Cell Phones and Brain Cancer: The Real Story
The long awaited World Health Organization Interphone study of more than 5,000 brain tumors that occurred between 2000-2004 and cell phone use failed to deliver a knock-out punch. This thirteen country report found what every study that has ever examined people who have used phones for a decades or more has determined – top users of cell phones had a doubled risk of malignant tumors of the brain. When looking at all those in their study who had used cell phones to make one call a week for six months or more, compared to those who used cell phones less no such risk was evident. This is unsurprising.
The story behind the story needs to be told. First of all, although the news reports so far do not acknowledge this fact, Interphone is not the only study to find an increased risk in brain tumors with prolonged cell phone use. All studies that have been able to examine people a decade after heavy use began have found increased risk of brain tumors. Second the Interphone study completely ignored the fact that there is a growing experimental literature showing that pulsed microwave-like radiation from modern cell phones disrupts living cells and causes our DNA to become unstable – signs of cancer and other chronic disease. Third, the Interphone study was delayed close to six years, while authors debated how to present their results. Completed in 2004 and promised by 2005, publication was delayed til now.
Among the leading epidemiologists on the team are those from Israel, Spain and Australia, who proclaim that we know enough now to tell people to take precautions. Others from Canada and Sweden are convinced that we lack sufficient evidence of harm and we should wait twenty years to find out whether or not current patterns of cell phone use in children and the rest of us will produce an epidemic of brain cancer. Much of their work happens to be sponsored by the cell phone industry and forms the basis for a study being launched of a quarter million people in Europe.
In fact, the Interphone study necessarily evaluated out of date technology in use long ago and included no children or teenagers, left out those who are most highly exposed, like rural users who get higher exposures because phones in remote areas emit more radiation trying to reach more distant antennas, did not take into account other experimental or epidemiologic studies on the subject and did not include cordless phone use – can be just as high as that from cell phones. While most of the cell phone users in the world today are under age thirty, none of those in the study were. Scientists understand that brain tumors often take three or four decades to develop and less than one in ten people in this study had used a phone for even one decade.
Professor Joel Moskowitz of University of California Berkeley combined information from all other studies ever done on brain tumors and cell phones and found “consistent evidence that heavy cell phone use for a decade or longer increases brain tumor risk at least 30%.” My colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh also reported similarly elevated risks of tumors of the hearing nerve in long-term cell phone users just last year.
No wonder the public is confused. Headlines of some U.K. papers proclaimed: Long term brain cancer risk increased in heavy cell phone users, while those of the National Cancer Institute’s in-house online zine noted – no general risk from cell phone use. In fact, both headlines are technically true, and there’s the rub. All scientists agree that more research is needed. The question is what do we do, while we wait for that research? Should taxpayers in America stand by while information on this issue from other countries is amassed? The United States of America did not participate in this largest study of brain cancer and cell phone use ever carried out and currently there is almost no public health research underway on the questions of cell phone use and autism, chronic neurologic disease or cancer.
Studies by physician-researcher Lennart Hardell of Sweden – regarded as some of the best efforts in the world on this challenging topic – concur with the Interphone and Moskowitz results – those who have used phones heavily for a decade have a doubled risk of brain tumors and teenagers who begin heavy cell phone use have between four to five times more brain tumors by their late twenties. In fact, the French are not waiting for further research on this matter, and are taking steps based on the notion that it is better to be safe than sorry – codifying advice from the European Environment Agency, the Finnish Nuclear Regulatory Safety Authority and the Israeli Health Ministry among others . Both chambers of the French legislature have recently passed legislation requiring a host of simple actions to reduce direct exposures to the brains from cell phones. For starters, all cell phones must be sold with an earpiece or headset to limit direct brain exposure to radiofrequency signals. Advertising to children below age fourteen is banned, as is giving cell phones to children under the age of six. In schools, the use of cell phones is forbidden during all teaching activities. Finally, phones must be sold with labels indicating potential risks from excessive use and the reported exposure in terms of the SAR (specific absorption rate).
In France, Professor Daniel Oberhausen – a leader in cell phone safety – advises, “The absence of definitive human evidence at this point in time should not be misconstrued as proof of cell phone safety.” Prof. Moskowitz, experts from a number of countries and I agree with the French policies: cell phone use should be curtailed in children and should include warning labels, After ten years of use, increased risks from tobacco and asbestos were not clearly evident, yet nobody today doubts that we waited far too long before addressing these important health hazards. For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we should promote simple precautions to reduce direct exposure to the brain by using headsets, speaker phones and texting. This will protect us from whatever health hazards may emerge decades later and also encourage safer development of this revolutionary technology in the meantime.
About the author
Award-winning scientist and author, Devra Lee Davis is Founder of Environmental Health Trust, a National Book Award finalist, Carnegie Science Medal winner, author of Disconnect – the truth about cell phone radiation and health, what the industry has done to hide it, and what you can do to protect your family, Dutton, coming September, 2010, and Visiting Professor, Georgetown University. She was the Founding Director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, 1983-1993, a Presidential appointee in the Clinton Adminstration to the National Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, and Founding Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, 2004-2009.
On November 5, 2009, the FCC released their Consumer Facts on “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns.” In this document, the FCC recommends precautions for the use of cell phones.
According to the FCC, “Recent reports by some health and safety interest groups have suggested that wireless device use can be linked to cancer and other illnesses. These questions have become more pressing as more and younger people are using the devices, and for longer periods of time.”
They now recommend the following steps:
* Use an earpiece or headset
* If possible, keep wireless devices away from your body when they are on, mainly by not attaching them to belts or carrying them in pockets
* Use the cell phone speaker to reduce exposure to your head
* Consider texting rather than talking
* Buy a wireless device with lower Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)
FCC November 5, 2009
Dr. Mecola’s Comments:
Public health agencies cannot continue to keep their heads in the sand while millions of people, including children, are unknowingly being exposed to radiation at levels that are putting their health at risk.
Warning Labels Should be Added to All Cell Phones
The issue has been heating up recently, and a bill introduced in Maine, which would make it the first to mandate warning labels on all cell phones, created a flurry of national attention.
It calls for the following statement to be prominently placed on every cell phone and all related packaging, on a non-removable label:
“Warning, this device emits electromagnetic radiation, exposure to which may cause brain cancer. Users, especially children and pregnant women, should keep this device away from the head and body.”
In addition, the bill, as currently written, requires the label to include the color graphic showing the electromagnetic absorption of a 5-year old child’s brain, as depicted in a 1996 study published by the IEEE on the effect of cell phone microwave emissions on the neck and head.
Why You Can’t Trust Current FCC Cell Phone Standards
You may find it hard to believe that the FCC would allow cell phones on the market if they were unsafe. Well, the FCC does, in fact, require wireless devices to meet minimum safety guidelines for human use.
Unfortunately, these guidelines are based on exposure limits in terms of Specific Absorption Rate, otherwise known as the SAR value. The SAR value is a measure of the power of the cell phone and its potential for heating tissues.
But simply choosing a phone with a lower SAR value does not at all mean the phone is safe. Camilla Rees, founder of Electromagnetichealth.org and co-author with Magda Havas, PhD of Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution, explains:
“It is important consumers realize that the SAR value, while providing information for comparison purposes between phones, is very limited in its usefulness as a measure of ‘safety.’ We are greatly concerned that people may be turning to the EWG database in droves not understanding just how limited a measure the SAR value is.”
Why is the SAR value not an accurate measure of safety?
1. The SAR value is only comparing the isolated heating effect of different phones and does not give an indication that a cell phone is ‘safe.’
2. The power, or heating effect, of the phone is only one of many possible factors impacting cell phone ‘safety.’ Exposures to the radiation from the cell phone at non-heating levels have been linked to many serious biological effects, and the SAR value is not capturing anything about these harmful non-thermal exposures.
3. SAR values are reported to the FCC by the manufacturer and have been known to vary from the reported number by a factor of two across models of the same phone.
4. The SAR value varies with the source of exposure and the person using the phone. For example, if you are in a rural area or in an elevator or a car, where the cell phone uses more power, your brain will get a greater exposure from the higher power required in these instances. Under certain conditions, the SAR value can be 10-100 times higher than reported.
5. Holding the phone in a slightly different way can actually render the worst SAR value phone better than the best SAR value phone.
6. SAR values have been created based on simulations of exposure in a plexiglass head filled with fluid, not a human head, and many scientists consider them to be inaccurate and irrelevant at determining actual biological effects.
One of the worst deficiencies of the SAR value is that it only considers the thermal impact of cell phone usage, and it is very likely that the non-thermal effects of chronic cell phone exposure are more biologically damaging.
