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Paul Demers
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Paul Demers
2015-03-24 15:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me here today. I know I've been asked to come here today because I chaired the expert panel of the Royal Society of Canada on Safety Code 6. But I thought I'd start by saying a few other things about my background.
I'm the director of the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, which is based in Cancer Care Ontario, a provincial agency that is also funded by the Ontario Ministry of Labour and the Canadian Cancer Society. I'm also a member of the faculty of the schools of public health of the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.
I am an epidemiologist, so I study impacts of different types of health effects upon populations of people, but my primary area of research is on the risk of cancer associated with workplace chemicals, dust, and radiation, although I have done research on a number of other diseases as well as on environmental exposures. However, I want to state that, unlike Dr. Prato, I'm not an expert specifically in the area of electromagnetic fields and have never actually done research on radio frequency radiation.
As you know, at the request of Health Canada the Royal Society convened an extra panel to conduct a review of the 2013 draft of Safety Code 6. I was asked to chair that panel because I had no conflicts of interest and because of my expertise in cancer epidemiology, which was identified as one of the areas for which they wanted expertise on the panel.
I was also asked because of my experience sitting on similar panels for the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the U.S. national toxicology program, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Council of Canadian Academies, the latter two being fairly similar to the Royal Society of Canada in the way they operate.
I should also mention, although you may be aware of this already, that I was the second chair of the panel. The first panel resigned because of a perceived conflict of interest, and I took over as chair of the panel about midway through. But I also want to state that I'm here as individual and am not representing the Royal Society of Canada or any other organization at this point.
The panel was presented with five specific questions, and I'm going to over very briefly our responses to those five questions. Overall, they were all dealing with whether or not there were any established health effects at levels below those recommended by Safety Code 6 and related types of questions.
To answer these questions, we did a review of recently published studies in the area on a wide range of different types of health effects. We also looked at many of the international reviews, which I think have already been mentioned here today. These are conducted on a pretty regular basis by many agencies around the world.
Because we were asked to look in particular at established health effects, we defined an established adverse health effect as something that has been seen consistently or been observed consistently in multiple studies with a strong methodology. So we had a fairly flexible definition, but still it required an effect's being observed in not just a single study.
Before I get into the questions—because I'm actually going to read out the questions we were given—I want to explain two different terms that are used quite a bit in those questions, namely the definition of what basic restrictions are and what reference levels are.
Basic restrictions in Safety Code 6 are things that happen within the body, either heating or induced fields within the bodies, or things like those. Many of the actual limits are set based upon that. Because these are not easily measured, the code also uses reference levels, which are things you can measure outside of the body using a meter. They are much easier for regulatory purposes. You will often see that the questions are phrased in terms of these basic restrictions and reference levels.
Our first question was, do the basic restrictions specified in Safety Code 6 provide adequate protection for both workers and the general population from established adverse health effects of radio frequency fields? Our conclusion was that yes, they provided that protection. Specifically, Safety Code 6 was designed to protect against two kinds of established health effects, thermal effects and peripheral nerve stimulation. The margins of safety, we concluded, appeared to be quite protective. For peripheral nerve stimulation, it was a safety factor of five for the workplace or controlled environments, and a 10-fold factor for uncontrolled environments, which are closer to what you would experience in the general public. For thermal effects, the safety factor was 10-fold for workplaces and 50-fold for the general public.
The second question that we were given was, are there any other established adverse health effects occurring at exposure levels below the basic restrictions on Safety Code 6 that should be considered in revising the code? Our conclusion to that question was no. The panel reviewed the evidence for a wide variety of health effects, including cancer, cognitive and neurologic effects, male and female reproductive effects, development effects, cardiac function, heart rate variability, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and adverse effects in susceptible areas of the eye. Although research in many of these areas—important research, I think—continues, we were unable to identify any adverse health effects occurring at levels below those allowed by Safety Code 6.
Our third question related specifically to the eye: Is there sufficient scientific evidence upon which to establish separate basic restrictions or recommendations for the eye? We concluded that no there wasn't sufficient evidence. Recent studies do not show adverse health effects in susceptible regions of the eye at exposure levels below those proposed by Safety Code 6 for the head, neck, and trunk. Therefore we recommended that it not contain separate basic restrictions for the eye.
The fourth question was perhaps a bit more complex: Do the reference levels established in Safety Code 6 provide adequate protection against exceeding the basic restrictions? That is, do the levels that are proposed as limits for things you can measure outside the body actually protect against the target health effects the code is trying to prevent within the body? Our conclusion was that for most frequencies, yes, reference levels were adequate, but that there were some regions where compliance with the reference levels may not ensure compliance with the basic restrictions. We recommended that the proposed reference levels in Safety Code 6 be reviewed by Health Canada to make them somewhat more restrictive in some frequency ranges to ensure a larger safety margin for Canadians, including newborn infants and children.
This recommendation took into account recent studies that we call dosimetry studies, at least one of which was published after Health Canada produced the proposed Safety Code 6.
Our fifth question was, should additional precautionary measures be introduced into Safety Code 6 exposure limits? I'll state that although there was a range of opinions on the panel regarding precautionary efforts, overall the panel believed that Safety Code 6 was well-designed to avoid established health effects; we did not have any science-based recommendations for precautionary measures to lower the limits. I'll say that it was for the reasons that I think Dr. Prato explained quite well, which is that we couldn't, at least in looking at the study, say that the evidence tells us that we should lower it it in such a fashion. However, we did recommend a number of other measures that can and should be taken by Health Canada.
I'll read some of them here now.
First was to investigate the problems of individuals with what's called electromagnetic hypersensitivity—it goes by other names as well, IEI-EMF, and things like that—with the aim of understanding their health conditions and finding ways to provide effective treatment.
Second was to develop a procedure for the public to report suspected disease clusters and a protocol for investigating them.
Third was to expand Health Canada's risk communication strategy to address consumer needs for more information around radio frequency radiation.
Fourth was to identify additional practical measures that Canadians can take to reduce their own exposure.
These recommendations are really in response to the public input that we received as part of the panel. We also had a number of different research recommendations. In particular, if one has the chance to read the report, you'll notice that each section on a particular health effect usually ends by basically pointing out that more research is needed on that health effect.
A few of the specific ones are that Health Canada should aggressively pursue research aimed at clarifying the radio frequency radiation cancer issue, which would allow the government to develop protective measures if the risk were substantiated; and that Health Canada should pursue research to expand our current understanding of possible adverse health effects of exposure to radio frequency radiation at levels below those allowed by Safety Code 6.
The response to the panel's report from Health Canada—
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