Adelaide Hospital EMF Research
There were two distinct research programs conducted together (by essentially the same team) at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (South Australia) between 1994 and 1996, followed by a third much later which sought to overturn the original cellphone finding.
- The primary research was conducted on lymphoma-prone mice which were exposed to the magnetic and electrical fields from 50 Hz mains-power. The lead researcher was Professor Basten who raised the money from local Australian energy companies.
- The second piggy-backed on the Mains power work and looked at the same mice exposed to GSM cellphone radiations. The lead reseacher was Michael Repacholi, a long-term consutant to the mobile telephone industry, who raised the money from Optus and Telstra.
- The third was led by a slightly different team (actually the animal handlers) and it was intended to re-examine the cellphone health finding. (funding source unknown)
The animals arrived progressively, and so not all were exposed at the same time. It is important that all mice come from the same genetic source, so the experimenters must wait for successive breedings. The first animals were used for the Mains Power research, but for a time both studies ran in parallel.
The Basten Mains Power study was finished first, but it had proved to be a complete mess with kidney disease seriously affecting their mice (it effected more the exposed mice than the controls).
The Repacholi Cellphone study started later and had less problems with the mice, however it turned up a significant increase in lymphoma in the exposed mice — and even more concerning — these were B-cell (Basal cell) lymphomas which were very unusual and highly disturbing. The release of information was held back for a year while the slides were sent to US laboratories for confirmation.
Releasing the information:
Despite the delays caused by the need to confirm the B-cells were involved, the cellphone study was the first to be released to the public. However, the release was carefully stage-managed via a press conference in Adelaide with no experienced journalists invited.
Despite video-conferencing facilities being used in Adelaide, and with Telestra (the video-conferencing company) as the primary funder, venues in Sydney and Melbourne were not made available to experienced journalists — thus blocking any attempts to quiz those involved. The story was then leaked to the Hobart Mercury (Tasmania) the day before on the anniversary of the Port Arthur Massacre (a major news event).
The whole impression was that of Michael Repacholi and the other scientists involved actively discounting their own findings. They were later criticised in the media for this attempt to downplay what was clearly an important experimental research simply because it had not turned out in the way their funders would have wanted.
The Basten Mains Power study was stalled even longer than the R/F study. It was over three years before they released any results (well after the cellphone release). However they held a highly promoted Sydney media event with broadcast journlists and their TV crews invited. Professor Basten did one-on-one interviews with all the networks, maintaining that since the study had found no significant evidence of increased lymphoma rates among the exposed mice, the study had 'proved mains power to be safe' [A total non sequitur in science]
A number of years later the Animal House at Adelaide Hospital mounted another cellphone study which was said to have 'replicated' the Repacholi R/F study and it also found nothing of interest. No one took much notice of this study since it was not a real replication, the scientists had no real status in the field, and no serious attempt was made by the cellphone companies to resurrect memories of the previous findings.
|Why use genetically modified ('lymphoma-prone') mice?|
It is known that any effects of low-energy waves in the microwave part of the radio spectrum would be unlikely to produce human cancers in any significant numbers in under 10 to 15 years. Cancer is run-away proliferation of cells without the normal controls on cell-division, so DNA damage is a primary requirement.
However the DNA in chromasomes breaks fairly regularly during normal cell-division. But inbuilt repair mechanisms will generally restore single-strand breaks — while double-strand breaks (where the whole chromasome is severed) usually kills the cell, and so it doesn't become cancerous.
The research problem is one of time; we need results in years, not decades. However mice only live two years at the most, and have a realistic 18 month adult-life span before they reach old age. The experimenters therefore need to use mice who are highly sensitive to single-strand breaks. By comparison with mice who aren't being exposed, the increased rates of cancer among the exposed group can then reveal an increase in DNA damage, in a reasonable research period.
The claim that "mice aren't men" is valid for some toxicology research, but not so with DNA and cancer research since mice DNA is almost identical to human DNA in terms of likelihood of damage and automatic repair,
Some key documents
Main research findings leading up to the Adelaide Hospital EMF Research
1962: Swiss study ( Prausnitz and Susskind) exposed mice to low-power pulsed microwaves for 4.5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 59 weeks. There were external disease problems during this experiment, but the survivors had 3.5-times the rate of lymphatic or myeloid leukemias among the exposed group, than among the controls.
1974.: Skidmore and Baum irradiated tumour-prone laboratory mice with pulsed electric fields for 33 weeks. The exposed group had over twice the leukaemia rate of the controls.
1979: The Wertheimer and Leeper study raises fears about powerline exposures.