Even the FCC acknowledged this concern in their FCC Consumer Facts:
“Some experts think that low frequency magnetic fields rather than RF energy measured by the SAR possibly are responsible for any potential risk associated with wireless devices.”
Have You Heard? Cell Phones are Dangerous …
In case you haven’t yet heard, there’s a reason why the FCC finally issued cell phone “precautions” despite the industry’s assurances to the contrary.
For starters, the 2009 special EMF issue of the Journal of Pathophysiology contains over a dozen different studies on the health effects of electromagnetic fields and wireless technology
In addition, a review of 11 long-term epidemiologic studies published in the journal Surgical Neurology revealed that using a cell phone for 10 or more years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor on the same side of the head where the cell phone is typically held.
You should also know that:
* A study by Dr. Siegal Sadetzki linked cell phone use to salivary gland tumors
* Wearing a cell phone on your hip – either on your belt or in a pocket – has been linked to decreased bone density in the pelvic region. (All the other vital organs located in your pelvic region – your liver, kidney, bladder, colon and reproductive organs — are also susceptible to radiation damage).
* Proximity to cell phone towers causes an increase in the symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, including fatigue, sleep disturbances, visual and auditory disturbances, and cardiovascular effects
* The BioInitiative Report includes studies showing evidence for:
* Effects on Gene and Protein Expression (Transcriptomic and Proteomic Research)
* Genotoxic Effects – RFR and ELF DNA Damage
* Stress Response (Stress Proteins)
* Effects on Immune Function
* Effects on Neurology and Behavior
* Brain Tumors, Acoustic Neuromas, and childhood cancers like leukemia
* And much more
I’ve barely scratched the surface with the examples I listed above. There are many, many more out there, and if you’re interested to learn more the Web site ElectromagneticHealth.org offers 10 free eye-opening audio interviews with some of the world’s leading experts in the field of EMF.
What Can You do to Stay Safe?
I urge you to take action now to protect yourself and your family from the dangerous effects of cell phones and other wireless devices. Please do not wait for the FCC to make a more serious warning or ban the phones altogether.
I believe this issue is so important I’ve created an entire web site dedicated to EMF education and information. Feel free to bookmark EMF.mercola.com and check back on occasion for the latest news and updates.
If you are not ready to give up your cell phone just yet, at the very least don’t let your young children use one, and avoid cell phone exposure while pregnant or carrying your infant. Children are FAR more susceptible to harm from microwave radiation than adults.
Further, you can at least minimize exposure by heeding the following advice:
* Reduce your cell phone use: Turn your cell phone off more often. Reserve it for emergencies or important matters. As long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call.
* Use a land line at home and at work: Although more and more people are switching to using cell phones as their exclusive phone contact, it is a dangerous trend and you can choose to opt out of the madness.
* Reduce or eliminate your use of other wireless devices: You would be wise to cut down your use of these devices. Just as with cell phones, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you really need to use them every single time.
* If you must use a portable home phone, use the older kind that operates at 900 MHz. They are no safer during calls, but at least many of them do not broadcast constantly even when no call is being made.
Note the only way to truly be sure if there is an exposure from your cordless phone is to measure with an electrosmog meter, and it must be one that goes up to the frequency of your portable phone (so old meters will not be of much use). You can find meters at http://www.emfsafetystore.com.
As a general rule of thumb, you can pretty much be sure your portable phone is a problem if the technology is DECT, or digitally enhanced cordless technology.
* Use your cell phone only where reception is good: The weaker the reception, the more power your phone must use to transmit, and the more power it uses, the more radiation it emits, and the deeper the dangerous radio waves penetrate into your body. Ideally, you should only use your phone with full bars and good reception.
* Don’t assume one cell phone is safer than another: Please understand that despite assurances, there’s still no such thing as a “safe” cell phone.
* Keep your cell phone away from your body when it’s on: The most dangerous place to be, in terms of radiation exposure, is within about six inches of the emitting antenna. You do not want any part of your body within that area (so do not carry your cell phone on your belt, either).
* Use safer headset technology: Wired headsets will certainly allow you to keep the cell phone farther away from your body. However, if a wired headset is not well-shielded – and most of them are not – the wire itself acts as an antenna attracting ambient information carrying radio waves and transmitting radiation directly to your brain.
Make sure that the wire used to transmit the signal to your ear is shielded.
The best kind of headset to use is a combination shielded wire and air-tube headset. These operate like a stethoscope, transmitting the information to your head as an actual sound wave; although there are wires that still must be shielded, there is no wire that goes all the way up to your head.
WiFi Radiation – Dangers of WiFi – See It Measured – How To Remediate WiFi Radiation
Mon, 17 May 2010
The 10-year Interphone study, the world’s biggest study of the health effects of mobile phones, found while there was no increased risk of cancer overall, those in the top 10 per cent of phone use are up to 40 per cent more likely to develop glioma, a common type of brain cancer.
Just 30 minutes of mobile talk time daily was enough to put participants into the top 10 per cent category in the study, carried out in 13 countries, including Australia, and involving more than 5000 brain cancer patients worldwide.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which conducted the study and has repeatedly delayed its publication, summarised the findings by saying there were “suggestions of an increased risk of glioma, and much less so meningioma, in the highest decile (10 per cent) of cumulative call time, in subjects who reported phone use on the same side of the head as their tumour”.
It added “biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn . . . and prevent a causal interpretation”.
But the finding – reported by British newspapers yesterday ahead of its official scheduled release this week – has nevertheless ignited controversy among cancer experts, neurologists and other scientists.
Australian neurosurgeons Charlie Teo and Vini Khurana said last night the findings were a concern. “Despite the study’s methodological limitations that biased it towards finding nothing, the heaviest users were found to be at significantly higher risk of glioma, which is consistent with our message,” Drs Teo and Khurana told The Australian.
“This (finding) does concern us, but it’s also an impetus to do two things: the mobile phone industry has to supply the actual hours logged, and we need to track brain tumour incidence in Australia.”
Other experts sought to reassure the public over the findings. IARC director Christopher Wild said an increased risk of brain cancer was “not established from the data from Interphone”.
“However, observations at the highest level of cumulative call time and the changing patterns of mobile phone use since the period studied by Interphone, particularly in young people, mean that further investigation of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk is merited,” Dr Wild said.
Although modern mobile phones have greatly reduced emissions the authors said phone use now was “much more prevalent and it is not unusual for young people to use mobile phones for an hour or more a day”.
Industry group the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association also emphasised the study found no increased risk overall, and its conclusion was “in line with the weight of scientific opinion, which has found no substantiated scientific evidence of any adverse health effects”.
The study’s authors said there was “reasonable doubt” about the credibility of some patients’ estimates of their phone use, which in 38 cases amounted to over five hours per day, and 12 hours or more per day in 10 cases. People with cancer were much more likely to report these very high usage rates than other study participants without cancer who were included as controls.
The BioInitiative Report – The Dangerous Health Impacts of Microwave Radiation
Cindy Sage, environmental consultant, talks about The BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF), which she edited with a team of international scientists.
They document serious scientific concerns about current limits regulating how much EMF is allowable from power lines, cell phones, and many other sources of EMF exposure in daily life.
The report concludes the existing standards for public safety are inadequate to protect public health.
Electromagnetic radiation and its effect on the brain: an insider speaks out
Jenny Crwys Williams interviews Barrie Trower, retired British military intelligence scientist in microwave and stealth warfare.
Listen to interview here
Jenny Crwys-Williams:Now we’re speaking to Barrie Trower, and it is Trower isn’t it?
Barrie Trower: Yes ma’am.
JCW: And Barrie you are a retired British military intelligence scientist, and for years and years and years you worked in microwave and stealth warfare. What does that actually mean?
BT: During the 1950s…and may I say good afternoon ma’am…
JCW: ~Laughs~ Good afternoon.
BT: During the 1950s and 1960s during the Cold War, it was realised both by accident that microwaves could be used as stealth weapons against the Russians beamed the American embassy during the Cold War and it gave everybody working in the embassy cancer, breast cancers, leukemias whatever, and it was realised then that low level microwaves were the perfect stealth weapon to be used on dissident groups around the world, because you could make dissident groups sick, give them cancer, change their mental outlook on life without them even knowing they were being radiated, and one of my particular tasks…I spent eleven years questioning captured spies…one of my particular tasks was to learn the particular frequencies of microwaves that they used on which particular victims, if I may use that word, and what the outcome was, and I built up a dossier…I’m probably the only person in the world with the complete list…I built up a dossier of what pulse frequencies of microwaves will cause what psychological or physiological damage to a person.
JCW: That’s not covered under the official secrets act or anything like that, is it?
BT: To be honest ma’am, I don’t care about the official secrets act when I see what is going on in the world through…really ignorance…what I call ignorance. I think the official secrets act goes by the [ball?].
