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Topical issues: nature
Our natural world is under assault from human activity. The trouble is, to recognise damage to nature reveals also the risk to ourselves. ‘Progress’ is in the hands not of individual people, nor their elected representatives and politicians. It is in the hands of the free market, the large corporates who set the direction of our world through creating profit streams however they can. We don’t have to identify this as evil; rather it is almost inevitable. We are persuaded of the benefits of convenience and consumerism, and we are the source of the profits and the stimulant to corporate behaviour and the setters of social trends. What we must do is to observe, to ask questions, and be honest enough with ourselves to recognise that nothing we do is without consequence. If we are custodians of our children’s futures, we must accept individual and joint responsibility for the condition of our planet.
Here are examples of honest concern over EM fields from telecoms affecting wildlife:
Amphibians: eggs and tadpoles of common frog
A study is being carried out exposing eggs and tadpoles of the common frog (Rana temporaria) to several mobile (cell) phone antennas located at a distance of 140 metres (electromagnetic field intensity: 2,5 to 3,5 V/m (pictured below):
A low coordination of movements, an asynchronous growth, with big and small tadpoles, and a high mortality (90%) was observed. Regarding the control group (under the same conditions but inside a Faraday cage) the coordination of movements was normal, the development was synchronously and a mortality of 4,2% was obtained (Balmori, in prep.).
These video clips show (left) tadpoles exposed to the antenna radiation and (right) same-stage control tadpoles in a Faraday cage.
Watch these clips simultaneously, or pause one and watch the other. The bowls containing the tadpoles are being struck to stimulate the tadpoles.
(Please note: each clip is approx 3Mb so may take a while to load, depending on your connection).
Birds, magnetic and electromagnetic fields
US and German scientists have shown that oscillating magnetic fields disrupt the magnetic orientation behaviour of migratory birds (Ritz T et al. ‘Resonance effects indicate a radical-pair mechanism for avian magnetic compass’, Nature 2004, May 13, Vol 429, p. 177). Migratory birds are known to use the geomagnetic field as a source of compass information and there are two competing hypotheses for the primary process underlying the avian magnetic compass, one involving magnetite, the other a magnetically sensitive, chemical reaction (see links below).
The researchers found that robins were disoriented when exposed to a vertically aligned, broadband (0.1-10 MHz) or a single-frequency (7-MHz) field in addition to the geomagnetic field. In the 7-MHz oscillating field, this effect depended on the angle between the oscillating and the geomagnetic fields. The birds exhibited seasonally appropriate, migratory orientation when the oscillating field was parallel to the geomagnetic field, but were disoriented when it was presented at a 24- or 48-degree angle.
The authors state that their results are consistent with a resonance effect on singlet-triplet transitions and suggest a magnetic compass based on a radical-pair mechanism. They comment:
‘The magnetic compass of birds is light-dependent and exhibits strong lateralization with input coming primarily from the right eye. However, the primary biophysical process underlying this compass remains unexplained. Magnetite, as well as biochemical radical-pair reactions have been hypothesized to mediate sensitivity to Earth-strength, magnetic fields through fundamentally different physical mechanisms.’
In the magnetite-based mechanism, magnetic fields exert mechanical forces. In the radical-pair mechanism, the magnetic field alters the dynamics of transitions between spin states, after the creation of a radical pair through a light-induced electron transfer. These transitions in turn affect reaction rates and products. Although in most radical-pair reactions the effects of Earth-strength magnetic fields are masked by a living system’s background ‘noise’, model calculations show that such effects can be amplified beyond the level of background ‘noise’ in specialized, radical-pair receptor systems.
Alasdair Philips (Powerwatch) comments:
‘The support for a possible mechanism is interesting. However, medium- and short-wave frequencies have been used since the 1930s with little evidence of any effect on bird behaviour. But since the mobile phone networks went up there have been increasing reports of birds, especially homing pigeons, getting lost. Research now needs to look at the effects of base station signals, particularly in view of the disorientating effects of EMR ‘noise’ reported in this study.’
An early warning?
In 1956 a military radar engineer working on the Sussex Downs witness first hand the effect of 3GHz microwave radiation on migrating birds. Before leaving UK shores for other destinations, the birds would gather at high altitude, between 3 to 10 thousand feet, spend some time circling chosen landmarks for perhaps 20 minutes, then disperse. This was a well known and documented phenomenon amongst technical personnel at coastal radar stations.
