Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 4:35 pm on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower 4:35 pm, 25th June 2019

We need to apply the precautionary principle when we look at anything. Many councils and the Government have embraced 5G, which has come up on us so quickly, as a solution to connectivity. To be honest, given the potential impact, I would rather see fibre broadband—fixed, wired broadband—in all the houses in my constituency and across Wales, rather than having masts put up everywhere just because that seems to be a cheaper solution.

I will not accept the response that electrosensitivity does not exist; studies show that it does. It has many effects that are not at all subjective, including effects on proteins and DNA, cell death, altered brain activity and effects in animals, as my hon. Friends have mentioned. Those effects can be measured, and they cannot be dismissed as being all in the mind.

We all know that decisions relating to technology can have unintended consequences. We are discussing one such consequence: the impact on our health. Similarly, it could be argued the effects on our mental health are being caused by online contact or screen time, but in combination with studies about animals, we can see that the signals themselves have effects. Animals do not look at screens or use social media.

In the past, no matter what questions, evidence or concerns have been put to Public Health England or the Department of Health and Social Care, they have responded with their standard reply, which includes them saying that they have thoroughly assessed the evidence in the 2012 report by the Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. The World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer classified all radio frequency signals as possible human carcinogens in 2011, based on significant increased risks of gliomas and acoustic neuromas associated with mobile or cordless phone use in humans, as well as animal and mechanistic studies. Subsequent studies have strengthened the evidence in humans and provided clear evidence of tumours in animals. Some scientists are even calling for the classification to be upgraded to a definite carcinogen.

Why, then, has Public Health England removed all mention of the IARC classification of radio frequency signals from its website? It informs people about other possible carcinogens. People cannot make informed decisions or protect those they are responsible for if the information is withheld. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that Public Health England informs people on its website and in leaflets, communications and presentations that all radio frequency signals are a possible human carcinogen?

Following the publication of a paper on the AGNIR 2012 report in Reviews on Environment Health, the AGNIR was quietly disbanded. However, the inaccurate report is still on its website and is used to justify its advice to MPs and the public. When will the 2012 report be retracted because it is scientifically inaccurate and out of date?

The Department for Education in England and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland have said that it is the responsibility of schools to carry out risk assessments before technologies are introduced and used. However, schools cannot safeguard pupils or staff through a risk assessment if they have been given inaccurate information. Can schools be accurately informed about the risks, so that they can fulfil their responsibilities to safeguard children?

Schools and parents could have been informed that wireless signals are a possible human carcinogen; that there is evidence of damage to fertility; and that there are adverse effects on brain development. Schools could have been advised to use wired technologies to prevent possible harm to children’s health and development. The EU has sent a cautionary message about wi-fi in relation to school children, but only France has removed wi-fi from its primary schools.

The Cyprus Government have produced short, practical videos warning teenagers and pregnant women about the risks of radio frequency signals and offering simple actions. When will children, young people, parents and pregnant women in the UK be offered similar advice so that they can take steps to stay safer?

By denying the existence of adverse effects and providing inaccurate information, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care have prevented the UK public from living and working in safe environments. When will the Government listen to the warnings from scientists and doctors to help MPs to better protect their constituents?

If we are to develop safer technologies in the future, we need to be honest about the risks. We must not ignore the fact that people have ES; those people exist, and their lives are being ruined. Others without ES also have genuine concerns about the roll-out of 5G. People do not need to suffer to be concerned, because the name 5G is deceptive: it implies a simple upgrade from the current 4G, or fourth generation, wireless, but it is so much more than that. It is a massive experiment, and the consequences of our actions are largely unknown.

One thing I feel very strongly about is that for people with ES there is literally no escape—they will have nowhere to go. Can we have safe public spaces and living and working environments so that everyone has somewhere to exist? That is extremely urgent, particularly with the introduction of 5G smart cities, smart roads, the internet of things and thousands of 5G satellites.

I would like the Government to give a commitment to creating white zones, where people can have respite when they need it; to pledge to provide up-to-date, transparent and independent research on the impact of electromagnetic fields; and to replace the 2012 AGNIR report. The science needs to be reviewed—no one can disagree that the technology moves on so quickly that there is even more need to keep up to date with the science.

Finally, I recently received a letter with a heartfelt request from a mum in west Wales:

“I’m told you think the only way forward is a white zone, I agree but also to get ES recognised as a disability. I have spoken with my MP and he agreed that if ES could be recognised as a disability, other things such as access to education would fall into place.”

I agree with Sarah. Her struggle is real, and so are the lives of many people who are largely ignored and belittled. Electromagnetic fields have had a dramatic impact on the life and health of my old classmate Annelie over the past 10 years. We can no longer hide and pretend that this is not happening. It cannot be swept under the carpet, especially in the light of the future impact of technological advances at the expense of people and our environment.

In conclusion, it is evident that the Government need to ensure that the research is independent. They need to recognise electrohypersensitivity as an occupational disease, as a French court did earlier this year, and put guidelines in place for employers to make reasonable adjustments so that their employees can continue to work in a healthy environment. I remember the days when we made plans to meet without mobile phones to say that we were running late or could not make it. Advances in technology have swept through our lives. Before I am accused of being a luddite, I stress that I think technology is wonderful and offers a great many benefits to all, but we cannot continue to deny that there is an impact on some people’s health and wellbeing. This is not about stopping progress; it is about making sure that there are no health concerns as a result of the technology, and about doing what is best for our constituents.