Australian government’s $2.5 million mobile phone research plans unveiled
The chief investigator in charge of $2.5million of federal government research funding to look into the possible health impacts of mobile phone signals has outlined the areas his new Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) plans to cover over the next five years.
Professor Rodney Croft, head of the newly created Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR), told the annual Science and Wireless conference in Melbourne last November, their group of Australian and international researchers would undertake a broad range of studies on the effects of Radio Frequencies (RF).
“Essentially what we are doing is trying to push ahead the research in this area - to try and identify that if there are any issues to do with electromagnetic radiation - that we know about them,” Prof Croft said.
“We will address the World Health Organization research agenda in this area, which covers a whole range of research areas, including mobile phone usage and possible links with conditions like cancer and Alzheimer's disease.”
“We have quite a strong Dosimetry platform – looking at what sort of exposures people are experiencing in the community… right through to some medical applications this time as well, trying to use some of the knowledge we’re gaining from trying to understand whether RF may be damaging to people and turning it around to see if we can help people.”
Professor Croft said a number of studies would begin this year including an investigation of Australian brain cancer rates, studies on people who claim to be sensitive to mobile phone signals and a study of Australian sailors exposed to radar signals on navy ships.
He said initially the group planned to conduct a study comparing Australian brain cancer rates with mobile phone subscription rates and would then dig deeper into the statistics to look for a link with different types of tumours.
“Although there are a lot of limitations to brain cancer incidence trend studies, we do agree with the WHO that it is a very cost-effective way of checking things,” Prof Croft said.
Professor Croft said another major study the group would undertake would be to assess the high RF exposure levels of sailors on Australian Navy ships to determine if there is a relationship with occupational levels of exposure and cancer rates.
“Given that there is debate for instance about whether low level radio frequency emissions, within the general public limit, may cause cancer, and if we are to assume some sort of dose response, then we would expect a stronger relationship within a population that has very high levels, that is consistently being exposed to occupational levels of radio frequency emissions,” Prof Croft said.
The centre will also carry out studies on people who claim to be electro-hypersensitive and Prof Croft said that although there is currently no evidence that radio frequency emissions play a role in these people’s symptoms, it was important to identify what the cause may be.
“Personally I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest this should be a high priority except for that fact that regardless of what is causing it this is a huge problem for people, Prof Croft said.
“Whatever is causing it, the disability is huge and we need to determine what is causing it one way or another.”
Some of the other research areas to be covered include: neurophysiology studies to look at the effect on human brain electrical activity from low level RF signals, studies to identify if there are any other possible mechanisms than heating from RF that can affect the human body and studies on the reproductive functions from RF exposure.
Prof Croft said they will also look at risk communication and the effect of precautionary messages on the public’s perception of mobile phone technology health risks.
In an interview at the science and wireless conference, Prof Croft also addressed concerns about the independence of the new centre and the source of their funding from the Australian telecommunications industry.
“It is true that the government does put a tax on the telecommunications industry to get money to spend on research, but that money goes to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), its independently allocated according to competitive grant rounds, that really are as independent as anything could be,” Prof Croft said.
“There is no requirement for any of the research to relate to anything that the original tax related to. It really just comes down to the WHO have proposed a research agenda in 2010, the NHMRC have arranged a number of quite eminent researchers to independently to evaluate competitive proposals… It really is completely independent.”