One day, while testing a new form of radar with a very fast rise time and very short duration pulse (very much like pulses now used in digital communication systems) he noticed the echoes from the flock of birds (mainly swifts and house martins) suddenly disappear from all their radar displays. Some time later they had reports from veterinary sources and other concerned parties that thousands of birds had been found either dead or dying, spread over a wide area.
The fatalities, it seems, only occurred with the then ‘new’ radars being rapidly installed because of the Cold War situation with East Germany and the USSR. The specific frequencies and pulse widths in use then are no longer used – at least not by the military. However, what is of great concern is that they are being used by the mobile phone industry.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Simon Best and Cyril Smith attempted, via various publications, to caution the government, radio engineers and the public about possible biological hazards if similar frequencies and pulse widths became commonly used for civilian broadcasts and/or telecoms. However their sound advice was overruled by senior members of the then NRPB (now part of the Health Protection Agency).
Other effects and observation on birds
The gardens around a football club in Worthing were well-tended, with hedges and ivy, and trees. And they were well-populated with birds as the residents fed them in the winter. The small birds nested in the hedges and (less popular) gulls nested every year on the chimney blocks. On one occasion a bird of prey devoured a pigeon in a garden. This was the pattern through to the 1990s. Then through the early 2000s mobile phone masts started going up around the ground. In February 2004 the fourth, TETRA went live.
During that year the small birds left. The nests were left empty, and the gardens silent. Only pigeons and seagulls would pass through and perch. That winter, for the first time, the gulls did not roost.
Coincidence? If it wasn’t for so many other similar reports during this time, one might suppose so. But in Bognor Regis, where TETRA had also caused the people a lot of problems, the birds returned, well out of season, when the illegally erected TETRA was removed.
Effects of electromagnetic fields on animals
One of the most important things we can do is to observe animals and plants. If indeed the increased ambient and chronic exposure to low levels of especially digitally-structured electromagnetic fields does present a risk to health and well-being of people, then it is important to recognise and respond to this as soon as possible. Very many scientists worldwide have indeed found that this is the case, but such is the global impetus for the convenience of wireless communications, and such is the dependence of the global economy upon these industries, that it is infinitely preferable that all the perceived effects in human are just the result of techno-anxiety.
The psychosomatic response and the placebo and nocebo effects are well-known and powerful human traits. In fact it would be the greatest progress humankind has ever made, if these powerful capacities could be harnessed for good and for healing by all. (Though perhaps it is as well that we cannot, since there is nothing to prevent the harmful side being similarly used.) And so it is entirely likely that people do respond in these ways to things they feel uncomfortable, suspicious of, or threatened by. But there are no grounds whatsoever for then concluding that all observed effects on people attributed to EM fields are due to this psychological response. The same could be said of pesticides and chemicals or other environmental pollutants, including noise. On all these issues, solid scientific research does exist that biological mechanisms exist to explain the observed outcomes.
The reason nature observation is so important, is that we assume a lower cognitive awareness in plants, birds, fish, insects and animals. Without psychosomatic bias, these are the indicators of the effects of human activity on natural processes. We watch them for the effects of our activities on habitat, atmosphere, water, and on the climate and they are producing acutely useful warnings. What does nature tell us in this complex but unbiased way about the electromagnetic radiation environment that we have created and are daily increasing?
The objection to people claiming to observe effects in animals is that there is a lot of natural EM radiation, and man-made radiation is a minor addition. To the contrary, our addition is spectacularly different in terms of frequencies, structures and in completely filling the spectrum. It is not just the addition, but the interference this creates with natural EM fields and frequencies, such as the Schumann resonance and geo-electromagnetic fields.
Many studies on biological effects relate to animal experiments, as you will find in our health links pages. (Try putting ‘animal’ into the search box at the top of this page as well.) EM fields of various kinds are used routinely in regular human medicine (not just in complementary practice) so we do know that there are positive interactions. And they work in animals too.