1982: Szmigielski exposed lab mice to microwaves for 2 hours a day, 6 days a week for varying period up to 10 months. A variety of experiments were performed on the mice over that period which suggested that RF exposure accelerated the development of breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancers.
1984: Dr Fred Hollows, then the Professor of Ophthalmology at The University of NSW in Australia, published a report in The Lancet about Telstra (Australian telecommunicaions monopoly) employees exposed to microwaves. He found that these workers were three times more likely to develop cataracts than non-exposed, age-matched, mail exchange workers.
1985: Balcer-Kubiczek and Harrison also found increased cancer cell proliferation in transgenic mice embryos when exposed to microwaves. The effect was enhanced when a tumour-promoter drug was used — but out of proportion to the ratio you'd expect by summing the two effects. They repeated the experiment in 1989 and 1991 with the same result.
1988: Szmigielski did a similar experiment on mice injected with sarcoma cells and concluded that the radiation impaired the immune system and substantially lowered resistance to cancer growth.
1989 June: A confidential report from the Radio Technology Laboratory to the Minister in charge of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in the UK reported that the GSM cellphones under development caused serious interference with electronics and hearing aids.
The report, "Potential Interference to Body-worn Audio Equipment from GSM/TDMA mobile phone developments", suggests that interference is such that "it would seem prudent to investigate the effect on safety of life equipment at the same time e.g. heart pacemakers."
About six months later a further DTI report dealing with the interference problems of the GSM mobile phones under development explained that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has instructed their TC-GSM group to create a sub-committee to examine the problems.. The report concludes with the statement that "Further study is essential."
1990: Cleary demonstrated an altered rate of DNA synthesis and increased proliferation of human glioma cells (brain cells, exposed in a laboratory culture) after a single exposure to microwave radiation.
Gliomas are cancers of the brain and nervous tissue, and they seem to be susceptible to R/F and ELF (low-frequencye = mains power) exposures. What Cleary found was consistent with tumour formation, and these changes were observed in the cells up to five days after a single 2 hour exposure.
1991 Dec 19: Dr Neil Pearce of the Wellington School of Medicine (NZ) publicly objects to the way the RF Radiation Committee for Australia and New Zealand (the joint radiation standards body - SANZ) was bulldozing through an increase in the exposure standards, despite a previous agreement struck within the NZ group to reduce them. The Australian, Michael Repacholi was running this committee.
1992: Chou studied 100 rats exposed for most of their lifetime to very low levels of pulsed microwave. The exposures averaged 21.5 hours a day, between the ages of 2 and 24 months.
The exposed group had 18 malignancies while the control only had 5. Despite finding 3.5-times the rate of cancers, the types of cancers varied greatly and the small numbers in each category reduced the confidence level. This finding is disputable; it depends on whether you calculated on the expectation a specific relationship existing with only one-type of cancer, or just assume that the EMF might generate a non-specific increase in overall cancer promotion.
1992 Apr 29: Dr Neil Pearce resigns from the joint committee over "the composition of the committee, the manner in which it has been operating, [and] the appropriateness of SANZ to organize standard setting on an issue of this type."
1992 June: /E Michael Repacholi and Professor Basten organise a $1,002,000 research grant from the Electricity Supply Association of Australia to conduct an in-vivo study using El-PIM-1 mice to determine if exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields is associated with carcinogenesis. This is to be a dose-related study with 500 mice divided into controls and different exposure categories.
Within a few months Repacholi also gets the Telecom Research Laboratories to fund $200,000 to conduct a study using 200 of the same transgenic lymphom-prone mice to determine if cellphone RF field (900 MHz) exposure is associated with the process of carcinogenesis.
This is not dose-related, but is designed just to check whether cellphone level RF radiations for a couple of hours a day can have tumour promotional effects.
These research projects are to be conducted secretly at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital animal house.
[There is a persistent rumour that Repacholi had previously done some preliminary work with animals at the Australian Radiation Laboratories (using both 50Hz and RF exposures) — unconfirmed.]
The Adelaide Hospital EMF study begins
1993 Feb: The mice begin arriving by air. They are all female and all from the same genetic origin to ensure uniformity, and are divided into groups by random selection. The researchers say that it took nearly six months before the last mice arrive (the 50Hz study had priority) and each batch needed a few weeks to settle down and climatise before exposure begins. (the work is done progressively, with different batches)
1993 Apr: The Cellphone RF study was said to have begun in April
1993 July 30: All the mice for both studies are now included and the R/F study has been underway for about two months. The animal phase of the study should run for 18 months.
1993 Dec: Statistician Val Gebski [Sydney University] reports to the other scientist in the group that he is seeing a statistically significant rise in the number of lymphomas in the R/F exposed mice.
