another US biologist Harold Saxton Burr. He had proposed in the 1930s that all living things, from men to mice, from trees to seeds, are moulded and controlled by electro-dynamical fields, which he had measured and mapped extensively.

These fields are in addition to the now well-known and accepted electrical activities of the brain that can be measured as electroencephalograms (EEG) and in the pace-maker of the heart as electrocardiograms (ECG).

Electrical activities and ionic currents have also been measured in cultured cells and tissues. And the weak magnetic fields generated by current flows all over the body can now be measured non- invasively with the extremely sensitive Super Quantum Interference Device (SQUID) magnetometer. The evidence is overwhelming that electro-dynamical fields and currents are involved in intercommunication within the body. These fields and currents are connected to and correlated with the EEG and ECG that are a routine part of conventional biomedicine.

The body uses electromagnetic signals of different frequencies and extents to intercommunicate. Hence it would be surprising if external electromagnetic fields did not have an effect. As Gerard Hyland points out, electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and computers are well known to interfere with electronic medical devices such as pace-makers and telecommunication systems of

airplanes. To deny that these radiation could influence the body’s own electro-dynamical intercommunication system is irrational to say the least. He is particularly worried about the similarity of mobile phone frequencies to the major EEG frequencies such as alpha and delta waves, and frequencies that could trigger epileptic fits in people suffering from epilepsy.

Ten years ago in my laboratory, we found we could dramatically transform the global body pattern of the fruitfly larva simply by exposing the embryos within the first three hours of development for 30 min to very weak static magnetic fields. The transformation is unique and striking: the normal segmental pattern became twisted towards a helical pattern. In one instance, a completely helical larva was obtained.

These experiments were significant for the following reasons. First, they involved static magnetic fields, so only moving charges or liquid crystals in a high degree of dynamic order could have been affected. Second, the energy in the fields were well below the threshold of random thermal fluctuations, and the only way they could have an effect is if the embryos were in an excitable, non- equilibrium state. Third, the global transformations indicate that the embryos must be coherent to a high degree. It means that all the molecules in the body of the embryo must be moving together in a correlated way, which incidentally also increased its sensitivity to weak fields.

We have repeated and extended these experiments, which suggested that the effects of weak electromagnetic fields on body pattern formation is non-classical. In other words, it suggested that the embryo is quantum coherent.

We have since obtained further evidence of the global coherence that exists in living organisms. The molecules are moving together so perfectly that the entire body appears liquid crystalline (see "What Barrier?" ISIS Report November 2002).

This new biology that I have sketched out, that enables us to understand, not only the sensitivity of organisms to weak electromagnetic fields, but also the holistic health practices of many cultural traditions, is being systematically ignored and excluded from mainstream discourse, while we continue to be poisoned with a range of environmental pollutants and by the ‘side-effects’ of drugs from conventional reductionist mechanistic medicine.