“A precautionary, prevention-oriented approach should replace current reactionary approaches to environmental contaminants in which human harm must be proven before action is taken to reduce or eliminate exposure.” National Cancer Institute, 2008-2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel

The Science

The health and safety impacts of microwave radiation emissions are a highly charged topic because of their implications for high-profit industries, regulatory agencies and consumer product use. While science offers clear and objective means of assessing these issues, science can be co-opted and abused by stakeholders in one point of view or another. This abuse takes three key forms: funding bias, conflict of interest, and disinformation strategies. Responsible planning requires understanding the realities of each of these in the current dialog. It also requires looking objectively at the body of available research as a whole, and exercising caution (The Precautionary Principle) in the face of doubt or ambiguity.

Funding bias refers to the influence of the funding source on a study’s outcomes. Funding bias is recognized as a serious problem in research on radiation-emitting technologies. For example, the table below shows funding bias in research on cell phone radiation in 326 studies reported between 1990 and 2006 (compiled by Dr. Henry Lai, U Washington). As you can see, 67% of independently funded studies reported biologic effects from cell phone radiation, while only 28% of industry-funded studies reported such effects. (Of course, even 28% is cause for concern.)

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Funding bias even influences the interpretation of results. That is, industry-funded studies have a higher rate of discrepancies between their actual results and the author’s conclusions compared to independent studies.

Conflict of interest is another serious problem. “Expert panels” often referred to for setting policy (ICNIRP, SCENIHR) are actually staffed by industry-funded scientists with conflicts of interest and no accountability. To watch a new video presentation on this problem, “Science and Conflict of Interest in Bioelectromagnetics”, by Dr. Dariusz Leszczynski at the Swiss association Gigaherz on March 7, 2015, click here. The BioInitiative Report provides the most independent as well as comprehensive review of the evidence in this field and makes recommendations for setting safety guidelines. 

Disinformation strategies involve the deliberate misrepresentation of the available scientific evidence to mislead the public. In the case of the telecom industry and its proxy the FCC, this takes the form of public “declarations” that there is no evidence of non-thermal effects from EMR, even though the preponderance of scientific evidence shows otherwise. Disinformation is particularly disturbing in that it exploits the public’s trust in government (the FCC) as a protector of public health, in favor of corporate profit.

The Precautionary Principle holds that to protect the public health, new technologies and products should not be introduced until they are proven safe for consumers and the environment. Safety is established by independent studies, not studies conducted by the industry or by scientists it has funded with a conflict of interest.

Overview of the Scientific Literature

There are now well over 1,200 published scientific studies examining the question of whether EMR has physiological or health effects. The table below summarizes the findings as of late 2014. This table was compiled using the Powerwatch database, which comprises regular searches of PubMed (the US National Institutes of Health database) as well as other world health research databases. The preponderance of studies, by a 4:1 ratio, report significant impacts.

In any large body of research, conflicting findings are expected. Most studies can be criticized in some way on methodological grounds. For this reason scientists look at the trends in the body of research as a whole to see what direction it is pointing, rather than relying on any one study as “proof” one way or another. This makes the 4:1 ratio of positive to negative findings all the more important.

Perhaps the most urgent findings concern proliferation of cellular transmission equipment in residential areas. Here are a few recent developments on this topic:

  • A July 2015 research review reports that 93 out of 100 studies of low-intensity radiofrequency radiation found oxidative effects in biological systems. The wide pathogenic potential of this impact on cell signaling pathways explains a range of biological/health effects of low-intensity RFR, which include both cancer and non-cancer pathologies.
  • A study of symptoms associated with proximity to cell towers found significant adverse impacts on appetite, concentration, irritability, and sleep quality.
  • An epidemiological study in Netanya, Israel, just north of Tel Aviv, found an association between increased incidence of cancer and living in proximity to a cell phone tower.
  • Another study found significantly elevated levels of DNA damage in a sample of residents living within 300 meters of a cell tower compared to a matched sample living further away. This is important because all cancer originates with unrepaired DNA damage.
  • Wildlife is at risk as well. Bee colony collapse is now a global phenomenon threating agriculture and ultimately our food supply. A recent study has attributed this to the sudden influx of EMR into the environment, disabling the navigation mechanisms of honey bees developed over millions of years and preventing them from returning back to their hives. And, the US Department of the Interior is on record expressing a similar concern over the impact of cell tower emissions on migratory birds. Another study found that exposure of frog eggs and tadpoles to city levels of cell tower radiation resulted in impaired development and increased mortality of tadpoles.

