Safety Review Panel Suffers from Conflict of Interest
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When you pick up your wireless device, you most likely do not give the slightest thought to the radiation that it emits. Devices that run on wireless technology release radiofrequency (RF) energy. Human exposure to high levels of RF radiation could potentially cause tissue damage. Government health agencies from around the world have devoted resources to studying the effect of RF radiation on humans to determine safe levels of exposure. Health Canada bears the responsibility in this country for researching and setting guidelines on RF radiation. However, the agency and the Royal Society of Canada have come under fire recently for the review process of the country’s wireless technology safety code.
In 1979, Health Canada released Safety Code 6, its guidelines for safe human exposure to RF energy. The agency revised that guideline in 1991, 1999, and 2009. These updates were not major; instead, Health Canada made small changes to the Code that reflected new research or scientific knowledge. Because Health Canada has not made a major update to Safety Code 6 since its initial release, and due to the rise in the use of wireless devices, the government agency requested that the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) undertake a review of these regulations.
The RSC and Health Canada signed an agreement in February 2013 stating that the RSC would conduct an expert panel review of Safety Code 6. It appointed Dr. Brian Christie from the University of Victoria, Dr. Richard Findlay from the U.K, Dr. Kenneth Foster from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Louise Lemyre from the University of Ottawa, Dr. John Moulder from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Dr. Frank Prato from the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Rianne Stam from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, and Dr. Daniel Krewski from the University of Ottawa.
Although the RSC’s expert panel selection guidelines state that members cannot have any conflict of interest, the non-profit volunteer coalition Canadians 4 Safe Technology (C4ST) uncovered that several members of this review panel have financial relationships with lobby groups, industry associations, and wireless device companies. Frank Clegg, CEO, C4ST, remarked, “I don’t know the process that the RSC went through to pick this panel. However, I’m concerned about how the panel came together, and I’d like to fix it.”
C4ST has found evidence that Dr. Moulder has acted as a professional witness on behalf of companies fighting claims that employees were injured by RF radiation. Moreover, Dr. Kenneth Foster authored a study funded by a non-profit organization that is sponsored by companies such as Apple, Nokia, Samsung and Motorola. The organization has launched a public relations campaign to overhaul the panel and replace members with conflicts of interest with those who are impartial.
At press time, only one panel member had voluntarily stepped down due to his conflicts of interest. Dr. Krewski, the chair of the panel, resigned at the beginning of July 2013. C4ST considers his resignation a victory of sorts, as Dr. Krewski’s company Risk Sciences International received a $125,000 from Industry Canada to write articles about the safety of wireless technology and dispel concerns about its possible risks. He did not disclose this conflict. This is not the first time Dr. Krewski has been accused of partiality. In 2003, CBC Television’s “Marketplace” reported that Dr. Krewski was conducting research on the danger of cell phones while running the McLaughlin Institute for Public Health, created by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, an industry group.
Clegg applauded Dr. Krewski’s decision to resign, and hopes other conflicted members of the panel will follow suit. He is still optimistic that the RSC can compose an unbiased panel of experts to investigate the health impacts of wireless technology. Clegg emphasized that C4ST does not advocate banning or eliminating wireless technology completely. “We’re not saying don’t use the technology,” he commented. “We’re saying, use it safely.” Safe usage will be achieved with a deeper understanding of wireless technology’s risks, and that might be years away.