Position Paper on Electromagnetic Radiation in a School Environment

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The Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit

Gertner Institute for Epidemiology &  Health Policy Research

Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer 52621, ISRAEL

Tel: 972-3-5303262; Fax: 972-3-5348360

Affiliated to the Tel-Aviv University, Sackler Faculty of Medicine November 18th, 2010

The recommendations presented in  this position paper were formulated in accordance with the request of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament, D.T.) Interior and Environment Committee Chairman, MP. Dov Hanin, at a meeting of the committee on May 31st, 2010. The Health Ministry’s representative, Prof. Siegal Sadetzki was responsible for the initiation and consolidation of these recommendations.

For the purpose of preparing  this position paper, the following meetings took place:

A meeting held on July 15th, 2010,included  the following participatants:

Israeli Ministry of  Environmental Protection.

Prof. Gelberg Stelian – Head of the Department for the Prevention of Noise and Radiation.

Israeli Ministry of Education

Ms. Irit Livne – Health Inspector.

The Israel Electric Corporation Dr. David Elmakis – Director of the Department of Planning, Development and Technologies.

Dr. Bentzi Cohen – The Unit for Prevention of Casualties and Environmental Licensing, Department of Planning, Development and Technologies.

Mr. Zvi Segev – Director of the National Network

Mr. Eli Elisha – Manager of the Department for Network Planning and – Connecting Homes in the South

Israeli Ministry of Health

Prof. Siegal Sadetzki – Director of the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit, Gertner Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy Research.

Dr. Omer Sagi, Resident, the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit, Gertner Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy Research.

A meeting held on October 5th, 2010 included the following participatants:

Israeli Ministry of Education

Dr. Shimon Shoshani – CEO

Ms. Irit Livne – Health Inspector.

Ms. Esther Betzalel – Director of Department of Buildings, Budget, Administration and Development

Dr. Ofer Rimon – Director of Department of Science and Technology

Israeli Ministry of Health

Prof. Siegal Sadetzki – Director of the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit, Gertnet Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy Research.

Dr. Omer Sagi, Resident, the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit, Gertnet Institute for Epidemiology & Health Policy Research.The aim of these meetings was to summarize the various  exposures  to non-ionizing radiation  from  unnatural sources to which a student in the current education system is exposed , and to conduct a comprehensive discussion regarding the actions that should be taken in order to reduce these exposures and to ensure the health of the students.

This position paper was approved by all the participants mentioned above.

Background:

Radiation is an energy that is spread in space and does not require an intermediary material to pass through it. The terms used to characterize radiation include wavelength, frequency, magnetic field and electric field. The source of the radiation can be described as having power at certain frequency bands.

Non-ionizing radiation is electromagnetic radiation, in which its wavelengths are located in the spectrum above the ultraviolet range. These waves do not have sufficient energy to ionize atoms.

The sources of electromagnetic radiation can be divided into two main  sources:

1.    Natural sources- like cosmic radiation and Radon.

2.    Man-made sources – such as radio transmitters, power lines, transformer stations, microwaves, cell towers, etc.

In this document we will focus only on man made sources that emit electromagnetic radiation in a  school environment:

1.    Cell phones

2.    Wireless computer network systems, i.e., Wi-Fi, WLAN and laptops used by teachers and students.

3.    Electric power, i.e. (ELF – Extremely Low Frequency) from power lines, transformers, circuit breakers and other sources.

1.         Cell phones

Background:

Cell phones enable wireless communication by using electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequencies spectrum (RF). In light of the widespread use of this technology and the lack of concrete scientific knowledge as to its health effects, it was determined that there is a need to conduct more research and to examine the need to establish policies regarding sensible use of this technology.

Summary of the   studies published to date (including the international ‘Interphone Study’ that examined the impact of cell phones use on the development of malignant and benign brain tumors, tumors of the auditory nerve and the salivary gland) indicates, that there is  reason to suspect an increased  risk of developing these tumors as a result of cell phones use . It should be noted that the study populations did not include children and youth who are considered to be more susceptible to the adverse health effects of electromagnetic radiation. As a result, many international organizations have recommended adopting the ‘precautionary principle’.

The Israeli Health Ministry has also recommended adopting the precautionary principle in regard to   cell phone use, with   emphasis onchildren and youth, as stated on the.  the Ministry website:

http://www.health.gov.il/pages/default.asp?PageId=4408&catId=838&maincat=46

These recommendations join the international recommendations, in which  several bodies and authorities  attempt to  find a balance between the increasing use of cell phones amongst children and youth and the health safety considerations.  Accordingly, many official organizations have adopted specific recommendations  for the use of cell phones among children and youth.