They can do with me what they like, but I feel that it is my task to answer questions from governments, royalty, schools, anybody around the world, I tell them exactly what I know, exactly what I’ve done so that governments and organisations and people can actually make safe levels.
JCW: Okay, so you did this work for eleven years, but you’ve also been involved, obviously, in stealth warfare microwave, and your particular expertise was on the impact of this radiation on health and brain functioning.
JCW: And you debriefed microwaved spies and dissidents and things as you explained to us. So what are you doing here in South Africa?
BT: I was asked to come…
JCW: …stranded in South Africa…
BT: …stranded in South Africa, well, not stranded until tomorrow, uhm, there’s a very young lady who was sitting outside…organised a series of lectures and talks for…there’s a little boy not far away with a tumour…near a transmitter and I was asked to go see the little boy and discuss what I knew…uhm…his majesty in Botswana asked me to give a conference, or present a conference to his ministers on, not only the health issues, but the environmental impact to the animals.
Uhm…I’m doing a public talk this evening for anybody to turn up…so, it’s really the young lady taking me around. I have a series of interviews, lectures, newspaper articles…anyone that really wants to know will just come and ask whatever questions they like to ask. So I’m here as a guest in what I think is the most beautiful country in the world without a shadow of a doubt, and I’m being taken around and asked questions which I’m answering.
JCW: Alright, so just remember the lines are open, 883 0702 and if someone is erecting say a…we’re talking cell phone masts, aren’t we?
BT: Cell phone…ordinary cell phone masts…and wi fi.
JCW: Okay, and wi fi in your office…and…
BT: Yup, and walkabout telephones…anything which emits microwaves.
JCW: Okay, so if you’ve got any questions, give us a call on 883 0702 and we’ve got an expert here and he has got information that very few people, I dare say, are privy to. So what is electromagnetic radiation? Just explain…it’s the same thing as microwaves? Is that correct?
BT: The electromagnetic spectrum is a band that goes from gamma rays and x-rays at one end, the very high energy waves, and it comes down through visible light, which is also some radiation, and then it goes through infrared microwaves, tv and radio. Now the only ones which really affect us in the communications industry are the microwaves, and microwaves have a special ability to interfere with water, which is how microwave ovens work, and we are made of water.
All of our chemical and electrical signals involve water in the body, somehow, electrical communications in the body. So, the industry has picked the worst possible part of the electromagnetic spectrum to give to young children and to adults.
JCW: And here we are talking about cell phones for instance…that’s what you’re talking about.
BT: Cell phones yes, yes ma’am.
JCW: So, if France for instance is saying that children should not be given mobile phones under the age of fourteen, for instance…uhm…the European parliament voted by a large majority to recommend tighter safety standards, and this included wi fi and whatever, but also protecting vulnerable groups like children…pregnant moms as well?
BT: Absolutely ma’am…uhm…can I come back to your first point?
BT: Uhm…I saw quite a large delegation from France a few years ago, and not just down to me, but they obviously took heed of what I said and went off and checked a few things, but, we know now in France, I’ll have it published, that they are pulling wi fi out of every single French school, on health grounds.
JCW: Now, presumably, they wouldn’t have done that had they not known, or maybe seen the results of wi fi, because wi fi has probably been in schools in France for…what…ten years, or is that an exaggeration?
BT: I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how long wi fi has been in French schools. I do know that they are spending now 174 million Euros rewiring wi fi sets with fiber optic cables or ordinary cables…uhm…because of the risk to the health…mainly to young women…that the health risk, and if you care to ask, I’ll happily answer.
The main risk from wi fi is to young girls, and the main risk which we know…uhm…to children is to the fetus or the infant. But, children are much more vulnerable than adults…with this radiation, the smaller you are, the more you absorb. So, the main risk is to young girls and the fetus, or the infant.
JCW: And, to young girls, are you talking about sterility for instance?
BT: No ma’am, it’s worse than that I’m afraid. I don’t want to scare your listeners, but I believe in the truth. Uhm, I have one other…uhm…research papers here. I have three research papers. I am a scientific adviser to five organisations, which, part of my brief is I read international scientific papers, I retranslate them into a language that most people can understand, which is how I advise.
Now to answer your question, ma’am…uhm…I have three papers showing that low level microwaves can interfere with the genetics in the ovarian follicles. Now what that means in everyday language, different from boys, young girls when they’re born, they will have up to four hundred eggs in their ovaries. The microwaves can damage the genetic structure, we now know, in those ovaries. So, when this young girl grows up, gets married, and has children, if she has a daughter, this particular mitochondrial genetic damage is irreparable. There is nothing at all that can repair it.
So, if she has a daughter, the daughter will carry that genetic deformity, and her daughter will carry it, and her daughter will carry it. So, it isn’t a game anymore, it isn’t a little box that you can press buttons and run around in, and have fun with, we are now seriously jeopardising the future generations for as long as there is a female line of our children’s children’s children, and that is to me the most scariest aspects of all of this.
JCW: All right, now if you’ve just tuned in, we’re chatting to Barrie Trower who is a retired British military intelligence scientist. For years and years he’s worked in microwave and stealth warfare, and his particular expertise was on the impact of this radiation on health and brain functioning, and he is here. We are chatting about microwaves, we are talking about wi fi, we’re talking about cell phone masts, we’re talking about the damage done to vulnerable groups of people…everyone of course is vulnerable, but there’s some groups that are more vulnerable than the others, and kids texting, and you know that they can spend hours and hours and hours texting…bad, bad, bad news. But give us a call on 883 0702 if you’ve got any questions, and we’ll take them right after this.
All right, well let’s go to Lance, so Lance thank you, you’ve been holding on for quite some time, and you’re chatting to Barrie Trower, and you’ve got a question.
Lance: Yeah I do, thanks Jen. Barrie, I’ve got a question. We work in an office building, we’re on the first floor, above us is a concrete ceiling and there’s another floor and there’s a concrete roof and then there’s a cellular base station on top of that, and I must be honest, I’m not entirely happy about that and I’d like to my question is really sort of what are the implications of that? Is it actually quite dangerous number one and number two, is there something we can actually do to our ceiling, like literally foil it and then earth the foil, you know something like that to actually reduce these radiation?
BT: Uh, good afternoon sir. Uhm…the first part of your question with a transmitter on the roof, there is research from India, uhm…from a professor in India from the university, that shows that people living beneath a transmitter tend to suffer more neurological damage than people who do not have transmitters on their roof. In other words, you will have psychiatric problems, you will also have a reduced immune system. In other words, it could mean that you have more colds, more coughs, longer colds, longer coughs, and your general health could deteriorate. Uhm, that has been tested experimentally and published.
The second part of your question sir, is there something you can do to…like bursting a boil I believe you said, was that correct sir?
Lance: Uhm, no-no-no-no-no, uhm, getting…putting foil, tin foil, in our roof.
BT: Oh tin foil! I thought you said bursting a boil!
Lance: Oh! No-no! Literally like putting tin strips, you know, roles that they put in the roof and earthing it. Something like that.
BT: Yes sir, okay…uhm, this can be done sir, but not tin foil. Tin foil actually has little microscopic holes and lets the radiation through and in fact focuses it. Uhm, what you could use is aluminum tin, which they use in the building industry, radiator foil, aluminum foil, the thick insulating aluminum foil, that, between you and the roof, shiny side to the roof, that will reduce the radiation coming in.
JCW: But Lance, on your behalf, if it reduces the radiation coming in, Barrie, it doesn’t eliminate it, does it? So presumably then you are still at risk?
BT: Without a doubt, yes, but less of a risk.
Lance: Uhm…Jen? Sorry, can I…I missed the beginning of the show. I just want to ask Barrie…uhm…what like…uhm, how come you’re actually here…in the country?
JCW: Well listen, I don’t want to repeat everything, but he’s now retired, he’s a retired British military intelligence scientist, and for decades he’s worked in microwave and stealth warfare, and this is his area of expertise, and he’s been invited to South Africa to speak.
Lance: Oh, okay cool, so not for soccer…
JCW: No not for soccer, ~laughs~ bit early for that, and Josef, wi fi precautions?
Josef: Ja, thank you Jenny and Barrie, uhm…
BT: Good afternoon, sir.
Josef: I’m…good afternoon. I’m aware that a lot of research has been done on this and there are many reports concerning the harmful effects of this kind of radiation, my concern number one, before I get to the precaution side is that if governments are resisting the actual truth on these reports because it would affect revenue, but secondly I’m also aware that there are precautions that certain companies have taken in manufacturing [?], certain [?] that can be attached to one’s cell phone, to one’s laptop, to one’s microwave…can be inserted in plug points in order to minimise the harmful effects of the radiation and in fact change the frequencies so that the body actually sees them as healthy frequencies as opposed to harmful frequencies. Can you elaborate on that?
