Transcript of Dr Michael Repacholi's appearance at the Australian Senate Inquiry into cellphone and health standards. Part 2
Cellphone Standard's Inquiry
by the Australian Senate

STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE
ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS


Part 2

Thursday, 31 August 2000.

Note: this is an uncorrected copy of the Transcript of Dr Michael Repacholi's appearance at the Australian Senate Inquiry into cellphone and health standards.

Sen. TCHEN

    I have to ask a few questions of Dr Repacholi about technical things. You were speaking about paging transmitters being more powerful than mobile phone base stations.

    Is that in terms of frequency or in terms of power?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    They operate at very similar frequencies, but the power that they have can be 10 time?3/4 sometimes 100 times-higher. If you have a pager and a mobile phone base station next to each other you, will get 100 times more field from a paging antenna.

Sen. TCHEN

    And the strength of the field is related to the power rather than frequency?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes.

Sen. TCHEN

    Earlier-and, again, I must confess my ignorance-when you were talking about the study of behavioural change, you said that it is triggered by thermal impact. In the laboratory animal experience the transmission was powerful enough to change the body temperature.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes, the core temperature of the animal was increased by one degree Celsius.

Sen. TCHEN

    That is fairly powerful, isn't it?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    That is quite powerful, yes. That said, following from that statement, there has been more recent research done by Allan Preiss and Dr Korvisto which is suggesting that there could be changes in reaction times, which are similar things, which could be a central nervous system effect. The problems with Preiss's study were that he found a reduced reaction time by using a mobile phone, which is an unusual thing-you would think the reaction time might be extended-and he did not control for a number of things. So we want to make sure that study is replicated but that we use a standard battery of tests to look at a person's reaction time and short-term behaviour. These sorts of things we can do very well in the laboratory provided they are done under well accepted conditions, and that is what will be happening, I guess, over the next year.

Sen. TCHEN

    But the experiment you did with the pulsing 900 MHz field - the impact of that is not due to thermal reaction?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No, I do not think that was a temperature rise. Some people say it might have been a temperature rise, but I do not believe it.

Sen. TCHEN

    The other thing that perhaps you can clarify for me is that you said we do not have an interim standard and then some of the time you talk about us having an interim standard.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is my understanding that at the moment there is no Australian standard, but your regulatory authority for mobile telecommunications is using-not a standard, I guess-as its basis for compliance within the industry, the international standard.

Sen. TCHEN

    And that international standard is based on possible harmful effects of thermal impact?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes. I should add that the EMF study at WHO is looking only at non-thermal effects. We are not interested in thermal. We only want to find out whether there are thermal effects that will change the basis for the standards. That is where all the research is directed now.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Into thermal effects?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Non-thermal. No, we are not interested in thermal because that is pretty well established. We do not want to repeat what is established, but we do want to find out whether, in all these various studies on gene expression, reaction times, behaviour-all of these-there could be something there that can substantiated and have an impact on the standards. That is our prime mission.

Sen. TCHEN

    Yes, I understand. From the result of your research is the WHO study qualitatively different from the existing international standard in terms of science? There is a qualitative difference, isn't there?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I do not understand.

Sen. TCHEN

    Your research is now seeking to establish possible impact on human and other organisms of quite a different type of effect from thermal effect?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes, it is the same radio frequency fields, pulsing, and all of that, but at lower levels that would not produce heating. It all produces heating but not so significant as to produce any adverse effect that we know of. But we want to find out whether these lower non-thermal levels do produce any adverse consequence. That is really what we want.

Sen. TCHEN

    Yes, I understand. That is what I said: you say there is a qualitative change.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes.

Sen. TCHEN

    I can see that some of it may create a misunderstanding where WHO's actual desire is to harmonise international standards. Why is it necessary to harmonise? Why can't different countries have different standards provided they are all above a certain minium standard?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    For example, some standards are above the international standards. The US, for example, is above the international standard in many areas. We feel that they are not incorporating sufficient safety factors.

