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Letters to the Editor Issue 141

by Letters(more info)

listed in letters to the editor, originally published in issue 141 - November 2007

The Great EMF Exposure Guidelines Fiasco

One of the most comprehensive scientific reviews ever published has firmly argued that the nations of western Europe are being misled about the extent of adverse health due to exposure to the ubiquitous electromagnetic fields and radiation permeating the environment.

The review is available for free download at new 600 page report in 20 sections from over a dozen experts around the world claims that guidelines presently set out by ICNIRP (The International Committee for Non Ionising Radiation Protection) are hopelessly inadequate, are based on fundamentally flawed science, and only there to serve the commercial interests of the power utilities, telecommunications industry, and the military. It calls for an urgent re-evaluation, taking into account the overwhelming evidence from over a thousand peer review published studies, arguing that the health of Western Europe is being seriously compromised by ambient radiation having doubled in the last decade. The effects are showing up in a relentless increase in cancers, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiac illness, and immune deficiencies, as well as a raft of lesser ailments and disorders.

Unless action is taken immediately, and the exposure guidelines are substantially lowered, the burden on the health services, already at breaking point, will become intolerable, the report argues.

In order to bring the debate more prominently into the limelight, Roger Coghill of Coghill Research Laboratories, a longtime specialist in bioelectromagnetics, has organised a one day Conference at the Royal Society in Central London.

It is high time this issue was debated properly and at a proper scientific level, argues Coghill. The power utilities and other industries have wriggled and kicked to keep the issue from the public, aided and abetted by the former UK National Radiation Protection Board (NRPB) and their cronies, some of whom are members of ICNIRP. Since these agencies have largely been in control of the research, and have deliberately misdirected it, the real picture and the extent of the EMF pollution problem has taken far longer than necessary to emerge.

Meanwhile other large countries like China and Russia, as well as an increasing number of European states, have adopted more realistic guidelines, standards and permitted exposure limits far lower than those in the UK.

In the UK Borough Councils are asked to rely on the ICNIRP guidelines when deciding whether to approve cellphone mast planning applications, against a background where within a few years of their installation people living near the mast report increased cancer and other serious ill health. Similarly the power utitlties argue that if their powerlines conform to ICNIRP then they are safe, when the overwhelming evidence shows to not to be the case.

The UK Dept of Health in 2005 created a toothless consultative tiger called SAGE (Stakeholder Advisory Group on Electromagnetic Energy) of which Coghill is a member, as well as other stakeholders, to take the steam out of the issue, but nothing has actually been done to change the situation since it recommended a raft of actions earlier in 2007. In the past several similar US Committees have also recommended lowering the exposure guidelines, but to no avail.

The IARC subcommittee of the World Health Organisation has classified extremely low frequency weak magnetic fields as a possible human carcinogen, but has said nothing about the far more damaging electric fields which emanate from all electrical appliances, wiring, cellphones, masts and consumer electronics. Yet our bodies use similar electric fields for vital functions such as controlling heart beat rate and issuing instructions to cells, and so the extraneous electric fields of modern electrotechnology are bound to perturb them.

Bodies like ICNIRP are guilty of obfuscation, procrastination and downright deception of the public, claims Coghill. For the sake of our children and the future this has to stop, and ICNIRP to be replaced by guidelines with a proper biological basis.

Further Information

Roger Coghill MA (Cantab) C Biol MI Biol MA (Environ Mgt),
sometime Senior Visitor, Emmanual College, Cambridge

The ME/CFS Debate Continues between Nancy Blake and Dr Shenahan Dept of Health

Dear Dr Shanahan
Thank you very much for your detailed reply to my further letter concerning ME/CFS. I have now followed up the various articles you mention in your reply, and have also read a good deal of the full document setting out the NICE Guidelines for treatment of ME/CFS which was published on 22 August.

Salient points: There is no need for research into how to separate ME from CFS. As set out in the article Smoke and Mirrors, from the site there have been over 1,000 articles about ME over the past fifty years, setting out symptoms, the neurological basis for the disease (damage to the brain stem), and giving (by Dr. Ramsay, who first studied the disease in the context of the 1955 outbreak at the Royal Free Hospital) a definitive criterion for diagnosis: exercise intolerance. Exercise exacerbates the symptoms and can result in long-term or permanent disability or death.