BT: Uhm, could I answer the first…I was concentrating on the second. What was the first question? Sorry.
Josef: The first question was that governments seem to be deliberately resisting the actual reports.
BT: Yes, can I answer that part first, and then we’ll come to the second part. Uhm, when I address governments, what they don’t realise is that there is an initial boost to the government from the industry, putting up towers, and paying rent and anything else that is being paid, but I was talking to a government just two weeks ago, and I said can you really afford this system unregulated, and I’ll tell you why, sir, because most of the money generated from the cell phones, apart from the tax, leaves the country. It’s estimated that from the illnesses, the health bill could go up as much as forty percent in some countries, and they’re not prepared for that. May I just finish, sir.
The third aspect of this, and this has been calculated by The Times, an editor in The Times, that the cost to the planet in making the pollinating insects sick, that pollinate the plants that feed the planet, the cost could be as much as thirty three trillion, that’s a million million, US dollars a year. So, when it comes to profit, there may be a lovely initial boost for the government, but when I address governments, I say, have your economists actually sat down and worked out the real cost of all of this, and they haven’t.
That’s the first part of your question, sir, the second part was…
JCW: Well I think you’ve answered that in full. Let’s move on. Ryan, you’ve touched on the answer that Barrie has just given about pollinating insects, and your question is about bee colony collapse disorder? Hi there Ryan… All right, Ryan from Gallow Manor asked the question about bees which are in trouble, and that of course is pollination, that’s what we’re talking about.
BT: I could expand on that, just one thing.
BT: Uhm, I’ve done a lot of research on bees, and in fact I gave a lecture just before I came to this country. The bees are out of all of the insects, all of the animals that are affected, bees are affected worst. And the reason is, is that they are the size that the frequency of the microwaves can react with most. They have three different types of iron in their bodies that help them navigate, they use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate, but the microwaves going through the bees, will remagnetise what they use for the earth’s magnetic field, so they are disorientated.
And the other part, and this has been published in Nature, the planet’s foremost scientific journal. They have found that the bees’ visual navigation system where they use the sun, that is also affected by all microwave frequencies, so the bottom line is, bees will get lost, their immune systems will suffer and then eventually whatever illness they come across, the varroa mite, anything, that will then take its course. But the bottom line here is that migratory insects, even ants, will be disorientated.
JCW: All right, so give us a call, 883 0702. I’ve got a whole lot of questions I want to ask, Barrie, and yes they do revolve around cell phones, children, masts in playgrounds and masts in buildings and things like that. Should we be concerned, or should we just lie back and take it as it’s given to us?
Now Barrie, before we get onto cell phone masts and things like that, what does the World Health Organisation say about what you are saying?
BT: The World Health…it’s a very good question. The World Health Organisation were challenged by the European parliament very recently, on their stance. The World Health Organisation replied in writing to the European parliament, and I have that document here.
The first thing they said was that they will not give any form of comments or estimate of the impact of this, health wise, until 2015, and they also said that they only started to study the effect on children, last year. So that may be in fifteen years, fourteen years time. So the World Health Organisation are not actually saying anything.
JCW: So, how could they have been so lax as not to start, because the rumours have been going around for years and years and years and years. One would have liked to have thought that they would have picked up earlier on.
BT: There are to my knowledge legal issues here where parliaments are questioning the decision making processes of the World Health Organisation, and this is an opinion that there may be industrial influences with the committee that helps run the World Health Organisation, and I do know there are legal questions headed that way, but, everybody including myself is bemused, because a few years ago, we looked at the World Health Organisation’s database on electromagnetic radiation of the microwave communication frequencies, and eighty percent of all of their data showed either cancer increases, neurological disorders, what they call microwave syndrome, which is electro sensitivity. Eighty percent of their research showed this, but they were doing nothing about it.
JCW: What is the Bio-Initiative Report?
BT: The Bio-Initiative Report, it really flew in the face of the World Health Organisation’s lack of support. Two thousand…no I tell a lie…several scientists from around the world, leading scientists from around the world, spent many years studying the latest two thousand research papers. They cross checked them, they read them, they looked at them, they argued, the discussed, and the scientists who wrote the Bio-Initiative Report, they decided on a safe level that would include children, and they listed all of the illnesses and they came out with this safe level that they considered with today’s knowledge, today’s experts, a safe level for children and everybody else for a lifetime’s exposure.
They published this safe level, and anybody can read it and anybody can use it. To my knowledge it’s been picked up by six or eight governments so far, two were already on it, and I think another six have decided to ignore the international guidelines, ignore the World Health Organisation, and to go straight to the Bio-Initiative safety level.
JCW: How long is it before you start showing, for instance if there’s a mast in a child’s playground, and you’ve got children going there every single day apart from school holidays, how long does it take before some of them might start showing symptoms, and theirs can be things such as nausea for instance, or dizziness or rashes and things like that, there’s the initial stages are they not?
BT: Absolutely correct. The three percent, we know from experiments from around the world, the minimum that will show signs instantly, almost instantly, within minutes, is three percent, so, if you have a hundred children in your school, three of them will show signs straight away.
The Nobel Prize winning Irish Doctors Association believe it’s probably nearer fifteen percent, but I’m settling for three at the moment. So we know three percent initially, and then, depending on the child’s state of health and a few other factors, probably within eighteen months to a few years, you will then have the more serious symptoms starting to show.
JCW: What about houses that are in the proximity of that particular mast for instance?
BT: Absolutely the same, ma’am, absolutely the same. Children are everywhere. The problem we find with schools…and may I just say that…may I just come in with a piece of research please?
In 2003, there was an international study of schools in just France and Spain, and they found a hundred and thirty leukemia clusters in schools that had transmitters in the playground. Just a few years later I was invited to address the Welch parliament, and I found another forty seven, so, by the end of 2006, between England, France and Spain, we had over two hundred leukemia clusters in schools of eleven children or more, aged eleven or under. That is over two thousand children.
JCW: Right, well that’s…I mean that is an alarming statistic. What about adults? What about teachers? What about people living in the houses nearby that are not children?
BT: The report I wrote, and I’m having it published soon, but I’ve left copies behind, I’ve referenced the report that looked at all the schools and they did find that there was elevated breast cancer…uhm…the first symptom in a lady tends to be breast cancer if it’s going to be serious.
There was elevated breast cancer in the teachers, psychological problems, general ill health…so…my…when I’ve travelled, and I have been right around the world, and I say to any school and any of your listeners now can check this, anyone, I say if you have a transmitter in your school, I will guarantee, absolutely guarantee two things; first, the sickness level will go up, and that includes staff, and the behaviour of the children and the exam results will go down.
JCW: All right, well that’s a huge claim. What area are we talking about? What circumference are we talking about?
BT: No mobile transmitter should be within a kilometer and a half of a school, if it is an ordinary transmitter, putting out an ordinary 20 Watt microwave beam. It should certainly not be within a kilometer and a half of any school.
JCW: If it’s in the middle of a high street and it’s on top of a two storey building?
BT: No, it shouldn’t be there. There is no reason for microwave transmitters to be near people. They can be moved far away from people. The only reason they’re near people is because it saves the company money. They’re easier to maintain. If you have to maintain a transmitter, it’s easier to pull up with a lorry and a ladder, and go straight up, than into the middle of a field, with a four wheel drive truck, and reach one there. It’s purely to do with profit.
JCW: Let’s go to Eric. Hi there Eric, you’ve got a question about different frequencies?
Eric: Ja, hi Jenny, hi Barrie.
BT: Good afternoon, sir.
Eric: Barrie said that microwave frequency is 2.4 GHz, and I guess that’s where most of the damage occurs, and I’m just wondering how far you have to move away from that frequency on either side before you can minimise damage, or is there no effect?
BT: All of the…the microwave frequencies go from 300 Mhz to 300 GHz, and it’s not so much the frequency, sir, it’s the pulse frequency or the modulation frequency that they put with it. That tends to do most of the damage. So, it’s not a question of the microwave frequency per se, it’s a question of all of the pulse and modulation frequencies that carry the pictures, the movement, the sound.
Those are the ones which are known to cause the damage, and I’m not blaming the industry here, they invent something, and there is nobody around that will say to them, hang on, you are picking a particularly dangerous pulse frequency or modulation frequency, change it. All the industry has to do, is turn to a government or turn to somebody like me, and say, would you comment. The problem is solvable, but, to answer your question, sir, it’s really the modulation or the pulse frequency, the carrier waves that they put in, that tend to do most of the damage.