Here are some examples of studies on skin and thyroid that are actually important for human health investigation:
Rajkovic V, Matavulj M, Johansson O, ‘Histological characteristics of cutaneous and thyroid mast cell populations in male rats exposed to power-frequency electromagnetic fields’, Int J Radiat Biol 2005; 81: 491-499
Rajkovic V, Matavulj M, Johansson O, ‘The effect of extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields on skin and thyroid amine-and peptide-containing cells in rats: An immunohistochemical and morphometrical study’, Environ Res 2005; 99: 369-377
Rajkovic V, Matavulj M, Johansson O, ‘Light and electron microscopic study of the thyroid gland in rats exposed to power-frequency electromagnetic fields‘, J Exp Biol 2006; 209: 3322-3328
Clearly rats are not responding psychosomatically.
Animals and the EM environment
As well as our pages on birds and bees, there are plenty of concerns about animals, for example:
Power transmission and supply
Whilst these links concern wireless sources, there are profound concerns about ‘stray voltages’ and ‘dirty electricity’. This is about more than the bio-effects of powerlines, and includes the complexities of where mains voltages flow, the creation of net currents, and what radio-frequency signals are induced or injected into circuits that then flow around premises. Accounts of farms devastated by imbalanced power lines, bad localised grounding and combinations of RF transmitters with power lines, abound. Similarly, accounts of the fixes through proper grounding and filtering show that there are remedies. The problems will differ between countries, depending on wiring standards, transmission line design etc. But the bottom line is that we have to be extremely careful with this magic stuff called electricity, because it is more complex in use than we ever imagined by lighting the first bulb.
Here are some links to expand on the subject.
Decline of bees, UK and worldwide
‘Honeybees will die out in Britain within a decade as virulent diseases and parasites spread through the nation’s hives, experts have warned. Whole colonies of bees are already being wiped out, with current methods of pest control unable to stop the problem.
‘The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) said that if the crisis continued, honeybees would disappear completely from Britain by 2018, causing “calamitous” economic and environmental problems. ... Last year, more than 11 per cent of all beehives inspected were wiped out, although losses were higher in some areas. In London, about 4,000 hives – two-thirds of the bee colonies in the capital – were estimated to have died over last winter. Of the eight colonies inspected so far this year, all have been wiped out. ...’
Massive and sudden declines have occurred in bee populations across the world in 2006-2007. Honeybees sustain agriculture through pollination so human food supply depends on their well-being.
Sudden and wholesale loss of bee colonies is described as Colony Collapse Disorder, but does not explain the reason. Primary reasons suggested, and sometimes in the past confirmed, include parasitic mites and consequent viruses. More recently pesticides, GM crop use and climate change have been suggested. However, as this page seeks to demonstrate, the electromagnetic environment is also crucially influential on honeybees, and is undergoing rapid and enormous change from human communications systems.
The sudden declines are marked by bee disappearance rather than just hives full of dead and diseased bees. The empty hives are not plundered by neighbouring colonies and other insects are not filling the pollination gap. This leaves two further possibilities:
Nothing in the bees, hives or honey is pointing to chemical toxicity or bio-predation. Since the studies lower down this page show that honeybees depend on natural electric and magnetic fields, and that they are frequency-specific in their communications, it is urgent that this line of enquiry is opened up.
Whilst the last bee species extinction in the UK occurred in 1988, there has been a steady decline in the bee population.
It’s a particularly bad time to cut funding on bee inspectors, but this is exactly what has happened in the UK: Funding cuts threaten bee health (2004).
Bees are not just nice to have around and make honey; they are crucial to crop pollination and a vital element in agriculture and food production. The global economic value of pollination may be as much as £50bn. In June 2006 it was reported that bee decline may hit food crops in Northern Ireland, and the UK in general. The cause appears to be mites and late flowering losing synchronicity with the bees’ nesting cycle. Farmers have been making efforts to restore habitat (eg field margins), and some decline appears to be restored.
Why this is not just interesting, but a critical issue: ‘Approximately 80% of all insect pollination is accomplished by honey bees. According to the University of California at Davis publication “Don’t Underestimate the Value of Honey Bees,” the remaining 20% of other insect pollinators are drastically reduced in number as well, making one wonder if the problem is the varroa mite or something else affecting the broader insect world.’ [Source: Suite 101]
Then in February of 2007 the bad news arrived of massive colony collapses across the US:
In Austria, an enquiry was made via the beekeepers’ newspaper. 25 replied that they encountered problems after mast installations in the proximity:
No-one knows why
Pesticides and habitat?
