By Camilla Rees
World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified cell phone radiation as a ‘Possible Human Carcinogen’ (Class 2B). This provides the 1st official scientific basis on which governments, schools and parents can now legitimately call for precautionary behavior regarding these radiation-emitting devices.
IARC Press Release: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf
IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild stated,
“Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and finding it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting.”
The IARC decision was a true watershed event. IARC’s own 13-country Interphone study downplayed brain tumor risk when published last May, with news headlines heralding “No Risk Found”. While that statement was true for overall results, what much of the media coverage, and the press announcement, omitted to mention was that in the category of people who had used cell phones for 10 years or longer, the research showed a clear increased risk for brain tumors in heavy users. It is important to note that was considered ‘heavy use’ in these studies would be considered common exposures today.
Two of the lead authors of the Interphone study, Drs. Elizabeth Cardis and Dr. Siegal Sadetski, later boldly took it upon themselves to publish a clarification of risks found in the Interphone study, urging caution.
The WHO’s classification of cell phone radiation as a ‘possible carcinogen’ was based on science showing increased risk for glioma, or brain tumors. While gliomas can be either malignant or benign, they always carry a poor prognosis according to experts. (Ohgaki H and Kleihues P. Population-based studies on incidence, survival rates, and genetic alterations in astrocytic and oligodendroglial gliomas. Review article. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol, Vol 64, N° 6, June 2005, pp 479-489).
The IARC Working Group was not asked to quantify the magnitude of the cancer risk, though independent assessments of the science indicate a doubled risk of both glioma and acoustic neuroma after 10 years of cell phone use.
Besides gliomas, other cancers linked in research to cell phone use include meningiomas, acoustic neuromas, salivary gland tumors, eye cancer, testicular cancer and leukemia, though there evidently was not sufficient evidence to classify cell phones as a cancer risk for these types of cancer now, nor occupational exposures, which were also reviewed by IARC.
While health advocates are pleased with the recognition of cancer risk from cell phones, several scientific experts, such as 20+ year IARC veteran, Dr. Annie J. Sasco, MD, DrPH, cancer researcher at the Bordeaux Segalen University, France, say the present evidence actually justifies a class 2A classification, or “Probably Carcinogen”.
Sasco says the fact that much of the research was sponsored by the cell phone industry may have impacted the classification.
“That may explain why there is not sufficient evidence in experimental animals, but that’s not good enough for automatically going down to 2B. I, myself, feel it would have been appropriate to have a 2A classification.”
Sasco says, “Industry funded studies are more likely not to demonstrate any detrimental effects of EMF and even when an effect is found and reported, it is common to find in the paper a discussion of why such an effect could be the result of bias (competing causes of death, benign rather than malignant tumors and the like), rather than a true effect. This may have led the animal evidence to be classified as less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity.”
The Elephant in the Room
Microwave radiation emitted by cell phones is the same kind of radiation emitted by other wireless technologies, such as WiFi routers, portable phones, wireless baby monitors and cell towers. The distinction is that the cell phone has more power at the head, and they operate at different frequencies. Given society is blanketing itself in this radiation, and the radiation is known to cause DNA damage, cancer, impaired fertility, cognitive impairment, such as memory changes, interference with learning and wildlife and ecosystem effects, we feel it is urgent that federal research funding be immediately allocated to examining this issue.
Joel Moskowitz, PhD, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at University of California, Berkeley, is calling for a $1 annual surcharge on all cell phones to fund research on cell phones. This would handily fund a $300mm U.S. research program on biological impacts of the microwave radiation to which we are constantly being exposed.
The following are some recent recommendations by Dr. Moskowitz:
1. Cell phone radiation is harmful – keep a safe distance between your body and your cell phone.
Although we do not yet have conclusive evidence, ample research demonstrates increased health risks, including increased risk of tumors of the brain and salivary gland after 10 years of cell phone use. There is also evidence of short-term health risks, for example, sperm damage.
Based upon our review of the research, our primary recommendation has been to maintain a safe distance between your body and your cell phone whenever it is turned on. You are exposed to 100 times less radiation if you keep your phone ten inches from your body instead of an inch.
2. Consumers need information about cell phone radiation, its harmful effects and ways to reduce risk. Consumers need to know the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and the typical amount of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that cell phones emit.
Although the SAR is not a perfect measure of exposure, consumers have a right to know a cell phone’s SAR, which is a measure of the maximum radiation emitted, before they purchase a new phone. In addition, just like the Environmental Protection Agency requires car manufacturers to provide gas mileage ratings for typical city and highway driving, the Federal government should also require that cell phone manufacturers provide estimates of typical radiation exposure. Your cumulative exposure to cell phone radiation is related to how you use your phone, how much you use it, and your phone’s typical EMR output.
3. Your cell phone carrier may matter more than your cell phone model in terms of your typical EMR exposure.
GSM phones typically emit much more EMR on average than CDMA phones, even phones with the same SAR. GSM also emits pulses which may increase biologic reactivity. If you are concerned about your EMR exposure, you should consider using a carrier that employs CDMA (e.g., Verizon, Sprint) instead of one that employs GSM (e.g., AT&T or T-Mobile). The toxicology research suggests that CDMA may be safer.
4. The Federal government should lower the SAR legal limit and adopt better measures of EMR exposure.
The current limit that all phones must have a maximum SAR of 1.6 watts/kilogram or less is inadequate and does not protect cell phone users from harm due to cell phone radiation.
5. The Federal government should adopt precautionary health warnings and harm reduction measures (e.g. include wired headsets with every phone). Governments must fund independent research on the health effects of exposure to EMR.
We are all exposed to a substantial amount of EMR on a daily basis. Sources include cell phones and cell towers, cordless phones, “dirty electricity,” Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, TV and radio transmissions, and Smart Meters. Although some EMR exposure is likely benign, other EMR exposures appear to be harmful, especially over the long term. A $1 per year fee on cell phones would generate $300 million annually in the U.S. for research and education regarding EMR health effects.
One must ask in closing, why has it taken the WHO this long to opine on the cancer risks from cell phones? Why have global public health bodies not acted sooner, allowing a trillion dollar industry to emerge, now deeply intertwined with our economy, without sufficient pre-market health testing?
And why did activists protesting nuclear energy decades ago not succeed in stemming its growth despite the travesty it has created for our planet, world leaders instead needing a nuclear disaster like Fukushima to finally start taking intelligent action to more safely meet the planet’s energy needs? What is it about the human psyche that creates this deep resistance, where proper steps to protect human health and the planet are taken far too little and far too late?
With electromagnetic fields from cell phones and wireless technologies, we are taking risk of unacceptable proportions for the DNA and fertility of the human species, as well as for the ecosystem, such as the crop pollinators (i.e. bees) which are necessary for our food supply.
If you would like to see the U.S. Congress focus more on this important public health concern, please sign the EMF Petition to Congress at www.ElectromagneticHealth.org
Camilla Rees is founder of ElectromagneticHealth.org and the Campaign for Radiation Free Schools (Facebook), co-author of “Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution” and co-founder of the International EMF Alliance.