JCW: All right, Eric, interesting questions, thank you. And here’s another one, Themba asking this question: what are the effects of microwaves when using blue tooth in the car, which many of us do, and/or when the blue tooth device is actually on your person?
BT: Two questions, the first you should never ever use a microwave transmitter inside a car, because they reflect all of the microwaves backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards, and you are effectively putting yourself into a microwave oven. That is the first thing. The other thing is that we know from experiments, and this has been published, that when you have microwaves near your brain, we know that…it was carried out on children, and a child who used a microwave transmitter, an ordinary cell phone, for two minutes, had his natural brain waves disrupted for two hours afterwards.
Now when you disrupt your natural brain waves, it’s called entrainment, any personality change, depending which part of the brain you’re changing, any personality change can occur, and that’s just with two minutes. So if you have children in your car or you are using a blue tooth near your brain, you are effectively entraining your brain.
Now if you are using your blue tooth for several minutes, then the chances are your brain will be entrained for many, many, many hours, and if you use a mobile phone and blue tooth, a mobile phone and blue tooth, on and off through the day, then your brain will not actually function properly and you could experience all sorts of neurological funny feelings, and I’m afraid this was the basis of my spy training and this is what they were used for.
JCW: And lots more questions coming from listeners and I’ve also got some more questions, and if you’ve just tuned in, we’re chatting to Barrie Trower, retired British military intelligence scientist, and he’s here to answer your questions. He’s out here as a guest of the electromagnetic radiation research foundation of South Africa, and I’ll give you details of the talk that he is going to be giving. That’s a talk, a public presentation this evening at seven pm, but I’ll give you those details a little bit later on.
All right, we’re going to run out of time, but let’s see how we go. Is there a minimum amount of texting that is safe for girls?
BT: Uhm, the question is too hard for me to answer. The question really is like ‘is there a minimum amount of cigarettes a child could smoke and stay safe’. There are so many complicated issues here, a girl may just text once, send the microwaves straight through her ovaries, and cause genetic damage, or she may text for a month and have no specific issues.
JCW: So you just can’t say.
BT: The question is too hard to answer.
JCW: You were saying to me a moment ago whilst we were off air that if a child uses a cell phone once a year, it’s once too many. Is that not being too rigid, too melodramatic?
BT: My own government has said that children should only use cell phones in a life and death emergency. Some countries, I believe Russia, actually ban children from using cell phones, but if we stick to the life and death emergency, if a child says to me ‘I’ve used my cell phone once a year’ I would say ‘well you have a pretty rough life to have an emergency like that every year’. A child should not use a cell phone, only in a life and death emergency. And there are other medical issues that I don’t have time to go through, to do with the immune system and the development of the nerves, but uhm, a child should not use a cell phone unless it’s a life and death situation.
JCW: And it should not, emphatically, the mast should not be sighted in a school ground.
BT: Absolutely not, without a shadow of a doubt.
JCW: Let’s see if we can answer this question from Moira, hi there Moira.
Moira: Hi uhm, hi Barrie and Jen.
BT: Good afternoon ma’am.
Moira: My question is, do satellite dishes emit, uhm, microwave radiation and I’m not talking about the home TV satellites, I’m talking about the 50 meter diameter satellite dishes, and the reason I ask is that I have an factory next door to an area that is like a satellite farm. I’ve been working there for 15 years and my health has deteriorated to the point where I can’t even work anymore, with neurological problems and various health problems.
BT: The easy answer to your question, ma’am is ‘yes they can’.
Moira: Is it the microwaves that are the problem? Because these are satellites that, I believe, some of them track satellites orbiting the earth and, uhm, two that are located about ten meters from my factory are at least 50 meters diameter.
BT: If they’re tracking satellites orbiting the earth, to be honest, it depends what the dish is there for and what it’s doing. If it’s tracking a satellite then nothing should be coming your way. If it is tracking a satellite picking up information and forwarding it to a cell tower…
Moira: Yes, that’s what it does.
BT: …or receive from a cell tower, if it’s receiving from satellites and forwarding it to a cell tower, that is, generally, sort of in the form of a beam and if you are in the way of that beam then you are absolutely correct, ma’am, that could be the explanation of your illness, without a shadow of a doubt.
Moira: And can it cause things like clinical depression and neurological problems? I’ve lost feeling…
JCW: Okay Moira I can’t be too explicit about that but Barrie will answer that question, thanks.
JCW: Okay. Fantastic, Barrie, you’ll stay for a few minutes after the news?
BT: Of course.
JCW: Fantastic, that would be absolutely lovely, otherwise we’re going to run out of time, we’ve got lots and lots of interesting questions coming our way, including the use of wifi which of course affects so many South Africans and so many people all around the world. In your house, in your car and in your office as well, so let’s talk about that, and possibly ways to combat that. Let me slip in a question to Barrie before the news and he’ll stay for about ten minutes after the news and hopefully get through all of your questions. Barrie, just a quick question, is it safer not to keep your cell phone next to your bed when you go to sleep at night?
BT: Oh, absolutely! What happens, if you have your cell phone next to your bed, it is emitting microwaves if it is on standby. The microwaves go into the body and they influence a chemical known as melatonin. The melatonin goes around the body at night mopping up cancer cells that we can produce every day, so if your cell phone is on beside your bed when you are sleeping, which is the most dangerous time of the day, when you wake up, your immune system can be 40% less effective than when you went to bed.
JCW: Really, so if you switch off that cell phone, not put it on silent, but if you switch it off, presumably, then it’s okay because it’s switched off?
JCW: Same as television sets in the bedroom?
JCW: Same with anything that is electronic?
JCW: Goodness. Okay, so there you go, there are some quick answers to some questions, but we’ll take some of your other questions after the news. Stay with us, I think it is a vital conversation. I think it is an important conversation and just some information that Barrie has given me, that in Taiwan, 1,700 schools have actually taken out wifi. I think that’s what we were talking about, they’ve actually got rid of it all together, very very interesting and we’ll talk about that a little bit after the news, so please stay with us, talking to Barrie Trower.
I mentioned just before the news that Taiwan had removed all sorts of things from school grounds, what I was talking about because it don’t think I was clear, I was vague, has already removed 1,500 masts from school grounds or near their schools and that was as early as 2007 and yes there have been studies around masts in schools and it’s coming up negative just about everywhere.
Barrie, I asked you about the Bio-Initiative Report. I asked you about the World Health Organisation. What is the Ecolog study?
BT: The Ecolog study was a study commissioned and run by the mobile industry itself, it was a very long study, I believe it was over ten years, with top world scientists. And, the conclusion to the Ecolog study, which is really the mobile industry researching its own product for health reasons and the conclusions were that low level microwaves can cause the cancer inducers and cancer promoters to act inside the body, in other words, they risk cancer and also there could be DNA damage.
JCW: And that’s the mobile industry itself?
JCW: Now, you don’t have a website.
JCW: But if people want to access your research, how do they go about that?
BT: If they Google, my name is Barrie Trower, if you Google my name, nearly everything I have published or my lectures to governments, they’re all on there, I hope they’re all in simple to understandable English and you can download them for free.
JCW: Alright, let’s answer some other questions, we’re going to be as quickly as we possibly can, Leonora, you’ve got a question?
Leonora: Yes, please, I’d like to ask Barrie if amalgam fillings, metal fillings, be it amalgam or gold, as well as implants, titanium implants in teeth have any impact as far as using cell phones are concerned and cell phone towers?
BT: You’re absolutely correct, ma’am. Any metal inside the body will absorb microwaves and they will re-emit microwaves usually at a slightly different wavelength, but into the body and you can get quite a serious heating effect inside the body.
Leonora: So experiencing pins and needles and that kind of effect, sensation, could possibly be due to that?
BT: Oh, without a shadow of a doubt ma’am, you’re correct.
Leonora: Okay, all right, thank you for your answer.
BT: My pleasure, ma’am.
JCW: Stephanie, hello.
Stephanie: Hi, hi, hi Barrie, my question is, my children go to school outside of Johannesburg and they’ve had to go wireless with wifi because cables have been stolen, so the whole school is wireless. What – and they have been approached and the school said, ‘well, prove it to us’ – what could one, where could I go to, who could I speak to, to come and measure the radiation that is going on in that school – or would you say pull them out of the school, my children.
BT: They say prove the wifi is dangerous…
BT: You only have to quote the industry’s own research in its own product. Uhmm, the, to me, if I had children at school, I would change schools to a school that didn’t have wifi, personally. I wouldn’t run the risk with my daughter having a genetically damaged child.
Stephanie: Yeah, okay, thank you so much.
BT: My pleasure ma’am.
JCW: Alright, and it’s the Ecolog study that we’re talking about here. Just some quick answers, my husband works at cell masts every day, what are the implications for him?
