Scientists call for action on radiation risks from mobile phones and wifi devices

Last week a global group of 190 scientists issued an international appeal, calling on the UN Secretary General and UN member states to address the risks of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields, which include radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas and smart meters.

The scientists included Dr. Charles Teo, a prominent neurosurgeon at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, who founded the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and publicly addressed the US Congress as part of US President Barack Obama’s vision to explore and map the human brain. Dr Teo has publicly warned that exposure to radiation should be minimised.

The action by the scientists comes on the back of the listing by the World Health Organisation of radiation from mobile phones as a possible carcinogen. The number of scientific studies showing links between radiation and a range of biological impacts – including cancer – continues to grow. The insurance industry refuses to provide insurance coverage against health impacts of radiofrequency radiation exposure. Why is it that so little is being done by governments to address the risks from the growing proliferation of radiation devices?

A small number of MPs have spoken up against the dangers of radiofrequency radiation with Greens Senator Scott Ludlum the most prominent, but they have been met with a wall of opposition from Labor and the Coalition.

It is hard not to conclude that governments themselves are conflicted. Governments receive significant revenues from the auction of spectrum and many government authorities also receive income from rent of public spaces for mobile phone towers. Governments may also face future legal claims for authorising the use of radiation exposure.

The risks from radiofrequency radiation are growing. NBN towers are now being installed across the country, with locals fighting to stop the installation of towers next to schools. Public education has become flooded with radiation. Every child in Victoria’s public education system is exposed to routers that have the capacity to simultaneously download content for a whole class on ipads and wireless devices.

When we look at the scientists that have joined together to raise the risk of radiofrequency radiation exposure, what we see is a lack of commercial self interest. These scientists are not funded by the corporate sector and indeed face the risk of campaigns against them if they speak up publicly – as Dr Teo has experienced first-hand.

Nevertheless they have the courage to speak out.

What we need is the courage to listen.

A full transcript of the scientists’ international appeal follows:

To: His Excellency Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Honorable Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, U.N. Member States

Scientists call for Protection from Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Exposure

We are scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF). Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices. These include–but are not limited to–radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF).

Scientific basis for our common concerns

Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.

These findings justify our appeal to the United Nations (UN) and, all member States in the world, to encourage the World Health Organization (WHO) to exert strong leadership in fostering the development of more protective EMF guidelines, encouraging precautionary measures, and educating the public about health risks, particularly risk to children and fetal development. By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the preeminent international public health agency.

Inadequate non-ionizing EMF international guidelines

The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) established in 1998 the “Guidelines For Limiting Exposure To Time-Varying Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields (up to 300 GHz)”[1]. These guidelines are accepted by the WHO and numerous countries around the world. The WHO is calling for all nations to adopt the ICNIRP guidelines to encourage international harmonization of standards. In 2009, the ICNIRP released a statement saying that it was reaffirming its 1998 guidelines, as in their opinion, the scientific literature published since that time “has provided no evidence of any adverse effects below the basic restrictions and does not necessitate an immediate revision of its guidance on limiting exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields[2]. ICNIRP continues to the present day to make these assertions, in spite of growing scientific evidence to the contrary. It is our opinion that, because the ICNIRP guidelines do not cover long-term exposure and low-intensity effects, they are insufficient to protect public health.

The WHO adopted the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of extremely low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF) in 2002[3] and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in 2011[4]. This classification states that EMF is a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B). Despite both IARC findings, the WHO continues to maintain that there is insufficient evidence to justify lowering these quantitative exposure limits.

Since there is controversy about a rationale for setting standards to avoid adverse health effects, we recommend that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) convene and fund an independent multidisciplinary committee to explore the pros and cons of alternatives to current practices that could substantially lower human exposures to RF and ELF fields. The deliberations of this group should be conducted in a transparent and impartial way. Although it is essential that industry be involved and cooperate in this process, industry should not be allowed to bias its processes or conclusions. This group should provide their analysis to the UN and the WHO to guide precautionary action.

Collectively we also request that:

1.children and pregnant women be protected;
2.guidelines and regulatory standards be strengthened;
3.manufacturers be encouraged to develop safer technology;
4.utilities responsible for the generation, transmission, distribution, and monitoring of electricity maintain adequate power quality and ensure proper electrical wiring to minimize harmful ground current;
5.the public be fully informed about the potential health risks from electromagnetic energy and taught harm reduction strategies;
6.medical professionals be educated about the biological effects of electromagnetic energy and be provided training on treatment of patients with electromagnetic sensitivity;
7.governments fund training and research on electromagnetic fields and health that is independent of industry and mandate industry cooperation with researchers; disclose experts’ financial relationships with industry when citing their opinions regarding health and safety aspects of EMF-emitting technologies; and
9.white-zones (radiation-free areas) be established.


Investor response to Four Corners Slaving Away Program should be to advocate for legislation

Four Corners’ Slaving Away program has lifted the lid on the way over 150,000 workers on 457 visas are being ruthlessly exploited to deliver fruit and vegetables to our dinner tables.

The program reveals that for many Australia is not the “Lucky Country” but a place where the basic entitlement of fair work for fair pay does not exist . The fact that Australia has become a home of such practices should be a national shame.

