Leading expert on wireless radiation biological effects calls for stronger exposure limits in new research review
On April 19, Dr. Henry Lai and B. Blake Levitt published an extensive review of the research
on the biological effects of wireless radiation which calls for stronger limits on radio frequency radiation exposure to protect human health. According to their paper, governments should adopt a maximum full-body Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of 1.65 milliwatts per kilogram which is 48 times lower than the current wireless exposure limits that allow the public to be exposed to a full-body SAR of 80 milliwatts per kilogram. The paper was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine .
is professor emeritus at the University of Washington. In his long research career he has focused on the biological effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields and their possible medical applications with research end points covering molecular biology, neurochemistry, behavior, and cancer treatment. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed research papers.
B. Blake Levitt is an award-winning journalist who has specialized in medical and science writing for three decades. She has researched the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation since the late 1970’s. She is the editor/contributing author of Cell Towers, Wireless Convenience? or Environmental Hazard? Proceedings of the “Cell Towers Forum” State of the Science/State of the Law
as well as Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer’s Guide To The Issues And How To Protect Ourselves. https://www.blakelevitt.com/
Henry Lai, B. Blake Levitt. The roles of intensity, exposure duration, and modulation on the biological effects of radiofrequency radiation and exposure guidelines. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. April, 2022. doi: 10.1080/15368378.2022.2065683.
In this paper, we review the literature on three important exposure metrics that are inadequately represented in most major radiofrequency radiation (RFR) exposure guidelines today: intensity, exposure duration, and signal modulation. Exposure intensity produces unpredictable effects as demonstrated by nonlinear effects. This is most likely caused by the biological system’s ability to adjust and compensate but could lead to eventual biomic breakdown after prolonged exposure. A review of 112 low-intensity studies reveals that biological effects of RFR could occur at a median specific absorption rate of 0.0165 W/kg. Intensity and exposure duration interact since the dose of energy absorbed is the product of intensity and time. The result is that RFR behaves like a biological “stressor” capable of affecting numerous living systems. In addition to intensity and duration, man-made RFR is generally modulated to allow information to be encrypted. The effects of modulation on biological functions are not well understood. Four types of modulation outcomes are discussed. In addition, it is invalid to make direct comparisons between thermal energy and radiofrequency electromagnetic energy. Research data indicate that electromagnetic energy is more biologically potent in causing effects than thermal changes. The two likely function through different mechanisms. As such, any current RFR exposure guidelines based on acute continuous-wave exposure are inadequate for health protection.
“Over the last 25–30 years, significant information has been published that in other regulated areas would have resulted in re-examination and adjustments to allowable exposure limits. This has not been the case with these two groups [the FCC and ICNIRP] which adhere to a model based on obsolete scientific evidence, especially in light of the new 5G network that uses higher frequencies and novel modulation forms that have never been used before in broad civilian telecommunications and which are poorly studied.”
“RFR effects have been observed at low intensities (< 0.4 W/kg) – a list of which is included in Supplement 1 – far below the guidelines. This points to both the nonlinearity of how living systems couple with nonionizing radiation as well as the inadequacy of acute thresholds. The studies encompass many different biological effects to myriad systems, including: apoptosis induction, adrenal gland activity, blood–brain barrier permeability, brain transmitter levels, calcium concentration in heart muscle, calcium efflux, calcium movement in cells, cell growth, cognitive functions, cellular damage in liver, decreased cell proliferation, embryonic development, endocrine changes, enolose activity, genetic effects, hippocampal neuronal damage, immunological functions, kidney development, memory functions, latency of muscular contraction, membrane chemistry, nerve cell damage, metabolic changes, neural electrical activity, oxidative stress, plant growth, prion level, protein changes, renal injury, serum testosterone concentration, heat-shock protein induction, testis morphology, testosterone synthesis, thymidine incorporation, and ultrastructural alteration in cell cytoplasm. In fact, there are not many physiological functions in humans, animals, or plants that are not affected by low-level RFR.”
“As reflected in Supplement 1, SARs at which effects were observed were available from 112 studies. Of these, 75 (67%) were in vivo exposure studies with whole body/organ SARs available. The other 37 (33%) studies were in vitro experiments…. The level at which biological effects occur represents data from in vivo and in vitro and acute and chronic/repeated-exposure experiments. There is a very wide range of effects seen. With an exposure that induces a SAR of 0.0165 W/kg, and using a ten-fold protection, the SAR would be 0.00165 W/kg (i.e., 1.65 mW/kg). For rate of energy absorption in body organs, 0.00165 W/kg is far below the maximum level allowed in the guidelines (whether over 1 or 10 gm of tissue as per FCC/ICNIRP allowances). Given the large body of work as illustrated in Supplement 1, the SAR at, or below, 4 W/kg as a safe threshold is insupportable.”
“The duration of exposure is another important factor in biological effects. Other than demarcations for whole body exposures averaged over 30 minutes and local body areas averaged over 6 minutes, neither FCC nor ICNIRP address duration, especially pertaining to long-term and low-level RFR exposures. These are prevalent in both near-field exposures to people with WiFi routers, for example, as well as cell phones, and far-field exposures from infrastructure that have created chronic rising ambient background levels (Levitt et al. 2021a). The guidelines are written only for short-term acute durations…. What we do know is that the supposition that all exposures are the same above and below the SAR threshold set by FCC/ICNIRP is fundamentally flawed in light of the most current research. One feasible and logical solution to such uncertainties regarding duration as an exposure factor would be to adopt an SAR level commensurate with the studies summarized in Supplement 1 at no higher than 0.00165 W/kg, no matter the exposure conditions.”