BT: Wear protective clothing, very, very good protective clothing, when you are going up or near a transmitter.
JCW: My three year old boy plays games on my cell phone daily. Is it safe for him to continue or should I stop him?
BT: If the cell phone is just being used like a simple calculator for games, there is no problem. If it is transmitting somewhere then there is a problem.
JCW: Will car radios have the same effect on you, turning a car into a microwave, if I turn on my car radio? Is that a problem?
BT: You should never , ever have microwave radiation inside a car, not ever. Never ever.
JCW: Even if it’s an old cell phone?
BT: Especially if it’s an old cell phone.
JCW: Uhm, new cell pone mast is about 300 meters away beaming into my five year old daughters bedroom, would planting trees help?
JCW: Uhm, the recommended 1.5 km radius around a cell phone mast, and where it is safe for you to be, is that higher when 4G technology is released?
BT: It will be much higher and much more complicated, can I come back please just to the lady with the four year old daughter?
BT: Uhm, one of the things you can do, cause not everybody can move house, one thing you can do, if you get some thin tin or thick aluminum, not cooking foil, and if you remember going back when ladies would go behind screens if they had to undress for doctors, that sort of thing, if you build screens and you put the aluminum or tin, on the screen, shiny side to the transmitter and put it between the transmitter and the child’s bed, then you are shielding the child.
JCW: Oh well, then that’s absolutely, that’s what she’s got to do.
JCW: Because she simply can’t do it in… but, you probably got to do it on all the walls in the house.
BT: Only the walls facing the transmitter.
JCW: Okay. Alright, so don’t forget you can go along and Google Barrie and get a whole lot of the stuff that we’ve been speaking about, and the questions that we’ve been getting about ‘are animals affected’, well they’ve got the same cellular structure that we have, of course they are affected in the same kind of a way. But, maybe this is the last question we’re going to take, Amanda, you are asking the 64 thousand dollar question…
Amanda: What is the solution?
BT: That is a brilliant question, ma’am and thank you for asking it. There is a solution, is that the governments and the industry follow the Bio-Initiative safety level, that is all. All they have to do is turn the knob down to a safe level, and that is the solution.
JCW: And you can access that, by the way Mandy, it’s called the Bio-Initiative Report.
Amanda: Thank you, I will do.
JCW: Okay, so, cause I think that that might be vital for many, many people listening. Now we could go on and on and on, but we can’t so Barrie is giving a public presentation this evening. It’s at 7 pm and it’s at Fourways high school which is Kingfisher Drive in Fourways and this really and truly is, it’s a unique opportunity to hear more about what is really known about the dangers of cell phones and other wireless technology that we are all involved in in one way or another. The health damage it is causing, the legal battles around the world that are being fought to actually address this issue. And this is open to all members of the public and it is free. So that is 7 pm at Fourways high school, Kingfisher Drive in Fourways. We’re talking to Barry Trower and he is consulting to governments and other authorities around the world on the health risks of microwave exposure. And you can Google him and you can get your hands on some of his research, which is all put up there and that will amplify some of the things that we’ve been speaking about today. But, Barrie, thank you, very sobering conversation
BT: My pleasure, ma’am, thank you very much for your courtesy.
JCW: Thank you.
Your smartphone’s dirty, radioactive secret
Wed, 02 Jan 2013 11:34 CST
It’s a sweltering late February afternoon when I pull into the Esso gas station in the tiny town of Bukit Merah, Malaysia. My guide, a local butcher named Hew Yun Tat, warns me that the owner is known for his stinginess. “He’s going to ask you to buy him tea,” Hew says. “Even though he owns many businesses around here, he still can’t resist pinching pennies.”
An older man emerges from the station office. His face and hands are mottled with white patches, his English broken.
“I’ll talk to you,” the man says, “but only if you buy me tea.” He grins.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” says Hew, laughing. “A rich man like you.”
At a bustling open-air café nearby, we order tea and ais kacang, giant shaved-ice desserts laden with chopped-up jello and sweet, sticky red beans. I dig in, but the station owner – I’ll call him Esso Man, since he doesn’t want me to use his real name – is moodily stirring his into a slushy puddle. We’re here to ask him about something he doesn’t like to talk about: a job he did 30 years ago, when he owned a trucking company. He got a contract with a local industrial plant called Asian Rare Earth, co-owned by Mitsubishi Chemical, that supplied special minerals to the personal electronics industry.
Esso Man couldn’t believe his luck. He wasn’t a rich man back then, and Asian Rare Earth offered three times as much as his usual gigs, just for trucking waste away from the plant. They didn’t say where or how to dump the waste, and he and his three drivers were paid by the load – the quicker the trip, the more money they earned. “Sometimes they would tell us it was fertilizer, so we would take it to local farms,” Esso Man says. “My uncle was a vegetable farmer, so I gave some to him.” Other times, the refinery officials said the stuff was quicklime, so one driver painted his house with it. “He thought it was great, because it made all the mosquitoes and mice stay away.”
In fact, Esso Man and his drivers were hauling toxic and radioactive waste, as they’d discover a year later, when Asian Rare Earth tried to build a dump in a neighboring town. Residents there began to protest, and a few activists took a Geiger counter to the plant, where they found levels of radiation that were off the charts – up to 88 times higher than those allowed under international guidelines. In 1985, after residents sued, the government ordered the plant to be closed until Asian Rare Earth cleaned up its mess.
Two years later, the site still wasn’t completely clean, but Asian Rare Earth got permission to reopen the plant. The protests began anew, and Hew, one of the leaders of the opposition, was jailed for two months. When he got out he snuck back to the protests, which grew in size and popularity. In 1992, the residents who’d sued Asian Rare Earth won a permanent injunction against the plant. It was overturned by the Supreme Court, but Asian Rare Earth had had enough, and it pulled out of Bukit Merah and shut down operations entirely.
But by then, Hew says, the villagers were anxious. Pregnant women living near the plant had miscarried; some gave birth to children who were sickly, or mentally disabled, or blind. Other children in the village developed leukemia.
Officials told residents that the waste was properly disposed of. But in 2010, a local paper visited Asian Rare Earth’s dump site and found 80,000 drums containing 4.2 million gallons of radioactive thorium hydroxide. That year, Mitsubishi broke ground on a secure, underground storage area to properly house the waste of its former subsidiary. The New York Times recently called the $100 million Asian Rare Earth recovery “the largest radiation cleanup yet in the rare earth industry.”
As we finish our dessert, I ask Esso Man about the white patches on his skin, which started appearing several years after he’d worked with Asian Rare Earth’s waste. His doctors speculate they might have to do with his exposure to radioactivity, he says, but they can’t be sure. Such medical guesswork is common in Bukit Merah, since no one has ever formally studied the impact of radiation exposure among the village’s 11,000 residents. (Mitsubishi denies any health effects.) And anyway, sometimes Esso Man thinks it might just be stress that’s causing his skin condition. “I feel regret about working for that company,” he says glumly. “I feel bad that I gave people all that toxic waste. Even my own uncle.” All of Esso Man’s drivers have died young – not one lived past his 50s. “I don’t know why they died and I am still alive.”
After we drop Esso Man back at his gas station, Hew takes me to the nearby home of Lai Kwan, a local woman who worked as a bricklayer at the Bukit Merah plant while she was pregnant in 1982. Hunched over and walking slowly, she looks older than her 69 years. In her modest living room, photos of her eight children, now grown, line the walls. In the corner is a small cluster of flowers and vials of powder that I take for a Buddhist shrine, but Lai Kwan explains that they are gifts from her friends and neighbors, and that the vials contain chicken essence, known in Chinese medicine for its healing properties.
Lai Kwan recalls that soon after she started working in the plant, she heard rumors from the Japanese workers that the materials they were refining were dangerous. Several of her coworkers miscarried, and when she found out she was pregnant, she worried about her baby’s health. So a few months later, she quit. Her son, Cheah Kok Liang, was born in 1983, profoundly retarded and nearly blind. Lai Kwan’s husband left when the boy was a toddler. Now 29, Cheah still lives at home and requires full-time care. He’s suffered from frequent chest infections his whole life, but it’s hard to tell when he’s getting ill, since he can’t communicate. I ask to meet him, but Lai Kwan explains that he is sleeping. “If he were awake right now, I couldn’t be talking to you.”
What will happen to Cheah when she can’t care for him anymore? “It’s getting harder now,” she says. “He’s heavy, and I have arthritis.” Money is tight – since Lai Kwan can’t read or write very well, she’d only be able to find work at a factory, and she can’t leave Cheah alone for a whole shift. A few months ago, a local politician visited and promised to help, but “every time I call she says she is too busy,” says Lai Kwan, showing us a picture of the politician and her son in the local newspaper.