Central to the argument of pesticide use has been Imidacloprid [more], a systemic nicotinoid agent that accumulated across harvest seasons and becomes available to pollinators. It attacks the nervous system, affecting learning and memory. See: Honey Bee Disappearances: Could Pesticides Play A Role?. Apparently after nicotinoids were withdrawn in France in 1994, bee colonies have still not yet fully recovered.
Whilst pesticides and loss of habitat appear mostly to blame, it isn’t just farmers who can make a difference. Growing traditional plants in gardens would help, but we must remember that climate change is already visible, with the migration of many species (butterflies, insects, birds, fish etc.) all on the move, in a northerly direction. It may be worth considering therefore, the predictions about domestic gardens and the change to mediterranean plant varieties.
Another possibility is that agricultural methods, including bee-keeping is increasingly monocultural, reducing variety in both bee populations and the nectar they collect. See: A surprising decline of pollination services in USA. One factor in agricultural methods is bee size, and this does appear to make a difference in their resilient to mites. By pushing cell sizes up, commercial beekeepers develop bees up to 50% larger, that ostensibly are more productive. However, pushing this boundary has led to greater varroa problems that organic, natural-sized bees just do not suffer. [Opinions from an organic beekeeper.]
Some have pointed to GM crops, but this does not explain either the 20 year trend, the international aspect, or the suddenness of the 2006 USA event:
Furthermore the bees have not just been dying in the hives, or being found dead, they have just been disappearing in their millions.
April 07, Palm Beach News reported: ‘Troy Fore [executive secretary of the American Beekeeping Federation] and other bee industry figures and scientists said the phenomenon resembles many of the ways bees have always died, but for one notable exception: the empty hive is shunned by other bees and also by insect scavengers.
‘“I was very much a skeptic about this thing when I first heard of it,” said Danny Weaver, a Novosota, Texas, bee breeder who is president of Fore’s group.
‘He said his skepticism vanished when he obtained honeycomb from a collapsed hive and put it in an area heavily populated with bees and bee parasites, including wax moths.
‘“Nothing would go near it,” Weaver said. “Ordinarily, other bees would be robbing that honey, moths would be all over it. But nothing.”’
Urgent investigation required
This observation must be tested further. A comb from a deserted hive and a comb from a thriving hive must be placed together where other species are plentiful.
Since this is easily repeatable in many sites, it would quickly focus attention where it is due: comb, honey, pollinators or surrounding environment. (See below on bees, EM fields and their sense of smell.)
A man-made electromagnetic environment?
One trend that also causes concern is the electromagnetic environment. Ironically, power line pylons provide agricultral margins that are a haven for bees. In the US, it has been proposed that utilities do not mow the power line strips in order to halt the US decline in bees. Studies by Ulrich Warnke on bee behaviour in low frequency fields have, however shown supressed metabolic rates in bees, and a paper by J O Husing, ‘Biene und Elektrizitat’ in Imkerfreund (Beekeeper Friend) in 1965 noted effects of low frequencies on bee behaviour patterns. See also Bee World, 1976: Effects of Electric Charges on Honeybees.
There has been a deal of research on other insects, some relating to dimensional aspects on insect antennae. T Jaski noted in 1960 (‘Radio waves and life’, Radio Electronics, 31. pp. 43), that orientational reactions were observed in large ants when exposed to a SHF field of 10,000 MHz. They oriented their antennas along this electric lines of force and lost their ability to communicate the location of food to others. It was noted that the antenna length of the ants used in these experiments was almost a quarter of the wavelength to which they were they were exposed.
High electric fields present a greater problem in conductive hives (Bidokas et al., 1988). But it may not be hives and electrical fields that add to bee problems, so much as magnetic fields. Bees have a magnetoreception system sensitive down to 26nT at 10 to 60Hz, according to Kirschvink et al. (1997), decreasing rapidly with increasing frequency. Maybe living under power lines isn’t a completely good idea. Balmori 2006, ‘Effects of the Electromagnetic Radiation emitted by Mobile Telephony on Insects; Ecosystems’ recounts the effect of mobile phone antennas on insects more generally.