“It is generally believed that modulated RFR is more biologically active than continuous-wave (CW) radiation, i.e., the carrier-wave. To understand the biological and possible hazardous health effects of RFR, it is therefore important to understand modulation effects. Below we discuss what is known about modulation from the research literature (mostly from 1990 to date) and examine the claim that modulation makes RFR more biologically significant…There is research showing no significant biological effects of CW-RFR (Table 1a) but there are also studies that reported CW-RFR effects too (Table 1b). The reason why CW-RFR produced effects in some studies but not others is unknown. Both types of studies (with “effect” and “no effect” outcomes) involved many different biological endpoints, exposure intensities, and duration of exposure – with no discernible differences. A possible explanation is that different tissue types respond differently to CW-RFR. But that just adds another level of inquiry. One of the most puzzling observations is when CW caused an effect but modulation did not (e.g., Kubinyi et al. 1996; Luukkonen et al. 2009). In some studies, a modulated field produced an effect that was not produced by CW. These observations may indicate that the CW carrier-wave itself and modulation act on different mechanisms…. Differences in responses between CW and modulated fields of the same frequency and incident power density provide strong proof that non-thermal effects occur since the two conditions should produce the same amount of heating…. Some studies reported that different frequencies of modulation caused different biological responses …. CW and modulated fields can cause the same effects but with different degrees of biological activity and intensity of reactions. In most instances, a modulated field was found to be more potent than CW versus only one study in which the opposite was reported (Persson et al. 1997)…. To add to the complexities described above, effects with modulated fields have also been shown to depend on exposure duration…. there are many studies that used intermittent exposure (e.g., 10 min ON/10 min OFF) instead of continuous exposure with the supposition that intermittent exposure is more biologically active. But not much data showed this to be true…. There are many studies using pulsed fields (i.e., mobile phone signals are pulsed), but there are not many studies that compared pulsed and CW fields of the same SAR in the same study. However, there are reports that effects only occurred with a pulsed field but not CW…. there are many studies showing effects of RFR on the hippocampus…”
“Oxidative changes and stress have been reported in many papers on exposure to electromagnetic fields (Lai 2020; Yakymenko et al. 2016). These are the most consistent cellular responses to RFR exposure. Mechanisms have been proposed to account for oxidative effects that may involve the low-frequency component of modulation (e.g., see Barnes and Greenebaum 2015; Castello et al. 2021). … But there is not enough data to conclude that modulation effects are caused by oxidative processes. In fact some effects of CW exposure alone also found changes in free radical mechanisms.”
“It is important to point out as significant proof of non-thermal RFR effects that CW and modulated-waves of the same frequency and incident power density can/and do produce different effects. The bottom line is that certainty is elusive regarding precise effects in all circumstances. What is clear is that both modulation and continuous-wave RFR are biologically active and both should be considered in exposure guidelines. In situations where enough evidence exists to warrant specific caution, such as with pulsed fields used in cell phones and phased modulation with 5G, particular attention should be paid to include modulation in the guidelines beyond the suppositions of safety contained within the safety allowances. Peak exposures must also be factored in and not just the averaged values which only hide their significance.”
“It is apparent that the biological outcome of changing the intensity and duration of RFR exposure is basically unpredictable. This is mainly due to the complex nature of the biological system studied. Intensity and duration can interact and produce different response patterns as shown in the literature reviewed above.It is also apparent that how RFR modulation affects biological functions is difficult to quantify. Observed effects are multi-variant and involve many factors such as intensity, carrier frequencies and modulation, the modulation waveform itself, exposure duration, and properties of the exposed object. Not enough research data are presently available to provide an explanation or prediction of modulation effects under all circumstances. It may also turn out that modulation is of little major health concern or conversely that it is the only factor that matters – evidence is thus far too contradictory regarding modulation’s ability to consistently enhance the biological effects of carrier-waves. Then again, with most modulation forms the carrier-wave is completely altered. All of this awaits proper investigation with comparison studies. In the meantime, there are legitimate reasons for concern, given the contradictions in the literature.
In general, anthropogenic RFR – with highly unusual waveform characteristics and intensities that do not exist in the natural world – is new to the environment and thus has not been a factor in the evolution of species. Living organisms evolved over millions of years in the presence of static and extremely-low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields. These fields play critical roles in their survival, e.g., in migration, food foraging, and reproduction, etc. (see Levitt et al. 2021b). Living organisms are extremely sensitive to the presence of these environmental fields and thus, they can easily be disturbed by man-made EMF. RFR probably acts upon and modifies these primordial EMFs and affects biological functions. Interactions of static/ELF EMF and RFR are basically not well studied, not to mention the mechanisms of involvement of RFR modulations. The interactions are inevitably complex. Such interaction studies would provide answers to wildlife effects.
Regarding the perennial thermal- versus non-thermal- effects criticism inherent in human RFR exposure guidelines, it must be said that the underlying mechanisms of effects should not be a matter of concern in setting of exposure guidelines as is common today. What is important is the level at which energy absorption causes an effect. One such powerful proof – among so very many others – of non-thermal effects is evidenced in the fact that CW and modulated-waves of the same frequency and incident power density can produce different effects, as seen in the modulation section of this paper and Table 2.”
“When effects continue to be observed over a long period of time that go against prevailing beliefs, even when mechanisms remain imperfectly understood, the appropriate course of regulatory action is to examine the underlying basis upon which an original premise was formed. When proven incomplete or invalid by new information, the change in a regulatory course is not only justified but is imperative.Disproven or incomplete deductions of how RFR affects living cells and tissues, as well as suppositions of safety for exposed individuals and the environment are insupportable given the wealth of studies to draw from today that have filled in many gaps. We need to more responsibly address the increasing near- and far-field RFR exposures of contemporary life with an eye toward 5G technology’s unique characteristics. A new conceptual framework is called for.”