In addition,  specific guidelines regarding the use of  electromagnetic radiation  in general, and cell phone use specifically  have been developed for educational institutions. The European Union decision INI/2008/2211 calls for youth to turn off their cellular devices in class. The European Union decision ENVI/6/65496 noted the importance of schools being ‘clean’ as much as possible from electromagnetic radiation including radiation from cell phones. In the United States in NYC, bringing cell phones into schools is banned and a similar bill was introduced in France. The European Union, England, Canada, the American FDA and San Francisco state in the US, decided that a campaign should be initiated to increase the awareness for safer and sensible use of cell phones with regard to the possible adverse health effects to children and youth.

The situation in educational institutions in Israel:

According to data from the Israeli Finance Ministry,, by the end of 2008 there were 9.1 million cell phones subscribers. A survey that was conducted for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor in 2007 found that in 58.6% of households with children aged 12-15, at least one child had a cell phone, totaling 254,000 children in this age group with cell phones.

The use of cell phones amongst children and youth is increasing. In addition to the health hazards associated with the use of cellular technology, its use also has social and behavioral implications within the school framework.

Unlike the electromagnetic radiation emitted from the electricity network, the exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones use is not imposed by the education system, as the use of cell phones in schools, is for the sole benefit of the individual!

Action Principle:

It was agreed by all, that the precautionary principle should be applied in the education arena as was recommended by the Health Ministry. Therefore, a balance should be achieved between the choice of the pupil and his parents to use cell phone and the possible health and social consequences of this use. This balance should be reached mainly by adopting proper habits of use.

It was agreed that technological solutions that would prevent cell phone reception in schools should not be used as a way to prevent cell phone use, for any such solution will cause higher exposure to radiation (a situation which is created in conditions of bad reception).

It should be noted that contrary to the operation of wireless networks or in exposure to electric networks, the main problem with the use of cell phones is to the user rather than to the other students who are present in the surrounding area.

Suggested methods of operation:

1.   A program providing age appropriate knowledge, with the goal of enabling the adoption of proper and sensible cell phone use habits should be established. i  The content of the program should  include, amongst other topics, understanding of the radiation emitted; the dangers associated with cell phone use; the precautionary principle; shortening the duration of each call; preference to SMS over a call; use of headphones; proper use while driving; night use and its effects on lack of sleep. The programs’ contents will be planned in collaboration with the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit in the Gertner Institute and the Ministry of Education.

2.   The program should be monitored by conducting a survey before and after  the intervention program is carried out, in order to test its effectiveness.

3.   Installation of public landline phones for students’ use in schools should be considered, in order to enable them to communicate with their parents instead of with cell phones.

4.   The possibility of establishing designated areas in which use of cell phones would be allowed, (as with smoking), should be considered. Hopefully establishing such areas would limit the use of cell phones and their environmental and social damage, and would provide balanced habits of use.

5.   It is important that these principles be applied, first and foremost, by the staffs  in the educational institutions. Accordingly, emphasis should be put on ensuring that teachers will comply and will use their cell phones only in the teachers’ room or in the areas designated for cell phone use.

6.   A recommendation should be made to the Israeli Ministry of Transportation to completely ban use of cell phones (including use by  headphones and  hands free phones systems) for young drivers, as was done in 21 states in the US. In this case, the danger of road accidents is not directly related to the electromagnetic radiation, but to the fact that the use of cell phones while driving diverts the attention of  drivers, with limited skill to begin with.

7.   A recommendation should be made to the Ministry of Transportation to completely ban the use of cell phones by public transportation drivers, including drivers of school buses, as was done in 17 states in the US. In this case as well,  the danger of road accidents is not directly related to  the electromagnetic radiation, but rather to the fact that cell phone use is a source of distraction when driving.

2.        The use of WLAN, Wi-Fi and Laptops by Teachers and Students

Background:

The International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN), has set  a goal of  providing access to knowledge through High Speed Information and Technology Communication Systems in all schools throughout the world..

Several methods can be used to achieve this goal. One of them uses routers and laptops which communicate via wireless networks (WLAN and Wi-FI). Wireless networks communicate using transmission and reception of radio frequencies (RF), which are a form of non-ionizing radiation.