For investors there is no question that this is an issue that we should engage on.

But what should we do?

Writing letters to Coles, Woolworths and other supermarket chains is an obvious action, but letter writing will not put the sustained pressure that will result in a change of behaviour.

My view is that investors should be advocating for legislation modelled on the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, which was passed through California’s Senate in October 2010, becoming law on January 1 2012.

The law requires all retailers and manufacturers with annual global revenues of more than $100 million that do business in California to disclose information about their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their direct supply chains where they make tangible goods for sale.

Businesses are required to publicly post information on their websites describing the extent to which they engage in the following:

Verification: Verify product supply chains to evaluate and address risks of human trafficking and slavery;

Auditing: Perform supplier audits to evaluate compliance with company standards;

Certification: Require certification by direct suppliers that materials incorporated into company products comply with the laws regarding slavery and human trafficking of the country or countries in which they are doing business;

Internal Accountability: Maintain internal accountability standards and procedures for employees or contractors that fail to meet company standards on slavery and trafficking; and

Training: Train relevant company employees and management on human trafficking and slavery, particularly concerning the mitigation of risk within supply chains.

Legislation will provide a mechanism for investors to assess whether companies have the risk management practices in place to ensure that workers are not being exploited.

Australian investors who do not have a depth of knowledge around slavery issues should look to partner with stakeholders that do. The best is Verité, an international not-for-profit consulting, training, and research NGO which works to ensure that people around the world work under safe, fair, and legal conditions.

According to Verité, “it is impossible to identify the hidden and insidious abuses of human trafficking and forced labour unless a company examines all aspects of workers’ employment, from the moment of recruitment to on-site employment, across the entire supply chain. If companies are serious about eradicating trafficking and forced labour, they must also look beyond their first-tier suppliers to ensure that businesses deep in their supply chains are mirroring their own commitments”.

The South Australian Government this week announced a parliamentary inquiry in response to Four Corners’ program. The inquiry provides a clear mechanism for investors to advocate solutions. By working together we have the capacity to change individuals’ lives.

Four Corners Slaving Away

Compliance is Not Enough: Best Practices in Responding to The California Transparency in Supply Chains Act

Click to access VTE_WhitePaper_California_Bill657FINAL5.pdf

My brush with Customs on Drugs, Indonesian executions and what it all means for investors

The executions of Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in Indonesia are a tragedy with implications for investors.

The story of Filipina drug courier Mary Jane Veloso, who was scheduled to be executed but received a late minute reprieve after her alleged recruiter turned herself into police in Philippines, should concern everyone.

My own experience with Australian Customs occurred in when I travelled to South Korea for the UN Principles for Responsible Investment’s second annual conference in 2008.

At the time I had been working for the Secretariat of the PRI. Because the PRI was in its infancy and had very few resources, the PRI team stayed at a back packer hostel in Seoul.

When I checked into my room I was pleasantly surprised that it was a good size and had everything I needed. I saw some white powder on the floor and assumed it must be make-up from a previous occupant. I thought nothing more of it.

Over the next couple of days I ran around the PRI Conference, staying up late and only coming back to the room to sleep. I would throw my old clothes on the floor, gathering them all up in my bag at the end of my brief stay.

Flying back into Australia I was glad to be home. As the Customs dog sniffed my bag I didn’t blink an eyelid. I was then called across for a bag examination. The Customs official went through everything in my bag, pulling out toys I had bought for the kids and examining my note book for my scrawling.

After a while he said to me “you are probably wondering why we are doing this.” Actually to be honest I hadn’t, I just thought it was a standard check. He then told me that my bag had come up with drug traces.

At this news my heart raced and it was only then that the powder in the back packer hostel took on a new, more sinister meaning.

I am glad to say that Australian Customs accepted by explanations and I was able to head home – but what would have happened if I had been in another country?

In Australia we take for granted that we have a justice system and rule of law that provides us with protections. In the case of Mary Jane Veloso, her life was put at stake because she was duped by a drug courier, who only confessed when the guilt that her actions were going to be responsible for the taking of a life became too much to bear.

So what does this all have to do with investors?

Actually a lot.

One of the biggest conversations that is occurring in the investment world at the moment is how do we meet the needs of retirees in a low yield environment.

Investment returns are certainly likely to be lower in the coming years in the developed world, but the developing world offers great opportunities. The rise of Africa, South America and South East Asia are all mega-trends we have heard about, and they should create long term investment opportunities. For insurers in Europe whose business model is under threat due to low yielding bonds, developing countries offer a solution as they do for Australian investors seeking a comfortable retirement.

Standing in the way of these returns is the justice systems of developing countries. A lack of confidence in the rule of law is one of the major reasons why institutional investors baulk at investing in developing countries.

The tragic irony of the story of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan is that drugs were freely available in prison, and the local police continue to play a large role in drug trafficking. The lesson for investors out of this week’s tragic events is to highlight how important justice systems are to investment. They provide the foundation upon which investment can then be built with confidence.

The global need to find higher yielding investments should provide strong incentives for investors to support collaborations that are designed to increase the transparency of justice systems around the world. This is not just someone else’s problem, it is also our problem.