Sen. TCHEN

    I am sorry. When I was saying a higher standard, I meant a better standard or a more stringent standard.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Right.

Sen. TCHEN

    I am sorry. I probably should clarify the term first. At the moment different countries have different standards, which are, let us say, of different qualities. WHO has a desire to harmonise it so that they are more or less measuring the same thing to the same level. Then we are likely to be faced with people who say, 'Why should we have everybody's standard? Why can't we have a better standard? We are Australians, so we should have a better standard.' I have heard that argument many times.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is a very good question and it goes to the core of the problem. The problem has been that people are concerned when they see differences in standards between countries.

    For example, if the Australian standard comes in at a certain level and the Russian standard is a 100 times lower, people say, 'Why aren't you going to the Russian standard?'

Sen. TCHEN

    Because it obviously will be better and safer?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It depends on whether you believe in the science or not. If you do not believe the science, then you may think it is safer; if you do believe in the science, it is not safer. In fact why not go 100 million times lower?

Sen. TCHEN

    That is what the precautionary principle basically said, 'If in doubt, do nothing. Unless you have 100 per cent certainty, you do nothing.' That is how it has been put to me.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes, we have different interpretations. One of the problems with different countries having standards is that you then have a boat race of people wanting to get lower and lower standards. Eventually, there will be a measurable cost in having a lower standard. Once a standard is there, you do not get it right up there again. But if you go in with science, then you can say, 'Okay, we know what the level of protection is that we have and we really want to make sure that we protect the population to that level.' The level, from what we understand in the science, is an absolute protection. There is no effect at the level of the standards that we can identify at this time. If you lower it further you incur a bigger and bigger cost. At what point are you going to say that that cost is providing benefit? There is not any benefit if you lower the levels; you are not getting any known health benefit. It is different with ionising radiation where the dose response goes right to zero and you can measure the cost in the population. In this case, here is the threshold below which we do not see an effect. You can lower it and lower it but you are not getting any benefit for health. But you could eventually not only incur cost but impede technologies which could be very beneficial to health, emergency services or all sorts of things that relate to health. Something that countries should seriously consider is that there is going to be a detriment eventually if they are just going to have paper tigers.

Sen. TCHEN

    Is this increasing cost likely to be a linear increase or an exponential increase?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I do not know that you can say. It could be exponential. In fact, it usually is exponential because when you have to lower, there are some technologies that comply with a lower level. When you lower again, you could have an avalanche of technologies that cannot actually comply with the levels that you are setting. As a principle, WHO likes to see lower standards, but it has to be based on the science that you are actually providing more protection and that is where the problem occurs.

    Senator HARRIS-You said earlier on that the Russian standards were far lower, and I am taking that as in rigour, or was it that they were lower in-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    The exposure limits were lower.

Sen. HARRIS

    So they were almost out of compliance no matter what they were doing?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes.

Sen. HARRIS

    Would you have any knowledge of the high voltage transmission working procedures in Russia and whether they vary at all compared to anywhere else in the world; in other words, the workers who are physically working on the high voltage transmission power lines?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I can only relate with the scientists we deal with in Russia. Their switch yard workers are fairly basic electrical switch yards. They were exposed to reasonably high levels, and I am sure they were exceeding their own standards. They had standards that actually came very close, at the low frequency range, to the international standards. It really relates to spark discharge and induction of currents within the body.

    If you have got time I can briefly mention the basis of some of the standards. They did standards based on questionnaires of workers who were exposed to microwaves. Before being asked the questions the workers knew that if there were any effects then obviously they should get danger pay. There was some encouragement to say, 'Yes, I get all sorts of terrible things.' These were duly documented and they said they were working in that area. They documented all these problems. They said that must be hazardous and so they lowered the levels. In fact, the standards were lowered, but they still worked in the same conditions.

