Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 5:01 pm on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Scottish National Party, Linlithgow and East Falkirk 5:01 pm, 25th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I thank Tonia Antoniazzi for securing this debate and for the interesting comments she made about electro-sensitivity, highlighting the issue of the 5G roll-out, in particular with relation to electromagnetic fields. As she pointed out, 5G operates on different frequencies and with much higher ranges than those we have seen before with previous roll-outs.

Of course, exposure to electromagnetic fields is not new, but due to technological advances it is now far more common for people to be exposed to man-made electromagnetic fields than it ever was in our parents’ time or our grandparents’ time. In recent decades, we have seen the public becoming concerned about potential health issues involving numerous electromagnetic field sources, ranging from overhead power lines to computer or TV screens in the home, as well as from radars, microwave ovens and mobile phones, to name just a few other sources.

Of course there are some significant differences between these sources. With some of them, people can self-select to take a precautionary effect: we do not need to have a microwave in our home; we can limit our mobile use; and we do not need to have a TV screen in our bedroom. With other sources, such as overhead power lines or telephone masts, people are pretty much stuck with them if they are outside their home. It is different with those sources.

The evidence so far seems to show that electromagnetic fields do not have detrimental health impacts. However, more research is always being undertaken, which is especially important as the technology changes and the frequencies involved change—that point has been made by a number of hon. Members. There is current research on the effects of the long-term use of mobile phones. The World Health Organisation has said that, as yet:

“No obvious adverse effect of exposure to low level radiofrequency fields has been discovered.”

However, as has been pointed out, the frequencies of the new 5G technology are significantly higher than those used before, and therefore the research into that new technology is somewhat different than earlier research.

Over the years, the WHO has identified some “25,000 articles” on electromagnetic fields that

“have been published over the past 30 years.”

The WHO says of that body of scientific knowledge—indeed, it is undoubtedly the case—that

“scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.”

However, the WHO also says that there are still

“some gaps in knowledge about biological effects” and so there is a need for “further research”.

The European Union Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks published a lengthy report in 2015—that is not so long ago in terms of years, but in terms of technology it is almost a generation ago. That committee’s final opinion was:

“The results of current scientific research show that there are no evident adverse health effects if exposure remains below the levels recommended by the EU legislation. Overall, the epidemiological studies on radiofrequency EMF exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumours. Furthermore, they do not indicate an increased risk for other cancers of the head and neck region.

Previous studies also suggested an association of EMF with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. New studies on that subject did not confirm this link.

Epidemiological studies associate exposure to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields, from long-term living in close proximity to power lines to a higher rate of childhood leukaemia. No mechanisms have been identified and no support from experimental studies could explain these findings, which, together with shortcomings of the epidemiological studies, prevent a causal interpretation.

Concerning EMF hypersensitivity…research consistently shows that there is no causal link between self-reported symptoms and EMF exposure.”

The evidence is a little conflicted, but we would definitely benefit from having further evidence.

The role of the Government when it comes to the effects of electro-magnetic fields is to ensure that policy is supported by the latest scientific research, so I do not envy the Government in considering the opposing research that has been published. According to the WHO, the heating effect of electromagnetic fields is the current focus of guidelines and regulation. The WHO has said that, to date, no adverse health effect from low-level, long-term exposure to radio frequency or power frequency fields has been confirmed. However, that is not to say that research into the effects of prolonged low-level exposure to these fields should not continue. We must always make sure that the policy is expertise-led.

With the seemingly exponential increase in the rate of technological innovation, the regulation and monitoring of the effects of these technologies on our health needs to continue. However, we must bear in mind not only the physiological impact of technology but the psychological impact of huge amounts of screen time, which can affect mood and sleep, which in turn can have an impact on mental health. This psychological impact must also continue to be monitored.

In conclusion, I concur with the hon. Member for Gower on the need for independent research into the 5G technology, because without public confidence in and understanding of that technology, we will all be faced with many people campaigning against it when it comes into their areas, and we need to know the answers now, before the technology is rolled out.