JOYCE: Explain to us how you first learned of the Phonegate scandal. What was your personal connection to the issue?
DR. ARAZI: First, I read the report of the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) published on July 8, 2016, entitled ‘Exposure to Radiofrequencies and Child Health.’ In this report, there was information from the National Frequencies Agency (ANFR) on tests conducted in 2015 on 95 cell phones from mobile phone stores. The overall results showed that the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for the trunk and extremities of 9 out of 10 phones was above the limit value (2 W/kg) when the phones were tested in contact with the body (0 mm distance from the skin). Some mobile phones exceeded 3 to 4 times the limit values. I therefore immediately wrote to and called ANFR and ANSES to request the measurement results carried out by ANFR. I received a refusal from ANFR, which was trying to gain time. In September 2016, I requested the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA) to obtain the results.
Since 2004, as a physician, I have been concerned about the health issues related to mobile phones. Until 2014, I was spokesperson for a non-governmental organization advocating better protection for mobile phone users and people living near relay antennas. (NOTE: The NGO is known by its French acronym PRIARTEM, dedicated to educating about the risks of “electromagnetic technologies.”) From 2009 to 2013, I participated as negotiator in the Grenelle des ondes as part of the Grenelle de l’Environnement debate in France bringing together representatives of national and local government and organizations to reach a position on a specific issue.
JOYCE: How did the Phonegate story first break in Europe? The media? Or a whistleblower who went public?
DR. ARAZI: Between July and December 2016, at first, no French media reported on the subject despite many press releases and reminders. At the end of December 2016, following the notification of CADA confirming the obligation of ANFR to provide the test results, three media finally published articles, first, the site Le Lanceur (a French investigative journalism site), then on 23 December 2016, the newspaper Le Monde and the magazine Marianne. The term “Phonegate” was first used by the journalist Pierre le Hir of Le Monde in his article. The subject remained limited to France until May 2017. Thanks to the assistance of a volunteer from Switzerland who began to translate the press releases and articles into English, the American organization, Environmental Health Trust (EHT https://ehtrust.org), whose president is Dr. Devra Davis, contacted me and issued an initial press release in the United States in June 2017. Following this, the EHT invited me to a scientific conference in July 2017 in Jackson Hole (Wyoming). This has given international visibility to my action as whistleblower. Since then, other volunteers are translating press releases relaying information to several European countries, most recently Spain.
JOYCE: For those of us not technically-minded, can you explain why the SAR standard is an unreliable method of determining radiation risk? (For further details on SAR standards I recommend reading Dr. Arazi’s blog article: http://arazi.fr/wp2/2017/12/phonegate-the-health-and-industrial-issues-of-a-global-scandal/)
DR. ARAZI: The control standards for SAR are not a reliable method for determining the level of radiation simply because the distance at which the SAR trunk and body extremities are measured is not realistic. In Europe, until June 2016, the distance was between 15 and 25 mm from the skin. In everyday use, however, the mobile phone is in direct contact with the hand or near contact in a pocket. This is even truer when we talk about children’s use. It is for these reasons that in its July 2016 report, ANSES requested the public authorities to take action to establish a new SAR measurement protocol. For its part, in May 2016, ANFR intervened with the European Commission in order to give a warning at European level, specifying that the measurements for the SAR extremities be conducted at 0 mm from the skin and for the SAR trunk, at a few millimeters from the skin (such a lack of precision is in my view in order to avoid legal responsibility of the manufacturers).
Since 1996, Americans and Canadians have benefited from a slightly more restrictive regulation than Europe and a large part of the rest of the world, thanks to: 1) A lower threshold of 1.6 W/kg (watts per kilogram); 2) A calculation based on 1 gram instead of 10 grams in Europe; 3) A conversation time of 30 minutes compared to 6 minutes in Europe. On the other hand, the distance is 15 mm, which means that mobile phones sold in North America, if tested in contact with the skin, largely exceed the threshold limits. This clearly has consequences for the already high threshold levels in Europe. For example, a smartphone measured at 7 W/kg by ANFR is above 21 W/kg under the measurement conditions of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) (that is, a multiple of between 2 and 3 according to Professor Om Ghandi and Dr. Devra Davis).
JOYCE: There have been repeated instances of industry-biased consultants being appointed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ICNIRP panel. Do you see any indications this situation will improve in the near future?
DR. ARAZI: Given the public health issues and the experience of previous health scandals—tobacco, asbestos—I do not think this situation will change. The mobile phone industry is one of the most important economic powers today. In France, it owns many media: television, radio, press, Internet. This does not facilitate dissemination of information on the Phonegate scandal. This is just as true in all countries of the world. The recent release of the recommendations of the California Department of Public Health, however, is rather good news. Finally, after eight years of action by Dr. Joel Moscowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at Universitiy of Berkeley’s School of Public Health, Californians are now informed of the risks of keeping a mobile phone against the body and the head. Incidentally, the headquarters of companies like Apple and Google are located in California.
JOYCE: France has been progressive in banning cell phones from public schools and universities. In your opinion, what does the French government—and the European Union—need to do next to better protect the public?
DR. ARAZI: The ban concerns primary, junior and secondary schools (up to age 14) and not universities. This decision clearly goes in the right direction. It is in line with the report of the scientific experts of ANSES which in July 2016 wanted to dissuade young people under age 14 from using mobile phones.
At the same time, it is essential to launch campaigns at the French and European levels on the uses to be avoided in order to protect the health of users, especially the younger ones. But this would not be enough if at the same time the mobile phones most at risk were not removed from the market, particularly those exceeding a SAR value of 2 W/kg and which are currently being used by tens of millions of people.
NOTES: The Grenelle de l’environnement is an open multi-party debate in France that brings together representatives of national and local government and organizations (industry, labour, professional associations, non-governmental organizations) on an equal footing, with the goal of unifying a position on a specific theme. The aim of the Grenelle Environment Round Table (as it might be called in English), instigated by the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy in the summer of 2007, is to define the key points of public policy on ecological and sustainable development issues over the following five-year period. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grenelle_Environnement)
The Grenelle des ondes (formerly Grenelle des antennes-relais) is a debate initiated by Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Secretary of State for the Digital Economy in 2009. It dealt with electromagnetic waves, mobile telephony, and WiFi and responded to the concerns of the public sensitized by the many controversies aroused by associations supporting the existence of health risks of telecommunications.