    That sort of science is something that could not be replicated in the West. We use scientific methods which are somewhat more precise than that. Part of our standards harmonisation project is to have studies carried out in these countries under international scrutiny. The standards have to be at international standards that are acceptable. We feel this will assist the scientists knowing more about the dosimetry and what needs to go into the scientific method that we feel is acceptable to WHO. It is looking good. We are getting some good studies into China. We are about to get some into Russia.

Sen. HARRIS

    That then explains something to me. My understanding is that their requirement is that they only have four hours of exposure per day.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    To a high level, yes. They have categorised their exposures.

Sen. HARRIS

    Do you know if there is any correlation world wide that would show that workers who work on power distribution show an abnormal increase in cancer of any sort at all?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There have been some studies. We are talking about a different frequency rate.

Sen. HARRIS

    I realise that.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There are two sets of studies in the low frequency area that worry WHO at the moment. One is that there are some studies suggesting that workers seem to have lower heart rates. Some studies suggest increases in leukemia and brain tumours by working with power frequency fields. But the most worrying to me is the residential studies where children living near powerlines seem to have a higher incidence of leukemia. That is what we are concentrating our research on now. When you switch currents you can get spikes in the wave form. The spikes can actually induce currents which exceed the signal to noise-

Sen. HARRIS

    The ratio.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    or the noise levels within the cell so that the cell actually detects the signal.

    That could in some way lead to cancer. That is the avenue of research that we are looking at, at the moment.

Sen. HARRIS

    You have pre-empted exactly the line I was taking. Would your studies with transgenic mice enable you to do subsequent generation studies? If you have male and female transgenic mice that have been exposed to the same exposure that your group was for the 18 months, could you allow them to mate, produce progeny, and then look at that progeny? Is there any work there?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There is a study being conducted on that, but not on transgenic mice.

    Transgenic mice are very difficult mice because you have to keep them in sterile conditions and you cannot let them loose. Transgenic mice are heterozygous-in other words, they have to be mated to a special animal, which is not transgenic, to get transgenic animals and then they have to be tested to make sure that the trans gene was -....

Sen. HARRIS

    Transferred.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is not an easy thing, but the multi-generational studies do form part of the National Toxicology Program, and they have conducted some studies of rats in multi-generations and they did not find any effect in the subsequent generations. But, the problem is that they used sinusoidal fields, and that is my concern. In my study also we smoothed out the fields so that we knew precisely what the dosimetry was. If we had let the switching go and exposed them to switched fields, then we may have produced a result. We do not know, and that is what we are now encouraging in a few other countries.

Sen. HARRIS

    Regarding the instance of EMF-and we go back to the low frequencies-relating to powerlines, are there any studies that look at the amount of draw on the line, for example, if you had 132,000 kVA and the draw on it was 100 millivolt amps, and that dropped down to 80, or 60, or 20? Do you know of any studies that actually look at the variation in the draw which has an effect on the field?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    If you double the current you will double the size of the magnetic field, and it is the magnetic field that has been suggested as the causative agent for the increases in leukemia. In some of the epidemiological studies they went back to the line loadings that were occurring to determine historically what the exposures were to the line. The trouble is that the dosimetry is not simple. It is not like having a little ionising radiation monitor where you can measure the ionising radiation, and the darkness of the field produced is related to the dose.

    Here, you have a fluctuating magnetic field that induces currents and electric fields within the body which could produce something, but these are changing all the time so you can go either to an average field or to a maximum field. Generally, we like to go to a maximum field so that we get the worst case condition.

Sen. HARRIS

    In your studies relating to the 3,000 brain cancer cases, are you going to do any investigations about where the person was actually conceived or where they were during their teenage years? What I am directing towards now is whether there is a different effect for a human being depending on the age of the human being when they are exposed-in other words, on whether the cells are rapidly dividing.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    This study will not be able to look at that. It will look at age differences in people who use mobile phones but it is not going to be looking at the point of conception and the effects on offspring of mobile telephone users. That will be a very different study. This one is a case control study. There will be large numbers and you will be able find out if there is any sensitive subgroup-generally for people down to maybe about 15 or 18, but not really below that because there are not significant numbers of mobile phone users down at that level. That said though, the Stewart inquiry recommended that there be studies that relate to sensitivity on children which is, I think, quite reasonable. But it is unethical, obviously, to get babies in there and to start examining them.

