Response to reporting in the West Australian about alleged linkage between the development of cancer and the use of Force Protection Electronic Counter Measures
8 August 2013
2 August 2013 – Response provided to Joseph Catanzaro of the West Australian
Question 1: Was Defence advised by DVA of the previous claim linking the ECM and cancer?
Question 2: In light of these new concerns, and her previous comments, will Rear Admiral Robyn Walker heed calls by the Australian Medical Association investigate the alleged link between use of the ECM device and cancer?
Question 3: Will Defence suspend use of the ECM device, or at the very least introduce new cautionary measures to protect Australian soldiers, until it has been found safe for use?
Question 4: If Rear Admiral Robyn Walker is not available to comment, please direct this enquiry to the appropriate person within defence, as we expect a response?
Response to all:
The Department of Defence is constantly reviewing the equipment being used and any impact on the health of ADF members. If evidence presents itself it will be looked at. Currently, there has been no evidence, of cancers attributed to the sort of frequencies and the equipment we use.
It should be noted the ECM systems meet Australian Standards and provide essential protection for our forces from the continuing biggest threat to our forces in Afghanistan, Improvised Explosive Devices.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has not been contacted by the Australian Medical Association regarding concerns about the health impacts of electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment used by ADF personnel.
The force protection electronic countermeasure systems used by ADF personnel are subject to technical certification in accordance with the Department's Technical Regulatory Framework. This ensures that these systems are fit for purpose, safe to use, and comply with Australian Standards. It also ensures that the radio frequency electromagnetic energy produced by these systems is within the applicable standard.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) sets the standards for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy. The force protection electronic countermeasure systems employed by the ADF comply with the ARPANSA standards for human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy.
All ADF personnel who operate, or work in close proximity to force protection electronic countermeasure systems are formally trained in the employment and safety aspects of these systems. This includes the hazards associated with exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy.
The use of force protection electronic countermeasure systems is considered to be the most effective method available to counter the threat posed by radio controlled improvised explosive devices and they have undoubtedly saved the lives of ADF and ISAF personnel on operations. The threat from improvised explosive devices is not expected to diminish and the ADF will continue to develop and rely upon the use of force protection electronic countermeasures to reduce the threat posed by radio controlled improvised explosive devices to our personnel on Operations.
Defence has commissioned a series of studies focused on the health of ADF members who have deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations. One of these studies covers whether there is any difference in cancer rates between ADF members who have deployed and the general Australian community. The Centre for Military and Veterans' Health is undertaking this study on behalf of Defence. This report is expected to be released later in 2013.
Defence actively encourages members to report any concerns they may have regarding health and safety. Should personnel have any concerns, they should raise these with their Chain of Command or contact their unit safety officer.
6 August 2013 (published 8 August 2013) – Letter from the Chief of the Defence Force to Brett McCarthy, Editor Weekend West
Dear Mr McCarthy,
I am writing in response to the article Digger cancer claim regarding the death of Sapper Luke Butler, which was published in the Weekend West on Saturday 3 August 2013 and the Editorial Forces deserve inquiry into cancer fears published on Tuesday 06 August 2013. I can assure you that the welfare of Australian Defence Force personnel is my highest priority and I take the recent concerns raised over the alleged linkage between the development of cancer and the use of Force Protection Electronic Counter Measures very seriously.
To date, there are no known definitive links between exposure to Force Protection Electronic Counter Measure devices and cancer. The ADF has no evidence of a cancer cluster and has not identified a link between significant health effects and exposure to Force Protection Electronic Counter Measures. These findings are supported by the Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA) which also undertakes extensive investigation into potential causes of disease in our military population. Like the ADF, the RMA has not found a link between radiofrequency radiation and brain cancer.
As Defence stated in response to Mr Catanzaro's enquiry, the use of radio frequency transmitting devices is governed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). If such devices comply with the relevant safety standard they are deemed to be safe. The devices used during Sapper Butler’s deployment conformed to the ADF requirement to operate at 1/10 of the ARPANSA internationally recognised exposure limits.
It is also important to differentiate between radiofrequency radiation used in Force Protection Electronic Countermeasures devices and ionizing radiation. Ionising radiation is inherently dangerous because it can cause significant damage to DNA which may result in abnormal tissue growth, resulting in genetic abnormalities and or cancer. Radiofrequency radiation lacks the energy necessary to damage DNA or cause genetic damage.
The ADF's Joint Health Command regularly monitors international literature on this issue. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is part of the World Health Organisation has classified Radiofrequency radiation as 2B (possibly carcinogenic) but based only on studies of mobile phone usage.
Additionally, The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) have undertaken laboratory and in-field measurements of the frequency radiation emitted by Force Protection Electronic Counter Measures and concluded that based on the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection Guidelines, ADF personnel are most unlikely to suffer any short or long term health effects.
Sadly, I acknowledge that some Army personnel have developed various types of cancers. However, each person was diagnosed with a different type of cancer. This does not support the theory that the ADF is experiencing a cancer cluster as your publication suggested. The Centres of Disease Control (CDC) sets specific criteria for identifying cancer clusters. To satisfy these criteria, all cases must involve the same type of cancer, or types of cancer which are scientifically proven to have the same cause. Further, a cancer cluster requires that the observed number of cases is higher than the rate one would typically observe in a similar setting.
I am deeply committed to ensuring the health and safety of all ADF personnel. Where a risk is identified, the ADF will take action to minimise the danger to our people. In this case, while there is no scientific evidence to suggest a link between Force Protection Electronic Counter Measures and cancer, Defence continues to monitor the standards and research in relation to this issue.
D.J. HURLEY, AC, DSC
Chief of the Defence Force