Are EM fields to blame? This is one environmental burden that matches the decline of bees, and the rapid recent rise in universal infrastructures may explain more.
Bees that vanished when a house went wireless
There was only one snag with Ryan Ferguson’s new home, a three-storey Georgian house in Bath. When the 29-year-old digital sales director moved in three years ago, he found 30 nests of bees in his attic. ‘They got everywhere, he says. ‘In the shower, the windows, the light fittings. It used to be quite dangerous. You would walk about at night without shoes on and they’d be all over the floor.’
He twice called in exterminators, but the bees just came back. Then, last summer, he installed a WiFi system. They left and never returned.
reported Independent on Sunday, 22/04/07
Explore the bee crisis more
As the months have gone by, the expected confirmations of mites or other parasites have not been forthcoming. Autopsies on bees show totally destroyed immune systems. Correlation with GM crops does not appear to be true, and whilst originally organic bees appeared immune, now it seems they are not. Beekepers say that the stresses of breeding, transport, winter syrup nutrients are nothing new. Historical ‘dwindles’ or disappearances have always been due to known pathogens.
One beekeper in the US has imported Australian bees and placed them in untreated, sterilised and irradiated abandoned hives. In the latter the bees thrived, suggesting a biological factor. However, with still so much uncertainty and no identified single pathogen, a combination of factors may well be the best explanation: the ‘perfect storm’ where all the wrong things come together at the same time with a catastrophic result.
Bees are frequency-sensitive, like all living organisms:
It is interesting to reflect that many people complain of ‘the hum’, relating electromagnetic sources with an apparently acoustic phenomenon. There may indeed be more than one ‘hum’, but since bees are so sensitive to particular frequencies, this is a worthwhile route for research, especially if hives resonate in response to the now all-pervasive EM fields. GSM mobile phone systems produce a structural pulse frequency of 217Hz, DECT (cordlesss phones) 100Hz, TETRA 70.6Hz.
Stever H et al., (2005), ‘Verhaltensänderung unter elektromagnetischer Exposition’
Harst W, Kuhn J, Stever H (2006), Can Electromagnetic Exposure Cause a Change in Behaviour? Studying Possible Non-Thermal Influences on Honey Bees – An Approach within the Framework of Educational Informatics (English)
Kimmel S, Kuhn J, Harst W, Stever H (2007), Electromagnetic Radiation: Influences on Honeybees (Apis mellifera)
Bees rely on key enzyme for their sense of ‘smell’ in their antennal lobes:
It is interesting that the interpretation given in the February 2007 US news (above), is that the bees left in the hive being so diseased is due to immuno-suppression. If you take a look at our health pages under EM Fields you will see the evidence that electromagnetic fields (EMF) affect the behaviour of key enzymes that produce and regulate nitric oxide in living organisms, and why this is so important. If this is true of insects, then this avenue of research is also vital.
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More related bee sources
More useful links:
Electromagnetic fields and trees
There are some very interesting pieces of research and anecdotal evidence related to possible physiological effects of EMFs.
Research indicates that microwave radiation may be partially responsible for some cases of partial deforestation:
Dr Hertel’s work also includes photographs and maps of an apparently effected areas, with the photos showing what is alleged to be damage to tree growth caused by microwaves – with markedly different ring profiles noted on different sides of the cross-sections taken through the trunks. Lines of deforestation followed line of transmission. Though there are other possible explanations for some noted occurrences such as the light and shade the trees have been exposed to in the past and geoelectromagnetic anomalies affecting growth patterns and die-back, the research seems highly competent and worthy of further investigation.
Leylandii are notable for their ability to screen EM fields, but a long time ago the antenna properties of trees were known:
Charles Claessens, Verband Baubiologie, notes: ‘I have screwed a screw in some trees in my garden. On them I placed a contact antenne and recorded the signals coming from them. I have to place them on my website shortly. I am told, that some 15 years ago, somebody in Germany has a tree dying. He placed a screw in the tree, placed a thick wire on it and connected the other end to a ground rod placed farther away. The received signals now did not go through the roots of the tree, but landed in the ground rod. This tree got healthy again. Yes, trees absorb a lot of radiation.’