ME is an illness of long duration, that is, the sufferer is actively ill, for years. No one suffering from an ongoing illness process which is exacerbated by exercise is going to be helped by any form of exercise, and if a person is helped by exercise, the illness they have is not ME.

It is also inappropriate to begin ‘rehabilitation’ with a person still experiencing the active phase of an illness. Rehabilitation is a process appropriate when a stage of recovery has been reached. In the case of ME, exercise for a person who is improving will cause a relapse.

A careful reading of the papers to which you have referred me makes it clear that it is the cost of ME in terms of ongoing treatment, care, and long-term incapacity which is the driving motivation behind the current dominant approach to this illness.

The inclusion of a wide range of conditions under the heading of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ is the step which then can begin to create the statistics quoted in various research projects leading to the impression that CBT and GET may be helpful, hence, helpful to individuals suffering from ME. The PACE research project specifically sets out to include a wide range of patients and conditions, producing what will purport to be strong evidence because based on large numbers.

It was interesting, in the context of my current studies, to see a recent episode of the series ‘Judge Deed’, in which it was pointed out that small studies, directed at one specific issue, are more reliable than large, wide-ranging studies which do not focus clearly enough on one issue, and in which, therefore, significant cause-effect relationships can get lost in larger numbers which are not relevant.

Let me put this more clearly, in a matter with which I have much professional experience: People who are clinically depressed experience fatigue as one of their symptoms, and in fact clinical depression is one of the myriad conditions included within the CFS umbrella. In fact, making a differential diagnosis between depression and ME is extremely straightforward. People who have ME have typically been highly motivated people who work hard, drive themselves, and ignore illnesses. The person who has ME will be self-motivated to attempt a task or activity, and almost immediately find themself unable to carry it out, and may become quite distressed because of this. By complete contrast, the person who is depressed will typically have to be strongly encouraged or even pressured, into physical activity (such as a walk in the country, for example). Upon engaging in exercise, their mood will be considerably lifted, by the natural endorphins which exercise produces in people who are depressed, and they will feel both physically and emotionally better. The person who has ME absolutely requires rest, and an absolute minimum of physical exertion. The depressed person will benefit from the opposite approach.

But what happens if we lump these two categories together? Call the collective disorder ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ and study a group. If the group consists of 27 depressed people and 3 people with ME, then research will indicate that, as 27 out of 30 benefited from exercise, then all sufferers of ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ should be encouraged to exercise. Obviously, the minority of 3 can be disregarded, and should they protest that exercise makes them worse, we can label them hypochondriacs, people ‘refusing to comply with treatment’ , and treat them with appropriate severity. After all, we have statistics that prove exercise works.

I have no doubt that the PACE research exercise, with its very widely spread net, will come up with quite persuasive numbers to support the arguments for CBT and GET (which are inherent in the PACE approach). This will fit nicely in with the insurers, and the Benefits Agencies, who are looking to save money, first by getting ME labelled as a psychiatric, rather than a medical problem, and second, by exerting every effort to get these people back to work. I do not have the journalistic research skills to search for the individuals who are supporting and being supported by these ‘research’ efforts, but it is suggested elsewhere that these are not entirely independent of each other. (Smoke and Mirrors, cited above)

The language of the NICE Guidelines is quite interesting, both in what is said and what is left out. It states that people who suffer from ME/CFS should not in any way have it suggested to them that their symptoms are psychological (who might make that suggestion? why is it necessary to spell this out?). They should further be assured that ‘psychosomatic illnesses are as real as physical illnesses’. Who is proposing that ME is ‘psychosomatic’? There is much advice about how to respond, should the treatment result in a relapse. (Why are they being given treatments which might result in a relapse?)

And it is clear that the end result intended is that the individual should get back to work asap. Of course, the document is full of assurances that, should individuals decline to accept treatment, this shouldn’t interfere with their receiving treatment should they later agree. (But will their Incapacity Benefit be stopped? New guidelines have recently been issued to the DWP, and at least some people who have ME are being taken off Incapacity Benefit and required to seek employment.)

