9th June 1999
Protection of Health against electromagnetic Rays :
A lax recommendation by the European Ministers of Health.
On Tuesday 8th June, a Recommendation on the limits of public exposure to electromagnetic fields was adopted by the Council of European Health Ministers. This Recommendation is inadequate and of no use: inadequate because the adopted limits only cover direct thermal effects (consequently are too high to provide a high level of protection to health), and of no use because there is no way by which they can improve health protection from the current state.
Long-term harmful effects to health can appear following a permanent or long-lasting exposure to electromagnetic field intensities much less powerful than the limits recommended by the European Union. The Recommendation does not provide the guarantee of a high level of health protection unjustifiably claimed in the adopted text.
As at todays date, in the framework of the scandal of dioxine in the food chain, the Commission has shown itself to be particularly strong, demanding and unbending on the application of the Principle of Precaution. It is quite paradoxical that it should then be so lax in the application of the same principle when it comes to the protection of health against electromagnetic rays.
Finally, it must be remembered that a very large study program is underway on the behest of the WHO, particularly into potential long-term effects, and that it would have been prudent to set much tighter provisional limits in the mean time. The adopted recommendation can only deceive citizens about the protection to their health.
Harmful long-term effects
The direct and short-term thermal effects are well understood by science. To avoid any confusion, please be aware that scientific studies also show that other effects can occur in the long term, under prolonged exposure to weak electromagnetic rays. Certain studies show the effects increase the rate at which cancers (particularly leukaemia) are triggered and grow, as well as having a baneful effect on the nervous and immune systems. The European Recommendation does not take these permanent non-thermal low-level radiation exposure effects into account, on the pretext that there is as yet no absolute scientific proof of the existence of long-term effects. It is therefore refusing to apply the Principle of Precaution, which requires that these potential non-thermal effects be considered.
The Principle of Precaution
The Priinciple of Precaution is written into the Treaty of the European Union (Article 130R of the Treaty of Maastricht, 7th February 1992), as well as numerous instances of International Legislation, such as the Rio Declaration (June 1992). The Principle states that in the absence of certitude, in the light of current scientific and technical knowledge, measures must be taken without delay to prevent any risk of serious and irreversible environmental harm. This principle has been flouted at many turns, leading to the asbestos, contaminated blood, and mad cow (BSE) disasters, and todays lack of rigour which has today lead to the scandal of dioxin in the food chain.
By its slackness in not tackling the problem of electromagnetic fields, the European Union has chosen the lowest common denominator yet again, under the pretext of seeking an increase level of health protection. The question of why certain countries, notably Italy, have legislated and enforced much more restrictive limits, must be addressed. Italy is moreover firmly opposed to the European Recommendation as drafted and proposed amendments which would have met the Principle of Precaution taking the potential long-term effects into account. Why were these not followed?
High tension power lines and the GSM system
Under a power line carrying very high power, the magnetic field is 3 times lower than the recommended limit. However, studies show that harmful effects occur in exposures to an electromagnetic field 500 times lower than this European limit. As regards the microwave system used by the GSM network, the Recommendations limit is met at a distance of 4 metres from any GSM antenna. Yet to protect electronic equipment, a European Directive sets an intensity limit 200 times tighter and consequently a much larger distance. Australia, New Zealand and French scientific reports also recommend protection limits of an order of 5000 times lower than the European Unions and imply a protection distance some 70 times further than that allowed by the European Recommendation.
The Recommendations finality
This Recommendation can nonetheless be used by the industry to justify installations which can cause harm to the environment, particularly on schools, buildings and in built-up areas.
The European Parliament made numerous significant amendments on 10th March 1999, referring to the Principle of Precaution, requiring the potential long-term effects to be considered and inviting the Commission "to adapt this Recommendation before 2001, to take into account the long-term effects highlighted by the mass of relevant scientific publications, arrangements already in place in European Member States and the Principle of Precaution". The European Commission modified the text before submitting it to the Council of Health Ministers, eliminating the above amendments on the basis of a purely jurisprudential argument which appears specious to us. Moreover the text relating to the application of the Recommendation "invites the Commission to prepare a report within the next 5 years..."!!! What is the Commission aiming to achieve?