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Wednesday, 16 October 1996
Page: 4335

Senator ALLISON(7.35 p.m.) —The Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, said yesterday in this place:

. . . the weight of national and international scientific opinion is that there is no substantive evidence of adverse health and safety effects from radiofrequency emissions at typical levels.

What needs to be understood however is that very few studies in the so-called weight of national and international scientific opinion, which is the sort that is to be re-examined by the World Health Organisation, are relevant to the evaluation of radiofrequency exposure on the development of cancer in humans. These are not my words; they come from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. The commission stated:

Most of the established biological effects of exposure to RF fields are consistent with responses to induced heating—thermal effects—resulting in rises in tissue or body temperature of greater than one degree Celsius. Most studies examined endpoints other than cancer, many examined physiological and thermoregulatory responses, effects on behaviour and on the induction of lense opacities (cataracts) and adverse reproductive outcomes following acute exposure to relatively high levels of radiofrequency fields.

The minister failed to point out yesterday that the current research is primarily about heat effects of radiation. The minister's words also deny the fact that a growing body of work does show adverse health effects. These denials are just like the denials which we heard and still hear from the tobacco industry, and which were once heard from the proponents of the asbestos industry. The government is using the defensive words of the telecommunications industry and yet accuses those of us who want to know what is really going on of having closed minds.

The government and industry are saying, `You have not yet proved that some children are getting leukaemia as a result of living close to a TV transmitter tower. You have not yet proved that brain tumours are the result of using mobile phones and you have not yet proved that the damage electromagnetic radiation has been shown to cause human cells has ramifications for human health.' If the telecommunications carriers and others were pharmaceutical manufacturers, they would be required to prove that their products were not harmful to human health. They would not expect the research to be done after millions of people had already used their product.

The telecommunications industry says we should be reassured because the technology meets Australian standards. A CSIRO report entitled `Radiofrequency radiation exposure standards in Australia and New Zealand: biological effects, part 1' raises concerns about potential adverse health effects of long- term, low-level, chronic exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

It says some of the effects which have emerged include: promotion of cancer growth, including leukaemia, breast cancer and brain tumours; degenerative changes in the retina, cornea and iris of the eye; changes in brain chemistry and drug effectiveness; impaired learning and memory function. It also says extremely low levels of radiofrequency radiation—that is, thousands of times less than the safety limits given in the US and Australian standards—have promoted cancer and birth defects in animal experiments.

Studies have been done and are currently under way by independent researchers who do not have to adopt a defensive stand—studies which have been criticised by an industry which has a great deal to lose if the preliminary findings are any indication of what we might find.

Dr Peter French, head of immunology at St Vincents Hospital in Sydney, has commenced laboratory testing of human cell culture and found that electromagnetic radiation causes changes to genetic make-up. Gene transcription—the way in which genes are activated to form different cell types—is affected by exposure. Some DNA expression is turned on and some is turned off by exposure to electromagnetic radiation. He has also found that proteinaceous water in the body in places such as the eyeballs and surrounding the brain is affected by electromagnetic radiation. Dr French says it is possible that headaches associated with mobile phones are likely to be caused by the exposure of blood vessels. He regards this as fundamental and important work, but I remind the Senate that there is presently no funding to continue his research.

Dr Bruce Hocking undertook an epidemiological study last year and found that, within four kilometres of a television transmitter tower in a residential area of Sydney, rates of childhood leukaemia were 60 per cent higher than in another area away from the tower, and mortality rates from the illness were 100 per cent higher. More work needs to be done to expand the study and look, for instance, at impacts on adults as well as children.

The same researcher invited responses from mobile phone users who experienced effects from their use of mobile phones. More than 50 complained about a range of consistent symptoms, including headaches, numbness, aching jaw and hot spots in the head. For very many these symptoms disappeared when they stopped using their mobiles.

These studies do not prove that brain tumours are caused by mobile phones or mobile phone towers—very far from it. They merely alert us to the fact that we do not know. They say we must be cautious, we must adopt the precautionary principle and we must do more research—research which is independent, not research which merely confirms what the industry would hope to find.

I finish by noting the remarks of Senator Boswell this afternoon in the Telstra debate. He said, `I think that the Democrats are fools to have promoted recommendation No. 35 of the report of the inquiry, which proposes that a levy be raised from contributors responsible for electromagnetic radiation to finance independent research into public health issues concerning EMR.' Quite obviously, he has not caught up with Senator Alston's announcement yesterday that $4.5 million would pay for such research over the next four years and that it would be funded by increases on industry licences. I will see that Senator Boswell gets a copy of the press release shortly.