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HEAL reports on European Commission workshop on electromagnetic fields

On the 11 and 12 February, the European Commission organised the workshop ‘EMF and Health: Science and Policy to address public concerns’.

The workshop gathered about 150 policy makers (services from the European Commission and members of the European Parliament), scientists, representatives of concerned citizens, representatives from industry and other stakeholders. The aim was to generate “a broad and constructive dialogue” and to come to “conclusions that would help to orient the EU policy process regarding electromagnetic fields”.

The workshop started off with presentations which elucidated the current EU policy context and the current state of the scientific assessments. The critical questions and debate following the presentations made it very clear that there is still is a lot of disagreement on the state of the scientific evidence.

Interventions by Cindy Sage, Michael Kundi and David Gee, co-authors of the BioInitiative scientific report, made it clear that this scientific disagreement finds its root in a different interpretation and evaluation of the available scientific data. The scientists of the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) for example use a ’causal or conclusive’ standard of evidence requiring scientific certainty before determining that health risks exist. They ask the question: are there proven health effects? The BioInitiative authors on the contrary interpret the science in light of the precautionary principle. They use a public health standard of evidence that asks: are there indications that a possible health risk exists?

Elaborating on this line of argumentation, David Gee of the European Environmental Agency, gave an excellent presentation on the lessons we should learn from the history of other environmental health issues such as asbestos and lead. He argued that in order to avoid similar public health crises, it is essential that we avoid the (scientific) mistakes made in the past, like for example waiting for conclusive or causal evidence before taking measures.

On the second day, the different stakeholders had the chance to express their viewpoints and expectations. There were presentations by the European Trade Union Institute, the telecommunications and mobile phone manufacturers industry and civil society organisations. As a representative of the last category, HEAL was also invited to give a presentation. Policy officer Christian Farrar-Hockley provided ideas for a pragmatic approach to reducing exposures to EMF and suggested several policy measures which could help minimise exposures to EMF.

Dr. Andrzej Rys, MD and Director of Public Health for the European Commission gave the final talk, and specifically asked the BioInitiative working group to work with the EU on this important public health issue. He seemed interested in furthering progress on new, biologically-based public exposure standards and implementing precautionary strategies with respect to wireless technologies.

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Last updated on 30 June 2011

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