In April 2009, the European Parliament, by a majority of 559-22, adopted decision ENVI/6/65496, regarding potential adverse health effects associated with electromagnetic radiation (EMF). The decision declared that wireless technology (which includes cell phones, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cordless phones) emit electromagnetic radiation which may impose danger to human health. The decision states that it is important for schools to be as “clean” as possible from electromagnetic radiation.

The UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) started to examine the levels of radiation from the use of Internet wireless networks and laptops in schools. Final results of this examination have not yet been reported. From preliminary results it seems that 15 types of laptops common in the UK’s educational institutions are compliant with the existing standards. It should be noted that the standards themselves are being examined; however, no final conclusions have been reached.

Furthermore, most computer use in schools is done in set and predetermined places, i.e., desks.

Problems with the educational institutions in Israel:

Around the world, as well as in Israel, the use of laptops and Internet in schools is growing. Many schools are choosing to use wireless networks as the preferred Internet access system, and their use exposes students to electromagnetic radiation.

It should be remembered that the  school population comprises  children and youth, a group  with unique  characteristics:

  • In general, for all carcinogens, including ionizing radiation, and for most cancer sites,  an inverse  association exists between  age at  time of exposure, and  the risk of becoming sick. Therefore, this population should be regarded as a sensitive population in comparison to the adult population.
  • The student population is expected to live for many years, during which diseases with long latency periods  may develop.
  • The student population is obligated by law to attend school. Moreover, in most cases the students and their parents do not have a choice regarding  which school and which classes the student will attend.

Method of Operation:

It is agreed by all, that the education system and the country are under a moral and legal obligation to protect the health of the students.

It is agreed that the precautionary principle should be adopted as it was adopted in the Non-Ionizing Radiation Act of 2006. The principles upon which the Health Ministry based its guidelines regarding cell phones and cordless phones should also be applied to wireless network systems.

These principles should be adopted in order to achieve a balance between the needs and the potential adverse health risks from exposure to Wi-Fi and WLAN in this special population in which the exposure is forced.

Since there are alternative ways to establish computer networks which are safer and do not require exposure to RF, such as the use of wired technology by connecting directly to a internet-allocated socket, there is no reason to use wireless technologies such as WLAN and Wi-Fi for computer networks in schools.

Suggested methods of operation:

The education system should be instructed, as a matter of principle, to give preference to existing technologies that are relatively safe and simple, such as the use of wired systems instead of using WLAN and WiFi.

3.        Sources of Electric Fields (ELF)

Background:

In 1999, the  National Institute of Health in the U.S. issued recommendations calling for reduction of the exposure to ELF by increasing the distance between the sources of radiation exposure and the exposed person, and minimizing the duration of time spent near the source of the exposure.

On the basis of scientific evidence  summarized in two meta-analyses  published in   2000 (Ahlbom et al, Greenland et al.) that included nine  and 12 studies respectively, the WHO’s research unit (the International Agency for the Research of Cancer (IARC)) defined ELF as a possible carcinogen (level B2). The study by Greenland found an odds ratio of 1.68 (OR-CI 95% 1.23-2.31) after adjusting for age and sex, for risk of leukemia among  children who were exposed to fields greater than 0.3 µT  in comparison to children exposed to fields lower than 0.1 µT. Following adjustment for age, sex, socioeconomic status and residency in East/West Germany, Ahlbom et al. observed an odds ratio of 2.00 (OR-CI 95% 1.27-3.13) for risk of leukemia among children who were exposed to fields equal to or greater than 0.3 µT, in comparison to children  exposed to fields lower than 0.1 µT.

The Problem in Educational Institutions in Israel:

Sources of exposure to ELF in educational institutions in Israel include electrical facilities such as : power lines, underground power lines, FILLERS, transmitters, electric boards (Circuit breaker panelboards) and circuit breakers, high power air-conditioning circuits, and places where there is leakage between the zero and the grounding.

The representative of the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection reported that his tests  found abnormal levels of exposure to ELF  in a small percentage of pre-school facilities  and schools. An example of such an unusually high exposure level was  in the ‘Hashmonaim’ school in Ramat-Gan in which 160 milligauss were measured in a sitting area. This measurement exceeds the limit of 4 milligauss in 8 hours, for an exposure time of 8 hours per day for a year, that is allowed by the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, . It should be noted that MALRAZ (a non-profit organization in Israel that aims to promote issues of environmental health, D.T.), presented a report to the Knesset’s (Israeli parliament, D.T.) Committee on Environment and Health on December 12, 2009, which revealed that in 20% of the educational institutions surveyed,  the ELF levels in at least one class exceeded the levels recommended in the Ministry’s guidelines.