Sen. HARRIS

    No, I am not implying that. What I was targeting was that if a percentage of those 3,000 cases were conceived and spent the first eight or nine years of their lives within 215 metres of a transmission line and those people subsequently move away to do whatever they do, and then you test them for the effects of brain cancers, would you be able to check if a greater percentage of people in that 3,000 actually end up with cancers that relate to-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes, that is being done. The low frequency fields are seen as a confounder to the study. If there is an effect, is it due to the fact that they were actually located near power lines? That is being done. Let me just briefly describe the study. They are going to get 3,000 cases of brain tumours and match them for age, sex and locality to an equivalent number of controls who do not have brain tumours. They investigate both groups to find out whether one group is using mobile phones more than the other group and for how long. If the brain tumour group are found to be significantly higher users of mobile phones, maybe that is a causative agent in the production of their brain tumours.

Sen. MARK BISHOP

    Why is there any relationship between persons with brain tumours, persons not with brain tumours and the use of mobile phones in your study?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is a standard case control study which is looking for associations for a number of different things.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    If you have already got the brain tumour, why would you keep using a mobile phone? Doesn't that confound your-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No, you look at the history prior to getting a brain tumour. I am sure they will not continue to use them; in fact, a lot of brain tumours act very quickly and people die very quickly. The brain tumour patient goes back and finds out what exposures they received to both low frequency and mobile phones and any other-

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What is the matching process? What do you match them for?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    For example, if you have a person who has a brain tumour-maybe a female aged 50, living in Canberra-you would then get another female aged 50, living in Canberra, or in a similar locality, and then match what they did.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Is that all: age and location?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes. They cannot do much better than that normally.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Senator Harris's question about where you were born and whether you were close to a-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    They can go back in the family history. The questionnaire is very detailed.

    This is a standard procedure that IARC use for such studies. They are looking, for example, at Chernobyl accident workers who did the clean up to find out what their cancers were and whether they actually related to the radiation exposure. In this case, they look at all sorts of confounding factors that could relate to their brain tumours or any head and neck cancers. The study is looking at all head and neck cancers.

Sen. HARRIS

    Are there any studies that are looking at the effects of accumulation of exposures? An example would be that in Australia, not so much in the cities but out in the country areas, we invariably put our powerlines down the side of the road. We are now looking at putting our transmission towers for our mobile phones on the same road, so you have got continuity of signal. In North Queensland they use microwave links for telephone communication which again, because of their remoteness and the need to be able to get to them, primarily are in these corridors. Are there risks in us doing this and getting this accumulation of exposures?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There are some studies but there are not many looking at synergistic effects of low frequency and high frequency exposure and also EMF exposure and chemicals or EMF and some other agent in the environment. I do not think I would worry too much about rural areas because they tend to be some way away from the roads.

Sen. HARRIS

    Wrong.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    The farms are right next to the powerlines?

Sen. HARRIS

    No, I am talking about someone like me who might do 10,000 kilometres in three or four weeks around the state, and for that continuous period I am primarily driving on a road that has mobile phone frequency and high power frequency on it. In the area where I am there are six transmission lines running for periods right beside each other. Are we, in putting all of our services down these same corridors, exposing a truck driver, for example, who spends 24 hours a day on the road? I will only spend infrequent bulk periods like that, but these people have that type of exposure for much longer periods. If there are any studies that are looking at this synergy of exposure, they would be most helpful.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There are some studies but we do not have any real results yet. Certainly we will be looking at that because of the concern about low and high frequency fields. Any of the studies are now looking at the other field as a confounder to make sure that one is not causing the other. There are studies exposing to both sets of fields so that we can find out if there is something occurring because of those two exposures.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    I will go back to one of the comments you made earlier about sorting out the bad science. You said there was a need to do that. Can you give us some idea as to what guidelines you use to sort out the bad science?

