The scientists' appraisal will be based on a comprehensive review of the scientific literature as well as discussion reports from recent EMF science review symposiums organized under the Congressionally mandated EMF/RAPID Program (the Electric and Magnetic Fields Research and Public Information Dissemination Program) by the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health. The Working Group is composed of scientists with a broad range of expertise. Some have experience in EMF-related research while some have other backgrounds.
The members will provide guidance to NIEHS on the strength of the experimental data and its implications for human health and disease etiology, and NIEHS Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., will use the appraisals and working group review as well, as other relevant information, in formulating his own report to Congress later this year.
The questions to be answered, by votes at the end of the open meeting, are those which have been asked by many concerned citizens and which caused Congress, in 1992, to fund the accelerated research program EMFRAPID: Does electricity used heavily in some occupations, carried by transmission lines and employed in homes cause increases in leukemia, brain tumors, breast cancer and reproductive and developmental ills? Is there no risk, a possible risk, a likely risk or a certain health risk from exposure to the extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (EMF) that result from generating, transmitting and using electrical energy?
BACKGROUND: Some limited studies had hinted at the possibility of adverse health effects. And there was a good deal of public concern -- Is it safe to live near transmission towers? Or cover my child with an electric blanket? Or make toast in an electric toaster?
As a result of these concerns, Congress asked the Department of Energy to administer the EMF/RAPID Program. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is responsible for funding studies aimed at understanding effects of EMF on biological/health endpoint , and the Department of Energy is responsible for directing research on exposure assessment and field management techniques.
Studies of people living amidst electric and magnetic fields had already been begun and were continued, but the new federally coordinated effort also supported studies of how EMF affects animals and cellular systems -- effects that might be too subtle to show up in real-world epidemiological studies of exposed groups. Beginning with about $4 million from the federal government and a matching $4 million from industry, total research costs under this effort have reached $46 million -- about $23 million from the federal government matched by the same from industry.
In recent months, data have been reviewed in three public science symposiums on various types of studies. Laboratory findings and theoretical mechanisms of action were reviewed in March 1997, epidemiology findings in January 1998, and in vivo and clinical studies in April 1998.
The working group writing the advisory report will meet in public sessions June 16-24 to discuss the research that has been done and vote, on the last day, on what it indicates. The meeting will be at the Northland Inn, Brooklyn Park, Minn., near Minneapolis, and some public comments can be made by prior arrangement. For the full agenda, additional information or registration information send a request by fax to (919) 541-0144 or call (919) 541-7534 or visit the EMFRAPID website. The Working Group report will be available for public review and comment in late July.
Individuals wanting a copy of this report, or a non-technical summary, should request it by fax to the number above or by mail to the EMF-RAPID Program, NIEHS, NIH, P.O. Box 12233, MD EC-16, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. The report and non-technical summary will also be available at the EMF section of the NIEHS web site: http://www.niehs.nih.gov/emfrapid/home.htm
The draft may be commented upon in writing for two months or at public meetings to be held during that time period. The meetings, in various parts of the United States, are still being planned. One of these will be held Sept. 14-15, 1998 in Tucson, Ariz. and the locations of the others will be announced in the future.
NIEHS Director Olden will then use the working group report, along with data being collected by NIEHS, to prepare his report to Congress. The views of the advisory working group are not binding but are expected to be given a good deal of weight.
Research on EMF-related issues is likely to continue at some level. The future focus of the research may depend on the views expressed by the working group and the Director's report to Congress.