Method of operation:

It is agreed that the precautionary principle should be applied to reduce the levels of ELF to which students are exposed to the minimum possible, while achieving a balance between the level of risk and the social and economic cost of changing the infrastructure. Accordingly, different approaches should be applied to new infrastructures (in development or in planning stages) and to existing infrastructures.

Current and future treatment:

Representatives of the Israeli Electric Corp. stated that they consider the issue to be of great importance and that they are willing to invest resources to minimize ELF in educational institutions. The corp. has already taken care of some of the places in which problems were found and reported. The company has two key roles in this area: the first, as the body responsible for the infrastructure up to the electric meter in schools and pre-school facilities, and the second, as a professional organization that possesses knowledge and experience and is able to provide valuable input in establishing guidelines on the topic.

A representative of the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection reported that the Ministry is already conducting tests  in schools in order to locate fields that exceed the current guidelines. The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection already examined the high power lines in all the schools, and fixed problems that were detected. A pilot program for examining  EMF levels was conducted inLod and Petach-Tikvah, and subsequently, instructions were issued to the municipalities on how to fix the problems that were detected. The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection has the ability to   measure  the electromagnetic fields in all the schools and pre-schools in Israel. The representative also stated that the California Health Department has a similar program and information is available on: www.ehib.org/emf

Proposed methods of action:

1.   Installation and continuous maintenance of the electrical systemsin installing a new system or in maintaining an existing one in an educational institution or in its vicinity, the body responsible for the system (the electric company and/or the Building Department of the Israeli Ministry of Education) will ensure that the system is installed and maintained in such a way that   minimizes electromagnetic fields in the area,  utilizing the most advanced technology available.

2.   Raising awareness and professional knowledge – the electric company will prepare two briefs, one for the planning of new facilities in educational institutions (which willalso include reference  to renovations), and the second, for the continuous maintenance of facilities in educational institutions.

The purpose of the briefs is to increase awareness of the problem amongst professionals   and to provide concrete guidelines on how to plan, install and maintain electric systems in a way that would minimize the electromagnetic radiation.

The briefs will be submitted by October 1st, 2010 to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, Israeli Ministry of Education and the Cancer & Radiation Epidemiology Unit of the Gertner Institute for comments. The briefs will be attached to the position paper that will be submitted to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament, D.T.)

3.   Monitoring existing institutions

1.   The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection will prepare a program to examine all the schools and pre-school facilities within one academic year.

2.   The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection will continue  testing in schools and  pre-school facilities according to the existing guidelines and financing will be provided from the Ministry’s Budget. It is estimated that 5,000 schools and 10,000 pre-school facilities will be measured.

3.   The Israeli Ministry of Education will prepare a list of all the schools and pre-school facilities  and forward  it to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Israeli Electric Corp..

4.   The Israeli Ministry of Education, through the directors of the Departments of Education  in the local municipalities and owners of private schools, will order the scanning of all the schools and pre-school facilities in which there are classrooms attached to the Circuit breaker panels or circuit breakers (regardless of whether the breaker is installed on the inside or outside the classroom). The scanning will be done in accordance with the reports of maintenance workers in the educational institutions. The list of the institutions will be forwarded to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection in order to  give preference to these institutions for testing radiation levels. .

5.   The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection will give priority for testing to  places that are known to have circuit breakers attached to the classrooms.

4.   Treatment of obstacles  that are discovered:

1.   Once a problem is discovered by the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, it will be  reported to the Building Department of  the Israeli Ministry of Education. The report will include a description of the obstacles, immediate short-term solutions (including a detailed recommendation on the need to move the students away from the obstacle) and the ways through which the problem will be corrected. The Ministry of Education will act in accordance with the suggested immediate short-term solutions and will send a request to the owner of the educational institution or the Israeli Electric Corp. to implement the recommendations.

2.   The owners of the educational institution will handle the problem by using their electrician, or the municipality or the Israeli Electric Corp. electrician, depending on the location of the problem (‘before’ or ‘after’ the meter). The electrician will solve the problem, whether by examining and fixing the leakage between the zero to the grounding, changing the wiring of the circuit breakers or changing their location..

3.   The municipality or the owners of the educational institution will update the school’s principal and the Israeli Ministry of Education concerning the treatment of the problem .

4.   Once the problem is solved, a report will be provided by the Israeli Ministry of Education to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection. .

5.   The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection will consider repeating the measurements after the defect is corrected.

Filed in: Israel


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