Sen. HARRIS

    Sines as in waves!

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Research.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is something that we get crit icised a lot, I know, but WHO has criteria for acceptance of scientific studies. I will just give you the main criteria. One is that any result has to be replicated independently by another laboratory first. Secondly-

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Just before we get off replication ...

Dr. REPACHOLI

    ... or confirmation-put confirmation in brackets after replication.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    The WHO takes no account of research which has not been replicated?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We would not say it does not take any account. It takes note; but when you do health risk assessments you cannot use it for the health risk assessments. With a significant result that has not been replicated there is a lot of pressure to get that replicated because it could produce something.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What, in your experience, is the success rate of researchers being able to have their work replicated? Could you hazard a guess at the number of research projects that have been replicated?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We just went through the RAPID program, which is a program in the US conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. They tried to replicate a lot of the studies at the low frequency end, like the gene expression studies, behavioural studies and various other key studies that could impact on human health, and they were able to replicate one in 40.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    That was not quite my question. Say there have been 100 research studies-there have been many more than that, of course-but, of those 100, what percentage has been replicated?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Do you mean that people have tried to replicate the studies?

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    I am trying to get a feel for the percentage. I ask this question because a number of the submissions that have been sent to the committee point to the extreme difficulty in getting funding for replication. Much of the work that is already out there cannot be replicated for a whole range of reasons. From your experience, are roughly half of the research studies that show significant effects being replicated or is the number much smaller than that? Are all of the studies being replicated?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No. I would think only a very small percentage-maybe up to 20 per cent- have been replicated.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What would you recommend in terms of public health policy and government policy in this field? Replication is clearly important if you are to determine whether the research is worthwhile. What steps would you suggest that a government ought to take to ensure that more than a very small percentage of studies are replicated?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    WHO is actually doing the job for you in this case because WHO knows what the composition of a database should be to make good health risk assessments. It knows what types of studies it needs to be able to answer questions about, say, effects on DNA, on cancer or on various things that it is going to look at. So it has a database and it wants to accumulate solid information. We partially reviewed the literature, identified where the gaps were in the information base that we wanted and also looked at key studies that raised questions that were not normally part of this database. Those areas were then researched.

    We made a very solid effort. We got on board all the researchers who had produced what we considered to be biological effects that could relate to health. They formed part of our review process and our working groups to identify what research was necessary, and we went along with those recommendations. We have a research agenda for radiofrequency fields that incorporates most of the major areas. The key areas have now been restudied to find out whether something is there. Some are still outstanding.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    They have already been restudied, not replicated. Is that something different?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    For example, the DNA studies of Lai caused a tremendous amount of concern. In fields where we considered it was physically impossible to break DNA, Henry Lai was able to say, 'No, we did find breaking DNA.' There have been five studies now and every study has not been able to find any breaks in DNA. One of them was an exact-

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Five replication studies of Dr Lai's work?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    One of them was an exact replication. Henry was there, he did everything and it still did not work.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Let me get this clear: you are saying that every significant study or study that has shown significant effects has been replicated by the World Health Organisation-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Under our research coordination program.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    and was found to have no significance.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes. That was certainly the case with that study. We want to get replication or confirmation about another one: behavioural studies. We felt that this study, which purported to replicate, was not a good replication. It was done at the National Radiological Protection Board. They said that their study was an attempt to confirm Henry Lai's findings but we felt that it was not because they used lower power levels and fewer arms in their radial arm maze.