The ‘research’ which supports CBT and GET is perhaps exemplified by an article which appeared on It involved 60 subjects, some of whom had had a short course of CBT (which included GET), some a short course of relaxation therapy, and some no treatment at all. There were some very minor differences between these groups on a five-year follow-up, obviously in favour of CBT. Without information as to how many of these had ME and how many had any of the myriad other conditions included in the CFS category, this doesn’t seem all that persuasive. If this is the type of evidence on which NICE is relying – it just seems to confirm that the object of the exercise is already decided, and whatever slight support can wrung from trivial ‘research’ projects will be called ‘evidence’. The agenda has nothing whatever to do with advancing medical understanding and appropriate treatment for the 150,000 people who have ME. And it seems futile to imagine that those responsible, and who are profiting, would at any point experience embarrassment, let alone shame.

I am sorry that as your job is simply to pacify the public, rather than to engage, or persuade Alan Johnson to engage, with the real issues here, you will not be able to respond in any constructive way to this letter. This does mean that many people will continue to be forced to engage in ‘treatments’ which will make their illness worse and result in many more permanently disabled individuals. That effect goes without question, and is utterly morally reprehensible.
Yours sincerely
Nancy Blake <>

Dr Shanahan replies:

Dear Ms Blake,
Thank you for your further email about chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalitis (CFS/ME). Unfortunately, due to the amount of correspondence he receives and his daily commitments, Mr Johnson is unable to respond to every letter personally. Your letter has been passed to me for reply.

You are concerned about research into CFS/ME. The Department of Health funds research for health policy development, clinical and applied health research in the NHS, and the NHS costs incurred in supporting research funded by other bodies such as the research councils and charities. The Department’s research budget for 2006-07 is £753 million. Details of individual NHS-based projects, including some concerned with CFS/ME, are on the National Research Register at Some of these projects receive external funding from research councils and charities. There have been some recent findings about a genetic basis of CFS/ME which are providing extremely valuable insights into the causes and possible therapies. Clearly, these are early research findings which at present have no direct relevance to any predictive or diagnostic gene test for these conditions. However, the Department continues to keep such developments under review and there are well-established mechanisms to evaluate new genetic findings and ensure their proper implementation across the NHS.

Decisions to support particular research trials are made by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The MRC is an independent body that receives its funding through the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. It is a long-standing, and important, principle of successive Governments that they do not prescribe to the individual Research Councils the detail of how they should distribute resources between competing priorities. That is something which researchers and research users best decide.

The MRC is not currently funding research on a test to separate ME from CFS but further information on the MRC’s CFS/ME research strategy can be found on its website at: (by searching for ‘CRFS/ME’).

The MRC does not, as a rule, earmark funds for particular topics, and research proposals in all areas will compete for the funding available. The wider needs and priorities of the NHS and this Department are taken into account in the process by which the MRC decides between such proposals, and the Department has stressed the importance of research into CFS/ME? including research into possible environmental factors. However, research excellence and importance to health are the primary considerations in funding decisions.

You may wish to raise your concerns with the MRC. The contact details are:
20 Park Crescent
London W1B 1AL
Tel: 020 7636 5422

You are also concerned about Graded Exercise Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which are included in a current trial. PACE (Pacing, Activity and Cognitive behaviour therapy: a randomised Evaluation), is a large scale UK-wide trial that will evaluate the value of adding specific therapies to patients’ usual medical care provided in specialist clinics. Details of the research trial can be found by viewing and entering ‘PACE research trial’ into the search bar.

From 2006/07, funding for the new CFS/ME specialist centres is included within the resource allocations to Primary Care Trusts. This will ensure that funding for the new centres is now treated the same as resources for the previously existing CFS/ME centres. A total of £5.5 billion is available to Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) to support all the programmes covered by the allocation, including services for people with CFS/ME. It is for SHAs to decide, in consultation with other local stakeholders, how to deploy the funding.

I hope this reply is helpful.

P Shanahan
Customer Service Centre,
Department of Health


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