A doctor from Kuala Lumpur tells me that he visited Bukit Merah to treat the eight children there who developed leukemia, seven of whom have died. Though there has never been a formal epidemiological study of the area, radiation exposure is a known cause of childhood leukemia, and no local I talked to could remember a single case of the disease before the plant opened.
About six weeks after I get back to the United States, I receive word that Cheah passed away suddenly. The cause of his death is still unknown.
I have come to Malaysia because of my iPhone. I already knew that behind its sleek casing lurked a problematic history. I’d read the stories about Apple’s Chinese factories – about teenage girls working 15-hour shifts cleaning screens with toxic solvents, about suicides among exhausted workers whose lives are no longer their own. But I had a much dimmer idea of my phone’s history before the Foxconn plant – where did those components they put together come from? What were its guts made of? My phone’s shady past, it turned out, began long before it was assembled in a Chinese factory. The elements used to power all our high-tech gadgets come from a very dirty industry in which rich nations extract the good stuff from the earth – and leave poor countries to clean up the mess.
“Never again” is a common refrain among Bukit Merah residents who have lived through 20 years of Asian Rare Earth aftermath. But the Malaysian government doesn’t agree. In 2008, it approved an Australian company’s plan to build a brand new rare-earth refinery on the country’s east coast. The company, Lynas Corporation, will do its mining in Australia, but it will refine the rare earths – a process that generates vast quantities of toxic and radioactive waste – in Kuantan, Malaysia, a sleepy coastal city in a state where the average resident makes $7,314 a year. When completed, the plant will be the largest of its kind, meeting a full fifth of the world’s rare-earth demand. Its waste will not be permanently stored in an underground facility. Instead, toxic wastewater will be treated and released into the productive fishing grounds of the South China Sea, home to more than 3,300 species of fish. As for the plans for the radioactive solids? Well, they remind people all too much of what happened in the days of Esso Man.
To the Malaysian government, the Lynas plant represents an opportunity to become a major player in one of the most lucrative, fastest-growing industries in the world. In the 20 years since the Bukit Merah plant closed, demand for rare earths has increased tenfold, from roughly $1 billion to $10 billion today. A recent report predicted it to grow another 36 percent by 2015.
The 17 rare-Earth elements aren’t as rare as was thought when they were discovered in the 1800s. But they often perform specific, crucial functions. For example, “virtually all polished glass products” depend on cerium, according to the US Geological Survey; the element is also vital to catalytic converters. Other rare earths help form the world’s strongest magnets. If you hold a chunk of magnetized neodymium, a chunk a few feet away will fly through the air to meet it. Because rare-earth magnets are so strong, a little goes a long way. They’re the reason your smartphone has computing power that would have filled two rooms just 30 years ago yet today fits in the palm of your hand.
Walk down the aisles of your local Best Buy and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a phone, laptop, or TV that doesn’t contain at least one of the rare earths. The elements are also key to all kinds of green technology: Neodymium is found in wind turbines; hybrid and electric cars often contain as many as nine different rare earths. Yttrium can form phosphors that make light in LED displays and compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Rare earths are also crucial for defense technology – radar and sonar systems, tank engines, smart bombs.
But here’s the catch. Rare earths always occur alongside the radioactive elements thorium and uranium, and safely separating them is a complex process. Miners use heavy machinery to reach the raw ore, which contains anywhere between 3 and 9 percent rare earths, depending on the deposit. Then the ore is taken to a refinery and “cracked,” a process wherein workers use sulfuric acid to make a liquid stew of sorts. The process is also hugely water- and energy-intensive, requiring a continuous 49 megawatts (enough to power 50,000 homes) and two Olympic swimming pools’ worth of water every day.
Workers then boil off the liquid and separate out the rare earths from rock and radioactive elements. This is where things get dangerous: Companies must take precautions so that workers aren’t exposed to radiation. If the tailings ponds where the radioactive elements are permanently stored are improperly lined, they can leach into the groundwater. If they are not covered properly, the slurry could dry and escape as dust. And this radioactive waste must be stored for an incomprehensibly long time – the half-life of thorium is about 14 billion years, and uranium’s is up to 4.5 billion years. Reminder: Earth itself is 4.5 billion years old.
Not coincidentally, the refining tends to happen in areas where weak environmental rules mean that companies can process the elements on the cheap. Take the Baotou region of Inner Mongolia, where most of China’s rare-earth mines are clustered, and where waste has leached into waterways and irrigation canals, according to several independent investigations. Communities around one former mine in Mongolia blame at least 66 cancer deaths on leaked radioactive waste, and local people complain that their hair and teeth have fallen out.
All this so that my friends and I can settle an argument about the order of Metallica’s first three albums from the comfort of our bar stools.
Kuantan, the town where Lynas has built its new rare-earth refinery, is a popular vacation spot – laid-back and unpretentious, with uncrowded beaches and delicious seafood. By early fall, Lynas’ rare-earth ore will begin to arrive.
Shipping ore thousands of miles is extremely expensive. But the company says the cheaper labor, electricity, and chemicals in Malaysia make it worthwhile. Malaysians who oppose the plant see a much more troubling dynamic. “Australia is a first-world country that wants the developing world to do its dirty work,” says Fuziah Salleh, Kuantan’s parliamentary representative and an outspoken critic of the Lynas project. “Our environmental laws are very lax, and Lynas knows exactly where to take advantage of it. If you look at Australia, there are very strict laws about controlling the waste, dust, and air quality. But here in Malaysia – even if we have those laws – it is very hard to enforce.”
Lynas emphasizes that this refinery will be “completely different to the Bukit Merah rare-earths plant” and that “there are now much higher standards in place which mean Bukit Merah could never be repeated.” Last year, the Malaysian government asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to recommend a list of 11 safety requirements and standards that should be in place in order to operate. But Lynas was allowed to open its refinery without meeting the most important one – a long-term storage solution for the waste. Instead, Lynas says it will treat the highly acidic liquid waste before releasing it into waters that support a thriving mangrove ecosystem and fish that local residents depend on.
That hasn’t done much to reassure the people of Kuantan. “Lynas doesn’t care what happens to us,” one fisherman tells me. “They just want their money.” They are also less than thrilled that their government has promised Lynas a 12-year tax holiday.
But even more dubious is what Lynas proposes to do with the radioactive solids: Isolate them – the company is not forthcoming with any details as to how – before diluting them with soil or concrete and selling the mixture as fertilizer or construction materials.
“They have yet to establish it is either economically or practically feasible,” says Dr. Peter Karamoskos, a radiation safety adviser for the Australian government. Noting that Lynas’ waste is six times as radioactive as levels recognized as safe, he does a quick calculation: “By the end of 10 years of 1 million tons of waste, where are you going to find 6 million tons to dilute it with? Where are you going to find the clients to take up that stuff? Where are their contracts? Any builder who touched this waste would be out of business immediately. You can argue that if you diluted it adequately you could use it. However, remember the problem is that buildings get demolished. Once you start doing that, you release that back into the environment.”
No wonder the plant has become a rallying cause for the opposition parties in upcoming elections. Even in Kuala Lumpur, 150 miles from the plant, I saw bumper stickers bearing the words “Save Malaysia! Stop Lynas!” and here in Kuantan, the slogan is everywhere – on flyers in store windows, on T-shirts, and even on umbrellas.
Among the local protesters is an environmental consultant and Kuantan native named Lee Tan, who now lives mostly in Australia but hasn’t forgotten a single crevice of her hometown. A stout, cheerful woman in her early 50s, Tan takes me to a roadside fish stand in the nearby village of Sungai Karang, where a handful of families sit around plastic tables as kids dart around underfoot and a few hungry cats lick their chops near the trash area out back. This is a Muslim village, and Tan and I are the only women not wearing a tudung, the Malaysian headscarf. The shop’s owner, 31-year-old Jamil Jusuf, is making his specialty: fried fingers of selayang and padang fish dusted with spicy meal, wrapped tightly in leaves and grilled over an open flame. Jusuf says he first heard about the refinery from tourists. “They told me that the waste will go right where I get my fish from,” he says.
Over at a fishing dock on the Balok River, just a few hundred yards from Lynas’ waste release site, a fisherman says that he has heard that the opposition party, which is largely made up of ethnic Chinese, is using the Lynas issue to get more votes; the Malay-dominated government has been very supportive of Lynas. He produces a beat-up booklet bearing the Lynas logo. “Lynas has come here many times to hand out pamphlets,” he says. Later, Tan translates the pamphlet for me. “The Lynas plant will not be dangerous to the public, the surrounding area, or its workers,” declares one bolded heading.