    The replication or confirmation study was deficient in finding out whether the behavioural changes found by Lai were real. Therefore, we have asked for better studies in the behavioural area.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    This would be quite useful information for the committee. Is it possible to get a list of those studies that you have identified as being significant, as having a significant effect?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Sure.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    And those which you have determined were not worthy of replication, is it possible to do that? I mean the general areas, not the specifics.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    You could not replicate every study that was out there. But some studies are not significant, or they are obviously flawed.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    How do you make the judgment that they are obviously flawed?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    In one study there was a metal thermistor put into the cell to measure the temperature of the cell, and then RF exposure was given to the cell culture. The metal thermistor was being heated up by the radio frequency so it was an obvious deficiency in the study. They should use a non-perturbing probe into the cell culture. A study like that that has an obvious flaw. The experimenter did not realise that he was doing something wrong-

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Who did that work?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It was done in Belgium, by Maes. They have since admitted that it was an error. That sort of peer review is necessary to look at these studies. Many of the studies can be eliminated because they have obvious scientific deficiencies, methological flaws in their study protocol. Once it is published and you can see what they have done you can say, 'In general we would like to look at the area,' but you would not replicate that study because you would be replicating a flaw that would produce a result.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Can I go through a few of the studies. As you can imagine, we have had a lot of submissions and some of them go to the detail of studies. There is a group of them that have quite specific links to carcinogenesis. Concerning the EMR exposure having the ability to reduce the secretion of melatonin, is this an area that WHO is interested in? What sorts of replication studies have you done?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We have asked for a study to be done in that area because of the results that are being suggested in the low frequency region.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    So that has not yet been done?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No, but there was a good review of this area done by the Royal Society of Canada. They concentrated a lot on melatonin because one of the panel members was rather interested in that. In our early reviews we asked for studies in this area. It was not one of our higher priority areas because none had been found previously, but there have been subsequently a couple of studies that have produced marginal results.

    We call for research in an area and you get some results which are, say, maybe, or maybe not.

    How do you interpret that? It is not a strong effect, it is a weak effect which could be occurring by chance. This is where you have to have a weight of evidence. If it is a weak effect then you have to have a number of studies to show a trend that that weak effect is continuing to occur.

    Then you have got to identify whether that weak effect is going to have a consequence to health.

    Melatonin levels are going to change when you go to the toilet in the night. When you turn on the lights, all of a sudden your melatonin productions drops because melatonin is very light sensitive. It is your circadian rhythm that is dictated by the production of melatonin and it is a day/night cycle. Light is a confounder. There are other things. Stress is a confounder too. If you wake up having a bad dream you can change your melatonin levels. There is a normal variation of melatonin within the body.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    You are not suggesting the science that has been done does not take that into account?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Some scientists do not take that into account.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Are you prepared to name them?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No, but we know which studies have taken all the factors into account and we do not want to criticise scientists.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Who is 'we'? What sort of qualifications?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We are an international panel of people who are expert in this area. I just act as secretariat; I do not put myself into these panels. I act as secretariat and we convene the best possible minds around the world for melatonin and cancer-people that really know something about this-and generally they are not in the EMF field. They will be people who have produced hundreds of really solid studies and progressed our knowledge in chemicals or in some other area, and we bring that knowledge in and then they look at these results and they say that is good or, no, they are doing things wrong. WHO is very good at being able to provide an umbrella to bring in really solid science.

Sen. HARRIS

    Is it possible to have an understanding of how much of that science industry provides or is it totally free of an industry influence at all?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No, I think industry has got the message that they are the cause of the problem to start off with-it is their technology, their industry-and they are putting substantial amounts of money into this, there is no doubt. And within the European Union program they will be required to put up about half the funding. The European Union said, 'You had to find another funding agency that will provide you half the program and we will provide the other half,' and that is how they acted. I am sure that in the UK they are doing something similar.

    They will ask industry to contribute to a government pot of money that will then be organised by an independent panel of scientists to develop the thing so that you keep the industry away from the scientists.