About this time Dr Alan Harris [autopsyist Walter & Eliza Inst.] reports an unexpected number of B-cell lymphomas in the R/F exposed mice. These are normally T-cell lymphomas. B (Basal)-cell involvement is far more serious, so some slides are set to the US for confirmation.
1994–98: Between 1994 and 1998, no one involved in the Adelaide Hospital R/F study makes any mention of the rise in lymphoma rates. Journalist
1994: Dr Soma Sarkar looked at the effect of low power microwave on the mouse genome by direct DNA analysis (microneucleus). Her mice were exposed to microwaves at less than half cellphone power densities for two hours a day over a period of 120, 150 and 200 days. DNA samples from the testis and brain (control and exposed) were examined and substantial banding changes were found with the DNA in the exposed group.
1994 Jan: CSIRO scientists Doull and Curtain publish report ( "A Case for Reducing Human Exposure Limits Based on Low-level, Non-thermal Biological Effects") suggesting that there is much more to the cellphone-health problem than the industry admits.
1994 June: In Australia, Dr Stan Barnett of the CSIRO (funded indirectly by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone) is sent around the world by the government to prepare a report on the state of cellphone-health research.
He finds that much more research is urgently needed, but his report is buried by the government
1994 Oct: News leaks out from the Wireless Technology Research (WTR) group in the USA that Henry Lai and Narendra P Singh of Washington University in Seattle had requested funding for further research after discovering single DNA strand breaks in rat brain cells exposed to only a couple of hours of microwave signals at about cellphone power-densities.
1994 Dec 13: The famous Motorola "War Gaming Memo" where the industry is organising using Burson-Marsteller and George Carlo (of the WTR) to attack the Lai-Singh DNA break research.
During 1993, 1994 and 1995 Lai and Singh showed double-strand breakages in DNA in live rat brains, with both pulsed and steady waveforms after a single two hour exposure period. In a number of studies over the previous years, they had also shown excessive single-strand breaks (over controls), but improved detection techniques revealed excessive double-strand breaks were present also.
1995 Jan 15: An article by Brad Crouch in the Adelaide Sunday Mail carries many Repacholi quotes about the progress of both of the Adelaide Hospital research project. However some of the information he was given doesn't appear to tie in with what we now know:
- He claims that "1400 imported mice" were used, yet the reports only show 528 in the 50Hz study (five groups of just over a 100 each) and a few over 200 (two groups just over 100 each) in the RF work. A few more mice might have been used as sentinels and for positive controls, but not likely to be more than 10 or 20.
- The article says "The experiment, being conducted in sterile conditions at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science, is due to end next month and results of the analysis are expected by mid-year."
[This doesn't tie in with the dates (below) which are calculated from the beginning of the exposure period (+18 months) — yet it suggests that Repacholi must have had most of the information about lymphoma increases at this time.]
- Repacholi is quoted as saying "With the RF, some mice will receive the same effect as people who are heavy users of mobile phones."
- He was also asked about the possibility of cellphone use being linked to cancer: "The signs so far don't suggest it, but people like to see research done to see if there is any effect, and we have to do it to show whether there is or is not".
1995 February: Stan Barnett's CSIRO report only becomes public a year or so after its offical release. It transpires that the Minister had officially releasing it by having only a few copies photocopied, and then only making them available to those who asked. But since there was no Ministerial statement or press notification, no one knew to ask. Eventually the news that copies existed were leaked to the press, and then put on-line.
1995 May 7: Dr Neil Pearce of the Wellington School of Medicine recommends against attempts to increase exposure standards on the joint Australian/New Zealand standards committee. He says
"When the possibility of athermal effects exists, the safety factor is not purely a matter of science but involves assumptions about what level of uncertainty and risk is acceptable.
The SANZ Committee does not have the necessary experience in epidemiology, social policy, ethics, economics, consumer affairs and related disciplines to make an informed balanced judgement on these issues.
1995 Oct: The Adelaide Hospital's ESAA's 50MHz study has now been completed in the animal phase. A large number the 50Hz-exposed mice died from a strange form of kidney disease, and this kidney disease was scientific significance and dose-related. Since they are looking for lymphomas and this cancer didn't show a dose-related effect, they ignored the kidney disease and give it only a cursory mention in their paper.
[Since the 50Hz study began before the R/F study and had priority when the mice were delivered, this is a much delayed date for the completion of the animal phase. The original estimated date for completion was January 1995 at the latest.
