Wireless Technologies and the Risk of Adverse Health Effects in Society: A Retrospective Ethical Risk Analysis of Health and Safety Guidelines

Professor Tom Butler, University of Cork

(An extended working paper)

Digital wireless technologies increasingly employ radiofrequency non-ionizing radiation (NIR/RFR) for wireless communication. Early wireless technology innovation focused on military, aviation, and telecommunication applications, such as radar and microwave communications. However, the 1980s saw the rollout of commercial consumer-oriented wireless cellular telecommunications systems. While concerns on adverse health effects from exposure to RFR emerged in the military-industrial context in the 1950s, it was not until the early 1990s that there was an institutional response to calls for health and safety protection guidelines. Unfortunately, these guidelines were based on NIR/RFR thermal risks only—the science and technology experts ignored and dismissed a considerable body of research finding adverse health effects from non-thermal exposures. By 2020, that body of research had grown considerably. Yet, for reasons that are unclear to concerned scientists, guidelines from the 1990s remain unchanged. This study conducts a path constitution analysis (PCA) and a retrospective ethical risk analysis (eRA) to help foster an understanding of how historical guidelines were arrived at and why they remain immutable to change. The study finds potentially unethical behaviour in a variety of institutional and organisational actors, the consequence of which is a significant risk to the health and wellbeing of adults and children.



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