Select Committee on Science and Technology First Special Report



APPENDIX 2

FURTHER MEMORANDUM FROM THE OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

PROGRESS ON SELECT COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY SYSTEM: MOBILE PHONES AND HEALTH (THE COMMITTEE'S THIRD REPORT OF THE 1998-99 SESSION)

Recommendation

Q1  We recommend that the Government adopt the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection recommended guideline limits for microwave exposure as a precautionary measure. We further recommend that these guidelines be introduced quickly but with a grace period to allow network operators to achieve full compliance (recommendation a; paragraph).

Select Committee's comment

The Government rejected this recommendation in its response but appears to have accepted an almost identical recommendation from the Expert Group. What action has the Government taken to ensure that exposures from both mobile phones and base stations in the UK comply with ICNIRP recommended limits?

Response

The Government did not reject this recommendation. The reply sought to explain the background and regulatory implications of the ICNIRP Guidelines. It described how Government supported the EU Recommendation on the limitation of public exposure to electromagnetic fields when it was proposed in June 1999. The EU Recommendation incorporates the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines. The Government response to the S+T Committee explained that compliance with the exposure guidelines was not specified in regulation, and said the policies would be reviewed after the Independent Expert Group had reported. The Government reply to the Independent Expert Group's report did not seek to explain the detailed background, but made the reference to the EU Recommendation explicit.

Whilst the way in which the Recommendation might be implemented in totality is still under consideration, it is clear that public exposures arising from the operation of mobile phone technologies will be below the ICNIRP guidelines in all areas of normal public access. The Government explained that mobile phones in use in the UK should already comply. With regard to base stations it is possible that where close access to base station antennas is possible, on open roof spaces for example, extended exclusion zones may have to be put in place. The network operators are presently undertaking assessments of such situations and implementing exclusion zones where appropriate.

The Board of NRPB has accepted the recommendation of the Independent Expert Group on the adoption of ICNIRP public exposure guidelines for mobile phone technologies. NRPB is currently developing a response on possible options for wider implementation of the ICNIRP guidelines in the UK.

Recommendation

Q2  We agree that there is a "need to confirm or deny the work on microwave-induced DNA fragmentation". We note with approval that industry is co-operating with the World Health Organisation and the European Union's fifth framework programme to determine priorities for a collaborative research programme to examine athermal effects of non-ionising radiation and endorse the need for this (recommendation h; paragraph).

Select Committee's comment.

The Government's response expressed disappointment that some of the higher priority programmes in this area had not been supported through the FP5 Quality of Life Programme and stated that "we will maintain pressure on the Commission to fund more work in this field, sooner rather than later". What pressure has been applied and what has been the outcome of this pressure?

Response

The Environment and Health Key Action (K.A. 4) of this programme encompasses research on mobile phones. There was an initial call for proposals in this area in 1999, with some research being funded and several proposals failing in open competition. The outcome of this call, together with the recent expert reports on this area from the UK and elsewhere, were considered earlier this year by an independent group of scientific experts whose role it is to advise the Commission on future priorities. Since the report of the Select Committee, the work programme has been revised, taking on board the recommendations of this so-called External Advisory Group (EAG) and the Programme Management Committee (PMC). The UK representatives (from OST and MRC) on the PMC ensured that the Commission was fully aware of the requirements for further research in this area and have endorsed the revised work programme accordingly.

The revised work programme for 2001, includes research on EMF (RF) radiation and cellular phones as a priority area. The only area that is now excluded for RTD projects (although still open for other types of funding), when compared to the original work programme is possible carcinogenic effects, which where judged by the EAG to have been adequately covered in the original call. All other areas are open for the full range of funding modalities including RTD projects. Highlighted research priorities include "cognitive and other effects, combined exposures and the quantification of exposures".

Failed proposals from the first call in 1999, can be resubmitted, for the 15 March 2001 deadline, if they fit with the new programme and assuming that they have been revised to respond to the concerns expressed by the original reviewers. Hopefully new proposals will also be submitted. However, all proposals will be independently peer-reviewed and considered for funding in open competition with other applications under the Environment and Health Key Action. Thus, as with the earlier EC call for proposals in 1999, there is no absolute guarantee that further research will be funded on mobile phones.

Recommendation

Q3  We believe that the level of publicly-funded research into the effects of microwave emissions falls short of an adequate programme into an area where public health implications should be regularly reviewed. We recommend that the Government ensures that a higher priority is given to a research programme into the health impacts of mobile phones. The public health aspects of new technologies should be incorporated into the Foresight Programme (recommendation j; paragraph).

Select Committee's comment

The Government's response noted that there would be Foresight consultations on this issue with emerging outputs placed in the Foresight Knowledge Pool and that the Foresight Healthcare Panel would also report on this issue. What has emerged since?

Response

The announcement of a comprehensive research programme in mobile phones and health is imminent.

Foresight Panels published their consultation documents earlier this year. These and the responses to them are available on the Foresight website (www.foresight.gov.uk). Panel reports are scheduled for publication during the first week of December. The report from the Foresight Healthcare Panel will be published on 5th December, followed by reports from each of the nine Healthcare task forces as amplification, including the task force on International Influences on Health and Health Care, addressing the need for the systematic study of the health impact of technologies and public policies. The Foresight programme continues into a phase of implementation, ensuring that recommendations and issues raised in the reports are addressed.

Recommendation

Q4  It is essential that there is an independent and appropriately-funded research programme which is seen to be objective and which is seen not to be directed by commercial interests, even if industry makes a contribution, to the funding (recommendation k; paragraph ).

Select Committee's comment

The Government's response stated that "appropriate mechanisms for channelling industry support for research, so that it does not prejudice the independence of the research will need to be considered and agreed. Proposals in this area of research will also be considered through existing mechanisms". What new mechanisms have been established for funding research in this area and have any new research programmes commenced?

Response

Such a mechanism is being established using the LINK framework. A research programme is to be announced soon with 50% Government and 50% industry funding. The management structure ensures that the administration of the overall programme, and the selection of individual projects to be funded, is demonstrably independent of the industry sponsors whilst ensuring appropriate feedback channels for all funding organisations.


 
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