This may explain the discrepency between the proposal to use 500 mice for the 50Hz work and 200 mice for the R/F... and Repacholi's boast that they had used 1400 mice overall (he let Brad Crouch of the Adelaide Sunday Mail assume that all were used in the RF study) It could well be that they progressively replaced mice which had died from kidney disease... but this doesn't show up in the research paper.]
1995 Dec: The Adelaide Hospital R/F study has been completed.
They decide to try to publish in "Nature" which rejects the paper (apparently after peer review). They try again in two other major peer review journals (or maybe three) according to the researchers themselves.
NOTE: The fact that they thought they could get published in "Nature" puts lie to their later claim that "the study has little significance without replication" and statements that "it shouldn't be viewed in isolation (as if any study ever is!), and their other attempts to play down the importance.
According to one of the scientists, the editor of the journal "Science", received favourable peer-reviews, but later rejected the paper with the statement that it was "too hot to handle" (I assumed from the context that he was paraphrasing). Another said vaguely that some of the journals thought that the research paper "would cause panic".
There is some slight differences in the accounts of the scientists involved. They all stressed that the paper had passed through peer-review at each magazine (one said there were four in all) without problems, but they strongly suggested that all rejections had been on "political" grounds.
Two of them offered the information that they'd all been astounded by the turmoil created by the paper within the scientific community, and there were some side comments on their reluctance to work in future in such a sensitive area. Two of them used the expression "hot potato" with reference to the publishing company's rejections.
Two scientists also said that all of the journals (with the exception of "Radiation Research") wanted what amounted to a full-replication of the work before they would take the chance on publication.
Repacholi was also quoted as saying (I can't find the reference - probably in the New Scientist):
"This is possibly the best conducted study in the field that's ever been done, says Repacholi. I don't know why it was rejected but it wasn't for scientific reasons. And it cost us four months in publication time." So even counting these failed attempts, no one offers what is, to me, a satisfactory explanation for the three year publication delay when the findings were clearly so important. Repacholi himself appears to downplay the publication delays as a valid reason
One scientist in the group explained that the Adelaide study had been held back from publication for over two years while the B-cell implications "were checked at a laboratory in Maryland, USA".
But they began sending the slides to Maryland well before the end of the study, so this would not have significantly slowed down the publication at all — and should, instead, have spurred them to quick publication, and to announcing their findings at conferences to trigger replication studies and further work. These scientists are, after all, primarily paid and trained out of the public purse.
Telstra also claims that under their contract with the scientists, those involved in the study were prohibited from discussing their findings until after publication and so Telstra had no prior knowledge. This I find hard to believe. This is unlikely to be a requirement imposed by the scientists so much as a contractual condition imposed by Telstra — and certainly the American CTIA had a copy well before it appeared in Radiation Review.
However, Dr Repacholi went much further than just "not discussing" the findings, at a number of cellphone-health conferences during this two year period (including one that I attended) he dismissed possibilities that cellphone R/F could have any biological effect [while knowing that his own research had shown one] and poured scorn on those activists and scientists who were urging precautions.
1996 Oct 15: The Australian government announced a research program to "address community concerns about exposure to EMF" and provided $4.5 million over four and a half years to support the program. It then took a year before it would accept and review applications for research grants (Applications closed 5 Dec 1997). It is fairly clear now that they had some prior knowledge of the Adelaide Hospital research findings.
1996 Nov: Michael Repacholi told journalist Stewart Fist, in an "off-the-record" statement at the London IBC conference on cellphone-health, that the Adelaide Hospital research had found "nothing of significance". He reported this later when the information turned out not to be true.
Repacholi also attacked those at the conference who suggested there were non-thermal effects from cellphones, saying that there was no evidence of this, and he fiercely denounced Stan Barnett of the CSIRO as just an "acoustics" researcher and poured scorn on his research report for the government calling for greater research funding.
[Barnett was a world expert in the possible health effects of ultrasonics. He had been asked to provide an overview of the state of cellphone research around the world. He had been deliberately selected as a "non-involved, independent scientist working in a parallel field" to avoid possible charges that he may be biased either way.]
1997: Repacholi et al (1997) conducted mice studies using 900 MHz mobile phone frequency radiation and found a statistically significant 2.4-fold increase in lymphomas. Lymphoma risk was found to be significantly higher in the exposed mice. He concluded that long-term intermittent exposure to RFR can enhance the probability that mice will develop lymphomas. It is noteworthy that the animals were exposed to normal cell phone frequency RFR for only two one-half hour periods per day for eight months. Current human use of mobile phones can exceed 2000 minutes per day for business travelers.
1997 Feb: A team of four government administrators and bureaucrats were funded to tour Australia in a self-described "Roadshow" using the first of the $4.7 million in government research funding.
