Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:12 pm, 25th June 2019

The hon. Lady is talking about risks and hazards. [Interruption.] Yes, we are talking about two different sorts of radio wave, but she said that I would not want to go in a microwave oven. I am not suggesting that I would put myself or anyone else in a microwave oven, so we are talking about hazards and risks. The best scientific evidence given to Government is that the radiation is safe, and I was going to go on to talk about the evidence that Government have used before addressing some of the points that the hon. Member for Gower raised. I apologise if I have not quite understood the point made by Carol Monaghan; I will happily discuss it with her later.

Expert groups in the UK and around the world have examined the evidence and published many comprehensive reports. In the UK, the advisory group on non-ionising radiation produced reports in 2003 and 2012. The Government have played their role in the international effort to learn more about the health effects of radio- wave exposure. They supported the dedicated mobile telecommunications and health research programme that ran from 2001 to 2012 and they continue to fund research.

A challenge in understanding the evidence is that some studies report effects, while others do not. Sophisticated analyses are needed to draw studies together, considering their strengths and weaknesses and working out what they mean collectively, which is the role of expert groups. Simply counting or listing studies that have found effects is not an adequate way of assessing where the overall evidence lies.

An expert group reporting to the European Commission delivered a review in 2015, and the World Health Organisation is currently carrying out a major review on radio waves and health, which will include studies performed over the past 25 years. Overall, those expert groups have not found any clear evidence of adverse health effects occurring if the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection exposure guidelines are followed. The ICNIRP exposure restrictions have been incorporated into a 1999 European Council recommendation on limiting public exposures to electromagnetic fields. The United Kingdom and Public Health England support that recommendation.

Since 1996, the World Health Organisation has been running an international electromagnetic field project that provides a forum for countries to gather together, discuss and share knowledge on this topic. The WHO’s main conclusion is that electromagnetic field exposures below the limits recommended in the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence for health. However, as the hon. Member for Gower and other Members have mentioned, that does not mean that people who have electrical hypersensitivity do not have symptoms. Those symptoms are real and can be very debilitating, and the Department’s guidance is that those people should seek medical advice, so that their personal situation can be taken into account and the best possible treatments found.

I will also address the points raised by many hon. Members about the effects of screen time on the mental health of children; as any parent can attest, there are some effects. The shadow Minister, Mrs Hodgson, referred to SCAMP, and the Government conduct research that looks at the effects of technologies on schoolchildren.

Exposure levels reduce very rapidly with increasing distance from transmitting antennae, which means that being in immediate proximity to the transmitting antenna of a mobile phone handset held next to the head is different from living near a base station. There is long-standing precautionary advice from Public Health England and the NHS for mobile phone users, and research is continuing. We are continually looking at the evidence and updating our advice.