Sen. HARRIS

    At arms-length.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We know about the tobacco industry but I think industry has learnt from that and they do not want to go through that again. That is my understanding. But we certainly have had industry saying early in the program, 'We have funded lots of projects but the people do not believe the results.' I say, 'What do you expect? If you were there dealing directly with the scientists then people will relate back to the previous experiences of other industry funding.' We recommended that that has to be a firewall. There has to be an independent panel that deals with the funding agency and the scientists-no jumping the wall.

Sen. HARRIS

    Arms-length.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Absolutely.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Do you think that is the case with standard setting, too, that it should be arms-length, should be independent?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Standard setting is not done by industry. We do not allow industry to participate in that. It is not only the standard setting but the WHO is also very hot on the health risk assessments. We have been told that thou shalt have no industry member on any health risk assessment panel and this really gets up the nose-

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    No, standard setting was my question, not who is-

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Standard setting, yes. Health risk assessments actually relate directly to standard setting. Once you have got the health risk assessments, the standards sort of flow from that and there is not much you can do with the standards.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    So why do you think it is that in Australia we have had so much industry representation on the standards setting committee?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It also happens in the US. I was just about to say that when WHO said that we shall not have any industry participating in our working groups the US said, 'We have to have a consensus standard where all stakeholders have to be represented.' I say that that is not going to happen in WHO. We cannot do that because we cannot have someone there having an influence on health effects for an industry that they derive benefit from.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What about your yourself, Dr Repacholi, do you work for the telecommunications or electricity industry in any sense?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I have previously been on a court case for something in New Zealand.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    And you represented whom?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I told them I was representing international standards. If you want to know what international standards then I will go on.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Who were you working for?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    My expenses were paid by industry at that time.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Which industry was that?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    The power industry. And the telecommunications industry also had a court case.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    In what capacity did you appear for the electricity and telecommunications industry?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    What I tell them is that I appear as an independent person. They can pay my expenses but I am only going to say what the international standards are, how they are derived and what the rationale for the standards are.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    But didn't you take the industry line in relation to those court cases?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I do not take any line. I just take the international standards line. There is not a line. I just follow the science.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    I thought you appeared on behalf of the industry?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    My expenses were paid at that time by industry, because they wanted to know what the international standards were.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    You were the expert witness for industry?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes. But that said, I cannot do that anymore, because WHO will not allow anyone to participate in a court case or anything now-you have to be within the WHO legal guidelines.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Can I ask a general question about standards. We have been talking a bit about electricity lines and mobile phones but what is your view of the appropriate standard for 24- hour exposure of the general population in terms of low frequencies?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    For all of the frequencies?

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Yes.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    They are fairly complicated standards but, in the radio frequency range, the 24-hour level is 0.08 watt per kilogram-that is the basic limitation. People should not be exposed to a level in excess of that.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    And the science which leads you to that figure?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    For the radio frequency region it was the thermal effects that produced changes in behaviour-that was the basis of that standard.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    People who walk around in the streets are not affected. They do not have a thermal effect from -