Paul Dart, MD: The Health Effects of  Radio Frequency Microwave Exposure (South Eugene, 12/18/14)

The World Health Organization

The World Health Organization is the agency of the United Nations concerned with international public health. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has categorized the radio frequency radiation used by celllular networks as a possible carcinogen in the same category as aflatoxin, DDT, marine diesel fuel, BHA, gasoline, hydrazine, lead, naphthalene, vinyl acetate and welding fumes. To see the complete listings of the WHO classification system relative to carcinogens click here. This classification system is the consensus of interdisciplinary working groups of expert scientists who review the published studies and evaluate the weight of the evidence that an agent can increase the risk of cancer. The principles, procedures, and scientific criteria that guide the evaluations are described in the Preamble to the IARC Monographs.

Dr. Anthony Miller, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Toronto School of Public Health, who is a participant in the IARC process, has proposed along with other members that this form of radiation be upgraded to “probable” carcinogen. Dr. Dariusz Leszczynski, referred to above, expresses the same view. See a four-minute presentation on this here. This may occur in 2016 when the next revision is due.

Status of Regulation in the US

The key US regulations were written in 1996 to encourage the expansion and success of the industry’s commercial interests. They have not been updated since. A key omission was any acknowledgment of the existence of the non-thermal effects of microwave radiation from cell towers (see Dr. Dart’s presentation for explanation). Thus, the allowed levels of emissions are many times higher in the US than in more advanced countries where regulations are based on current science. Other countries have longer history with EMR-producing technologies and have taken serious steps to protect children and the general population while the US lags behind. In countries where public health is the priority, policy is guided by science rather than industry. The US still has no regulations addressing non-thermal effects of radiation emitted by cell towers.

Nevertheless, municipalities and counties in the US do have control over zoning and land use regulations and are increasingly establishing setbacks to create safer distances from schools, residential areas, hospitals and other locations with vulnerable populations. Studies indicate that setbacks of 1,000 to 1,500 feet result in significantly fewer adverse health effects. Lane County requires a setback of 1,200 feet.

Investigative Report from the BBC on Wireless Radiation

Selected Resources and Studies

The Baby Safe Project: The Science (outstanding 7 minute video)

Microwave radiation from wireless devices harms plants

Tumor promotion by exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields below exposure limits for humans (new study, March 2015)

Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults

Why Wireless Exposure Should be Reclassified as 2A, “Probable Carcinogen”, at the WHO

Video: Dr. Anthony Miller, University of Toronto School of Public Health and the World Health Organization, recommending reclassification

EMR Safety — Website managed by Joel Moskowitz, PhD, UC Berkeley School of Public Health. Discusses scientific and policy developments regarding the health risks from exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by cell phones and cordless phones, cell towers, Wi-Fi, Smart Meters, baby monitors and other wireless devices. For an interesting interview with Dr. Moskowitz on the Calvary Radio Network click here.

Book: An Electronic Silent Spring, by Katie Singer, medical journalist who works with the Electromagnetic Radiation Policy Institute. Outstanding investigative writing for the lay public.

Powerwatch.org.uk. An excellent resource for comprehensive listing of studies on electromagnetic fields (EMF) and health-related effects. Powerwatch uses automatic updates from the Pubmed database (US National Institutes of Health, National Libarary of Medicine) to track the latest scientific literature as it is added.

Testimony presented to the Oregon State Senate Health and Human Services Committee on December 8, 2014, by Dr. Paul Dart and Dr. Martin Pall

Video: PBS Interview with neurosurgeon Peter Black, MD on brain cancer and cell phone use

Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) Clashes with Honey Bees

Videos: Symposium on Health Issues Associated with the Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields and Microwave Radiation, 9/12/14, Toronto. Excellent presentations on the state of knowledge of EMR effects by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, Hugh Taylor, MD, Anthony Miller, MD, Frank Clegg, and Magda Havas, PhD

Video: History of Electromagnetic Pollution: Eileen O’Connor, Director, Radiation Research Trust (U.K.), Commonwealth Club 11-18-10 (video, 15 minutes)

BioInitiative 2012 Report Conclusions (updated in 2014)

BioInitiative 2012 Research Summaries (updated in 2014)

National Association for Children and Safe Technology

A cross-sectional case control study on genetic damage in individuals residing in the vicinity of a mobile phone base station

Anthropogenic Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as an Emerging Threat to Wildlife Orientation

Dr. Oz interview with Dr. George Carlo explaining for the lay person how the mechanisms of wireless radiation act on living tissue (2013)

Dr. Henry Lai on the DNA effects of EMR and the differences between industry-funded and independently-funded studies

How to Interpret Scientific Findings In the Cell Phone Radiation Controversy

What can be done about pseudoskepticism? (Scientific American, 2015)

Industry sponsorship and research outcome


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