The roadshow carried the message that cellphones and towers were entirely safe. Yet this promotion of safety closely followed the Adelaide Hospital findings which showed the opposite, and preceded any attempt at replication. The group also falsely represented the view of the CSIRO's position on this matter.
Department of Communications administrators Chris Chea and Helen Anderson lead the group, accompanied by Greg Neylan the manager of Austel's Licenses division, and Graham Elliot, information officer at the Australian Radiation Laboratory. There are no medical experts or research scientists involved.
The seminars extended over a two-week period, beginning in Hobart, and travelling around the country to all mainland capitals (plus the Queensland coast), finishing in Sydney on Friday 28th February 1997.
1997 Apr 27: Finally the Adelaide Hospital group achieve publication of the results of the RF study in "Radiation Research" — 3 years after the rising levels of lymphoma had been established as highly significant.
The press launch of the report was held in Adelaide with no scientists or science/medical journalists in attendance. Telstra's satellite services bring Michael Repacholi via video-conference from Geneva. Although Sydney and Melbourne journalists are not allowed to view this at their local Telstra videoconference centres. Telstra maintains that this is an Adelaide Hospital conference, not a Telstra one.
Every effort is made to manage the news and play down the R/F findings, including leaking the story to Tasmania's Hobart Mercury (in a very well-informed leak) the day before the release. This day was also the first anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre (lone gunman in Tasmania killed 35, wounded 20 people] which ensured that the story was buried deep inside the paper. Main news pages across Australia were taken up with the national day of mourning.
The Australian, The Age, and the Sydney Morning Herald don't even bother to run the story. It only became a newpaper item after it was published on-line and circulated it around the world. The Australian had originally rejected the story written by their columnist, Stewart Fist, on the grounds that it was an old story that had been run the day before in the Hobart Mercury.
A week or so after the Adelaide Hospital news story broke a Reuters report circulated the world carrying the headline (used by many newspapers) that "Finnish study proves cellphones are safe". This proved to be nothing more than a report on a one-day experiment with 12 Finnish students who had been tested using an EEG to see of GSM cellphones change their brain waves. It was, however, a highly effective piece of counter-propaganda funded by Nokia.
1997 May 7: Australia's Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston donned his red nose, polka-dot pants and oversize boots to entertain the Senate with his reaction to the Adelaide Hospital findings and growing community concerns: "I think about the most one can say at this stage is that if there are mice in the community who are genetically predisposed to developing lymphoma they would be well advised not to use mobile phones.... That applies to rats as well, I should say!"
[He would know!]
At the Swiss Institute of Technology, Dr Neils Kuster, was reported as saying in a newspaper interview ('SonntagsBlick') that:
"It is incomprehensible to me that industry did not replicate this study 18 months ago when the preliminary results became known." Dr John Goldsmith [ex Californian health director who legislated for catalytic converters for automobiles... now in Israel), was reported in the 'Jerusalem Post' as saying the Adelaide results
"present startling new evidence that must be carefully evaluated", Dr John Stather, of the UK's National Radiological Protection Board agrees,
"... this needs to be investigated thoroughly." In reference to the Adelaide study, Dr Stan Barnett of the CSIRO said
"the effect reported in this paper appears to be substantial" , and, in the USA, Dr Gregory Lotz of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health agrees:
"I think the findings are very significant," he says. "They used a sizeable number of animals and it appears to be a clear effect."
1997 Jun 16: The journal "Epidemiology" publishes the Karolinska/Feychting study about magentic field exposure with power lines showing nearly 4-times the likelyhood of developing leukemia.
1998: A second study of mice and cancer conducted by Repacholi (Harris et al, 1998) with 50 Hz magnetic fields alone did not result in increased cancer rates. The authors conclude that
in contrast, when Pim1 mice were exposed to pulse-modulated radiofrequency fields (900 MHz), a highly significant increase in lymphoma incidence from 22% to 43% occurred. Perhaps the increased incidence of cancer that in some epidemiological studies has been associated with residential proximity to high-current power-distribution wiring results from exposure to high-frequency transients rather than the primary 50/60 Hz magnetic fields. In our study, the magnetic fields to which the mice were exposed were switched on and off in a manner that minimized the production of transients.
1998 Mar 2: The Adelaide Hospital 50Hz Mains Power study is released in "Radiation Research" four years after the end of the project. Professor Basten and some of his associated scientist (Repacholi is in Geneva) hold a press conference in Sydney with all television stations given one-to-one interviews.
Professor Basten, declares that the study has, once and for all, determined that powerlines are safe.
The dose-related link to kidney disease is apparently ignored (unless those extra mice were used to check the powerline study in the intervening three years).