Dr. REPACHOLI

    That is right. They are exposed to levels, maybe 1,000 or 10,000 times below the standards.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Nonetheless, how can you relate it when there is no thermal effect?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Then there is no effect.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    So what is the point in the standard?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There are levels at which people work in industry that can.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    No, my question is not about occupational exposure, it is about general public exposure.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    If the levels are below the limits in the standard, that was not part of the science. The science evolved the limits from the studies that were produced. It just happens that the levels that were produced, or that are allowed, are within, in most cases, what is being exposed in the environment. People are exposed to levels much below that. Does that mean then that you should lower your standards or reduce the exposure limits because that is what is in the environment? If that is the case, then let us save hundreds of million of dollars of research, because you just go down to the level that the industry can conform to.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    I suppose our difficulty here is in understanding how standards are set, whether they are for general exposure or mobile phones, when the science seems to be very imprecise.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    It is not so imprecise. We think that, from the information we have, if there is any effect, it must be very subtle-so subtle that it is very difficult to define good studies that have the precision to be able to detect this very subtle effect. This is why we have huge epidemiological studies now-to see if we can find those subtle effects.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Can I just come back to some of the studies and ask you about whether WHO is interested in replicating them-the ones which show that EMF exposure may affect the immune system and reduce the body's cancer surveillance capability and, therefore, the ability to kill off transformed cells. Is that an area which is regarded as one of your key focuses?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No. That was a question that was asked a lot in the eighties. There were a tremendous number of studies on immune response following exposure to radio frequency fields and, unanimously, or almost unanimously-there are always a few outlyers-the overwhelming evidence was that there was no effect on the immune system.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    And that overwhelming evidence came from replication of studies that demonstrated that?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Yes, large numbers of studies. A couple of meetings, where they looked at immune responses, were held in Sicily. There is quite a large amount of literature on immune response, and there has not been anything to indicate that there are effects on the immune system. An obvious thing that people should look for is depression of the immune system causing an increase in cancer. We, in fact, are now looking at that for ultraviolet radiation, because it has been shown that ultraviolet radiation does suppress the immune system. This could lead to a couple of things: increases in affection, because of the depleting ozone layer and the increasing ultraviolet radiation, and a reduction in the efficiency of immunisation programs.

    We recognise that. It is a sort of indirect cause of cancer so we are studying that.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What about the studies that show cell proliferation and cell growth?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    A lot of studies relating to cancer have been done. Cell proliferation is one of those effects that could be a pre-cancerous effect, so a lot of studies have been done on cell proliferation and cell growth.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Is this one of your focus areas?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    We have asked for a few more studies in that area, but not a lot. That was a lower priority area, because we already have a lot of studies in that area. In general, if you keep the temperature down you do not tend to get any increased cell proliferation. It tends to be a temperature effect. If the temperature is stable then there do not seem to be effects. There were some studies done by Stephen Cleary. He was in our review and on working groups looking at gaps in knowledge. He actually exposed cells to fairly high levels. What he did was try to keep the temperature down by cooling the medium. That way, you get a constant temperature but you expose. He claimed to have certain effects. But what was really found was that you cannot expose cells uniformly; you are going to get hot spots. So, while the overall temperature may seem the same, there is such an uneven distribution of temperature within the solution that it can cause pockets of cell proliferation which result in a small increase in cell proliferation because of that. We have got infra-red thermography of these cells, and you can see where the increases in temperature were.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What about the work of Arhuus University in Holland? Are you familiar with that study?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Arhuus is in Denmark. Arhuus University?

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    In Holland, in the Netherlands.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I do not know that one.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Maybe it is in Denmark.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    There is a very famous university in Denmark called Arhuus, yes, but I do not know which studies you are talking about.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Sianette I think is her name. Anyway, you do not know of her?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    No.

    [Note: The chair was obviously referring to Dr Sianette Kwee's work at the University of Aars, Denmark. Sianette Kwee is well-known in EMF scientific circles for having found cell changes with extremely low levels of RF, and her work should have been a major source of interest to the WHO.]

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    What about the work of Dr Peter French here at St Vincent's Hospital?

Dr. REPACHOLI

    Peter has been working on cells that could relate to asthma-effects that may cause asthma. They are still not replicated, and no-one has picked up on those results. They felt the results may not be significant.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    I am reminded that we are half an hour over time, so we might leave it there. We have a long way to go, obviously, in this inquiry, and there may be some questions we would like to ask you at the end of the process, rather than at the beginning, if you would be willing to answer them.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    I would be happy to help. As I said Australia is one of my favourite funding agencies, and I feel I would like to provide information.

Sen. ALLISON (Chair)

    Thank you very much for appearing today.

Dr. REPACHOLI

    My pleasure.



Stewart Fist, 70 Middle Harbour Road, Lindfield, 2070, NSW, Australia.
Tel: +61 2 9416 7458 Fax: +61 2 9416 4582. E-mail: fist@ozemail.com.au