Press Release WHO/38
20 May 1998
Scientists Meet in Moscow to Discuss
Adverse Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields
In an effort to bridge important gaps in the existing global scientific evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (RAMS) have jointly organized in Moscow the first international consultation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on possible adverse health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF).
Held in the RAMS Institute of Occupational Health from 18 through 22 May, the meeting brought together some 80 scientists from 14 countries. For the first time in the post-soviet era, experts from Belarusia, the Russian Federation and Ukraine are meeting with their counterparts from Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA to review the existing scientific evidence, accumulated in the former Soviet Union, that was used for the development of EMF human exposure standards now in force in many of the CIS countries.
Russia was the one of the first countries to start fundamental research into biological and health effects of EMF exposure among the general population and, especially, those exposed at work. The Soviet government introduced the first hygienic standards limiting such exposure as early as the late 50's. Further research demonstrated a relationship between the intensity and duration of EMF exposure and the reaction of human body to it. This discovery was used in developing occupational and other standards based upon a dose-response approach.
For decades the standards limiting human exposure to EMF remained more restrictive in the former Soviet Union -- and they still are in the CIS countries -- than in other parts of the world. There has been little understanding outside the CIS about the basis for these limits.
The last 10 years have seen the rapid expansion of EMF technologies. Mobile telephone technology, for example, has gone from being an executive toy to an indispensable part of modern communications. However, mobile telephones emit radiofrequency fields from their radiating antennas that could easily exceed the limits of current Russian standards. If there are health impacts from exposure to EMF emitting technologies, this needs to be addressed quickly to prevent any major public health consequences.
"A large body of research into possible adverse health effects of electromagnetic fields, accumulated in the former Soviet Union and published predominantly in the Russian language, remains practically unknown to the international scientific community", said Dr Michael Repacholi of WHO's International EMF Project, which prepared the meeting in Moscow.
According to Dr Repacholi, WHO's evaluation of the existing scientific evidence "would be incomplete without taking account the results of high-quality research carried out in the former Soviet Union". He also emphasized that the objectives of the meeting in Moscow were to encourage global collaboration among scientists, to develop free flow of scientific information, especially in the area of human health, and to highlight the contribution of CIS countries in this area.
"The safety of human exposure to an ever-increasing number and diversity of EMF sources both at work and at home has clearly become a public health issue. In 1995, the Russian Government declared this issue a social problem", commented academician Nikolai Izmerov of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences (RAMS) and Director of the RAMS Institute of Occupational Health.
"EMF technology does not stay still, and research into their possible adverse health effects should continue. But like in many other fields, the problem in Russia today is the lack of funds and coordination of such research", stressed academician Izmerov. He called for the creation of an independent national advisory body, which could ensure such coordination and seek other sources of funding than federal budget.
With an ever-increasing variety of technologies generating EMF, such as the production, distribution and use of electric power, TV and radio broadcasting and mobile telecommunications, concerns have been voiced in many countries about possible adverse health effects of these fields.
In 1996, in response to such concerns WHO established the International EMF Project. The Project is obtaining contributions from scientists world-wide in order to identify at what exposure levels EMF can be shown to cause adverse health effects. It is also investigating whether lower levels of EMF have the potential to do any harm.
One of the objectives of the WHO EMF Project is to assist with the development of internationally acceptable standards. WHO would like all countries to provide input from the their scientific communities, as well as to participate fully in the other activities of the EMF Project. The results of the Moscow meeting will be published as a WHO document.
For further information, journalists can contact Igor Rozov, Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (4122) 791 25 32. Fax (4122) 791 48 58. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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