wireless-in-workplaceOver the past two weeks, there have been two interesting court cases regarding the health effects of electromagnetic frequencies (EMF).  Although these cases may not be as precedent-setting as the Italian court case that affirmed tumor risk from long-term use of a cell phone, they are raising awareness of EMF as a health concern.

Israeli cell phone company to pay damages to cancer patient

The Orange network operator in Israel, Partner, will pay 400,000 shekels (approximately $100,000) to a lawyer in his 50’s, who sued the company, claiming that he got cancer after he had been using two cell phones he had bought from the company.  As part of his job, he was on his cell phone with clients for many hours. During the calls, he felt his ear warming, and in 2007 he felt swelling near his left ear. The lawyer filed the lawsuit in May 2010 at the district court.  He demanded 10 million shekels in damages after he got a rare and aggressive lymphoma near his left ear.  In the medical expert opinion it was claimed that there is an association between the cancer that the plaintiff developed and cell phone use, and that the rare cancer was discovered only in one place in the body – exactly the place where he was exposed to radiation.

The lawsuit was not tried by the court and was settled by Partner before the trial.  Partner agreed to pay 400,000 shekels as a gesture of good will to help him with expenses. Partner did not admit to any claims of wrongdoing and stated that their phones meet all standards set forth by the WHO, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Communication and other relevant bodies.  However, many experts believe that this settlement set a new precedent for law suits by cell phone users who believe they have developed cancer as a result of EMF exposure.

Just this week, Israeli scientists reported preliminary findings of a possible link between the radiation from cellphones and thyroid cancer. There has been a steep rise in rates of thyroid cancer in recent years in Western countries. In one experiment, human thyroid cells collected from healthy patients were subjected to radiation with a device, designed for the study, that simulates the electromagnetic radiation emitted by cellphones. The irradiated thyroid cells proliferated at a much higher, statistically significant rate than non-irradiated cells in the control group. A second experiment, using different methods and materials, gave similar results.

Prof. Raphael Feinmesser, head of Beilinson’s Ear, Nose and Throat Department was the lead researcher. “The thyroid gland is located in the neck, but the area is located the same distance from the ear as the regions of the brain where [cancerous] growths have been diagnosed as being related to the use of the [cellular] devices. This is a region that is not far from the center of the device’s radiation,” said Feinmesser.

The incidence of thyroid cancer has been on the rise in Israel for more than a decade, which matches the rise in the use of cellphones. Thyroid cancer is three times more common in women than men. It is the fourth most common form of cancer among Jewish women in Israel, at 16.6 cases per 100,000 people. The three most common forms of cancer for women are cancer of the breast, colon and cervix. Among Israeli Arab women the rate of thyroid cancer is 11.6 cases per 100,000, and it is the third most common cancer.

From 1990 to 2007 there was a 67-percent rise in thyroid cancer rates among Jewish women, and a 250 percent increase among Arab women, Health Ministry figures show. For men, the rise from 2000 is more moderate, but still shows a 41 percent increase in thyroid cancer rates for Jewish men.

Australian government ordered to pay claims for damaging health of employee with EMF sensitivity

This case was brought against Comcare, the Australian government agency in charge of enforcing worker safety laws.  A summary of this case and findings are available here. This case concerned Dr. McDonald, a researcher and employee of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) since 1994. Dr. McDonald has made four claims for compensation:

  1. aggravation of an electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome;
  2. chronic adjustment disorder with depressed moods;
  3. permanent impairment which has resulted from the adjustment disorder;
  4. migraines.

Comcare refused each claim, arguing that electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome is not an ailment. The case was brought to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia, which overturned Comcare’s decision on all claims except the claim of permanent impairment.

Dr. McDonald was diagnosed with sensitivity to EMF in 1993, and disclosed this information to CSIRO during his interview in 1994. He was provided with administrative support so that he could limit his exposure to computers. This worked out well for a number of years, and Dr. McDonald was able to work effectively, and preserve his health. In 2005 Dr. McDonald transferred from Hobart to Melbourne, and his administrative support was withdrawn, making it necessary for him to use computers. He got very sick and experienced nausea, fatigue and very poor concentration. Upon the advice of his doctor, he was provided with part-time administrative support, which enabled him to continue to perform his duties.

Between April and July 2006, Dr. McDonald was required by his employer to trial working with various pieces of electronic equipment including the Blackberry, a PDA device, a desktop computer enclosed within a Faraday cage and an electronic projector. Dr. McDonald became ill within minutes each time these devices were switched on. He experienced nausea and headaches and suffered severe migraine 2-12 hours later. He felt unwell for several days after each attack. His symptoms were worse than they had been before the trial commenced. It was recommended that the trials cease and administrative support continue until the release of new technology, which would not pose as much of a risk.

In March 2007 CSIRO ceased to provide Dr. McDonald with any form of administrative support and required him to again trial the use of various electronic devices. After the second set of trials, Dr. McDonald became so ill that he could not return to work. He filed a claim with Comcare that the electronic trials aggravated his illness, which was upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Although the Tribunal did not recognize electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a medical condition, this case is significant because they did recognize that Dr. McDonald suffered from a medical condition that was aggravated by exposure to EMF and resulted in migraines, depression and other symptoms.