The next day I snag a meeting with a senior government spokesman, who agrees to speak if I don’t publish his name. I ask him what locals will gain from having the plant nearby. “A lot, a lot,” he says, before admitting that Lynas will only employ about 300 people. “But because Lynas is here, some other industries will also come.”
“Siemens,” he says. I ask whether the German electronics conglomerate has made a formal commitment. He concedes that it hasn’t.
“So have any other companies officially said they would come?”
“Thus far, no other commitments yet.”
And what of the plant’s potential chilling effect on tourism? He brushes that aside. “Fears created by the opposition have influenced a very tiny segment of the people, especially among the Chinese,” he says. “The Malays are not worried, because we have been telling them that this project is safe, so why would they fear?”
From Kuantan, I head back to noisy, frenetic Kuala Lumpur. In my hotel room, I can hear tourists at the karaoke bar next door belting out Whitney Houston hits. Tourism accounts for around 6.7 percent of the country’s GDP. Over the last decade, the number of foreign tourists has more than doubled, making it the ninth most visited country in the world, just shy of Germany. That it’s a Muslim country makes it an especially popular destination for visitors from the Arab world. I wonder if radiation fears will hurt tourism.
Most of the 12 rare-earth experts I’ve spoken to say it’s technically possible for Lynas to scrub its waste of all the toxic elements – acids, radioactive substances, and corrosive tailings. But not one has seen sufficient explanation – from either Lynas or Malaysian officials – of exactly how it will do this.
When I ask Lynas if it has plans for a permanent waste storage facility, I receive no response. When I ask how the plant will treat its liquids for release into the river, or the radioactive solids it aims to recycle into construction materials, spokesman Alan Jury declines to provide answers and instead refers me to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s review of the plant.
I track down an engineer who worked on the Kuantan plant; he agrees to speak with me if given anonymity. Early on in the construction process, the engineer says, his team noticed serious flaws, including moisture seeps and cracks, in the 22 waste tanks the company was building. The problems led AkzoNobel, a Dutch company that Lynas had contracted to create the linings for the tanks, to pull out of the project, a story that the New York Times broke early this year. When I asked about the incident, an AkzoNobel spokeswoman wrote, “Due to changes in the Project specification, AkzoNobel would only recommend the use of its linings on the Project subject to the successful results of longer-term testing. That testing could not be completed within the project timescale.”
“My personal opinion is that the plant can operate safely,” the engineer tells me, “providing that i’s effectively engineered.” So far, though, he isn’t convinced it is.
“I don’t see the waste as impossible to manage, but you can’t do it in secret, and you can’t do it without good numbers,” agrees Gavin Mudd, a senior lecturer of civil engineering at Australia’s Monash University. “If Lynas is so confident in its methods, then it should have no problem being transparent.”
Lynas spokesman Jury says that the change of contractors was a “commercial decision” and assures me that the new one, Trepax Innovation, is lining the tanks “to meet the international industry standard.”
I attend a press conference with Raja Dato’ Abdul Aziz bin Raja Adnan, the head of Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board, the body that subsequently granted Lynas a license to operate. I ask Aziz, who never seems to break a sweat or lose his grin as reporters pelt him with pointed questions, whether the board has looked into the plant flaws. Aziz responds that the plant has been inspected by a registered engineer. When I ask for the engineer’s name, Aziz declines to give it. Why wasn’t the report available to the public? I ask.
“Because it’s Lynas’ document,” says Aziz.
So it was Lynas that looked into the allegations made by the Dutch contractor? He demurs, so I ask again who inspected the plant.
“I looked into the allegations,” he says.
“You personally looked into them?”
“We looked into them.”
“So then why can’t you tell me the name of the engineer who inspected the building for the safety flaws?”
“That’s for you to find out.”
Right. When I later ask Jury about the alleged inspection report, he says he doesn’t have it.
On the day that I leave Malaysia, a group of Kuantan residents files suit against Lynas and the licensing board, alleging in part that the board had a conflict of interest when it made a deal to receive 0.05 percent of the plant’s revenue for “radiation research.” When the news site Malaysian Insider asks Aziz about the suit, he responds, “I don’t know anything about it.”
Does my phone have to have such a toxic footprint? Not if manufacturers – and consumers – are prepared to spend more. In the shadow of the Clark mountain range in California’s Mojave Desert, about an hour outside of Las Vegas, is the Mountain Pass Mine, America’s only major rare-earth mine and refinery. Owned by a company called Molycorp, it opened in 1952 and for decades produced europium, crucial for making color TVs. But in the late ’90s, its wastewater pipes burst, and California shut the plant down; cleanup is still ongoing.
Then, in 2007, Molycorp executives decided to try to get the plant up and running again. The incentive was becoming too great. At the time, China was producing about 97 percent of the global supply of rare earths. But in 2010 it cut exports by 35 percent in order to keep the valuable metals for its own manufacturers. Prices rose and, fearing a shortage, members of Congress introduced a bill that would kick-start a domestic rare-earth renaissance by handing out federal subsidies. In March 2012, the United States, European Union, and Japan filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization over China’s manipulation of the rare-earth market.
By then engineers had developed several major improvements to refining methods. Molycorp’s new facility uses hydrochloric acid to remove thorium earlier in the process, when it is still in a solid state. Thorium and other waste solids are mixed into a cementlike substance, which workers spread out in layers over a 100-acre pit lined with high-density polyethylene.
Molycorp isn’t perfect. That state-of-the-art tailings field is only permitted for 30 years; after that, a new pit would need to be built. The facility uses about half the water that the old plant used, but its energy demands are seven times greater. What’s more, officials are tight-lipped about how much ore Molycorp ships to a refinery in Estonia, and about the methods used at its two Chinese refineries.
And even once Mountain Pass and other new US rare-earth plants are running at full capacity, we won’t come close to producing all the rare earths that we consume. The United States contains only 10 percent of the world’s known deposits. A recent Congressional Research Service report recommended that the US ensure reliable access to sources in countries like China, where rare earths are more abundant or – more to the point – cheaper to extract and refine. “Unless the consumers (industry or end buyers or both) demand that China and others do things in an environmentally sound manner,” Jim Kuipers, a Montana-based engineer and mining consultant, wrote me, “they’ll continue to do business as usual.”
Could recycling help? After all, Americans are buying ever more personal electronics, but only 24 states require manufacturers to pay for e-waste recycling, which means only 25 percent of electronics of any kind (and 11 percent of phones and other mobile devices) are ever even collected. What programs do exist often amount to shipping old phones and TVs to Chinese villages, where they are broken up and bathed in acid to remove gold and silver – resulting in terrible lead and dioxin pollution. Upshot: Though rare earths are recyclable, only 1 percent currently are. A bit of good news: Sick of being buffeted by China’s export policies and eager to go green, Japan’s major car companies recently began recycling the rare earths in their hybrids’ batteries. Get on it, Detroit.
One night toward the end of my visit to Kuantan, I’m lying in bed in a hostel in the middle of a dark neighborhood. I’ve been told that I’m the only guest tonight, and the hostel’s owner lives on the other side of town. In the middle of the night, I awake to the sound of men’s voices yelling outside my room in Mandarin. The front door slams. I sit up in bed, heart pounding. The yelling doesn’t stop, and I’m becoming increasingly panicked. Something crashes, and that’s it: I grab my phone, call Tan, and text a friend back in the States: “Don’t freak out, I’m fine, but can you look up how to make an emergency call in Malaysia just in case?” She quickly texts back, and I feel immediately better. A little while later, the hostel owner, whom Tan called, arrives. “No scared, la!” he assures me. (Malaysians often use “la” at the end of sentences for oomph.) They are just last-minute guests, tea merchants who were out partying. Very drunk but totally harmless. Mortified, I text my friend back. Then I apologize over and over – in English and tortured Malay – to the tired owner.
As I try to fall back asleep, I realize that in this situation, my phone was my security blanket. In different circumstances, it could have been my lifeline.
A few days later Tan and I meet up with a group of anti-Lynas activists, including a chatty local man named Chow Kok Chew. He explains that he moved to the area 30 years ago – from Bukit Merah. “Every day when I went to work, I saw awful smoke,” he says. “There were a lot of factories, but none had as much smoke as Asian Rare Earth.” It was hard, he says, to start a new life here on the east coast, hundreds of miles away from his hometown. But Chow built a successful career as a construction supervisor and raised three children here. Now it feels like home.
So if the plant gets built, I ask him, will he move yet again? He shakes his head. “I am old.” Still, he has been spending most of his spare time reading up about the plant – and encouraging his friends to do the same. Next month, Chow and his friends plan to shave their heads in protest. “If I don’t do something,” he says, “I’m worried that my grandson will say, ‘Grandfather, the first time you kept quiet. The second time you kept quiet, too. Why?'”