Radioactive Times: LLRC Journal

Mobile 'phones - shocking ignorance of Dr Alastair McKinlay, head of NRPB’s Non Ionizing Radiation Department.

report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999 (content not updated)

On 5 May 1998, Cwmbran Magistrates issued a Summons under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to enable Roger Coghill to bring a private criminal action against Wayne Morgan, of the Telephone Shop UK Ltd, a retail distributor of Orange and Motorola mobile phones. Coghill’s action claimed that there was enough scientific evidence that mobile phones were a health risk and that, as with cigarettes, this should be communicated to users.

The case went before three magistrates at Abergavenny court on 9-10 November. After two days of evidence, magistrates decided that Wayne Morgan had complied with the Consumer Protection Act when he checked about possible safety risks with the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), and the local Trading Standards Office. Both had reassured Mr Morgan that there was no risk. The Magistrates were at pains to point out that they had not judged on the issue of warning labels, but only on whether Mr Morgan had contravened the Act. However, for those who followed the arguments in court, the real issue was how the safety of the public is in the inadequate hands of the NRPB and how poor the quality of their science is.

Your witness

Coghill’s barrister was Mr Hugo Charlton, and his two expert witnesses were Dr Chris Busby, an expert on ionizing radiation and health and UK representative of the European Committee on Radiation Risk and Alasdair Phillips, an electrical engineer and Director of Powerwatch UK.

Dr Alastair McKinlay, head of NRPB’s Non Ionizing Radiation Department appeared for the defence. Alasdair Phillips began by outlining evidence that the radiation given out by mobile phones has measurable and serious biological consequences. Among other examples, he referred to the Repacholi study (‘Lymphomas in Eu-pim1 transgenic mice exposed to pulsed 900MHz fields’, Radiation Research 147/5 (1997), 631-40). In this research lymphomas were found in mice exposed to the kind of radiation produced by mobile phones. Many reports suggest that use of mobile phones can cause lymphomas, particularly of the neck.

Following Alasdair Phillips Chris Busby gave evidence that the NRPB was not to be trusted to protect the public, and that historically, its role had come to be seen as that of a protector of industry. He gave many examples of NRPB’s responses to ionizing radiation risk and referred to the 1976 Royal Commission on Environmental Protection report which criticized NRPB for bias toward the nuclear industry. The problem, he said, was also partly due to an innate conservatism and partly due to the poor quality of the employees.

After the discovery by the Yorkshire TV of a childhood leukaemia excess at Sellafield, NRPB’s response was immediately to conduct damage limitation for the nuclear industry. After Chernobyl, they reassured government that there was no risk. But we now find increases in infant leukemia in those children who were exposed in utero.

NRPB in Action

The defence lawyer had made much of the lack of peer-reviewed papers published by Coghill and Phillips, categorising them as amateurs. When it became NRPB’s turn to stand in the witness box the tables were turned. In cross-examination, McKinlay admitted that he had obtained his Doctorate at Paisley College of Technology after he had started working for the NRPB. His entire working career had been with NRPB, and although he had written over one hundred papers he had never had any peer reviewed papers published and his work was published by NRPB itself. The only work he had cited as being relevant to the case and external to NRPB had been an EU expert’s report by a committee which it turned out he chaired and which had resulted in a 24million Ecu research programme.

Having established his status, and admitting that his expertise was in ‘measurement’ and that he had no knowledge of the biological effects or mechanisms, he confirmed that NRPB’s position was that the most important evidence was epidemiological, but that since there was substantial differing research on both sides and no clear evidence one way or the other, epidemiological research was not admitted at all when drawing up the guidelines for exposure. He stated that the possibility of cancer had not been entertained when establishing up the guidelines.

So again we see the NRPB in action. Poor quality technicians and bureaucrats use pathetically simplistic models and deny the existence of any effect that cannot be predicted by accepted scientific mechanisms.

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