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Mobile Phone Industry Fights to Keep Us Ignorant of Health Risks

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified cellphones as a Group 2B "possible carcinogen"1 based on the evidence available in 2011. Since then, the evidence of harm has grown significantly. Science delivered a scathing blow to the cellphone industry this year, with three major studies supporting suspicions that cellphone radiation increases your risk of cancer2,3 and other health problems.

Still, public doubt seems to linger. Two articles written by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie — one in The Nation,4 the other in The Guardian5 — highlight how such doubts are manufactured by the telecommunications industry which, barring public outcry, does not appear to have any interest in making their products safer.

Clear Evidence Cellphone Radiation Promotes Cancer

In February 2018, the findings of two government-funded lifetime exposure studies6 (one on mice, the other on rats) were published. The animals in these studies were exposed to cellphone radiation for nine hours a day for two years, which is the normal, full life span of both mice and rats.

This $25 million research — conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), an interagency research program currently under the auspices of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — reveals a number of health concerns, including the following:

  • Exposed male rats were more likely to develop heart tumors (malignant schwannomas) than unexposed ones. These heart tumors are very similar to acoustic neuromas found in humans, a benign type of tumor that previous studies have linked to cellphone use 
  • Female rats and newborns exposed to high levels of radiation during pregnancy and lactation were more likely to have low body weight
  • DNA damage and damage to heart tissue were observed in exposed male and female rats, but not mice
  • Brain, prostate, liver and pancreatic tumors were found in both rats and mice exposed to cellphone radiation over a lifetime


Remarkably, the NTP chose to downplay the results, saying there's no real cause for concern. Not only does this nonchalant dismissal contradict the urgent warnings issued by NTP researchers just two years ago, when preliminary results were released,7 it also contradicts the conclusions of an independent review panel, which said there's "clear evidence" linking radiofrequency (RF) radiation with heart schwannomas and "some evidence" linking it to brain and adrenal cancer.

Despite downplaying the effects, the NTP stated that, if these results can be confirmed, then cellphone radiation may indeed be a "weak" carcinogen. Well, we didn't have to wait long for that confirmation. In the first week of March 2018, the highly respected Ramazzini Institute in Italy published the results of a lifetime exposure study8 that also shows a clear link between cellphone radiation and Schwann cell tumors (schwannomas).9,10,11

Reproducible Effects 

The NTP-funded studies found rats exposed to RF radiation began developing glial cell hyperplasias — indicative of precancerous lesions — around week 58; heart schwannomas were detected around week 70. Ramazzini's study reinforces these results, showing RF radiation increased both brain and heart tumors in exposed rats even at much lower power levels than those used by NTP.

While NTP used radiofrequency (RF) levels comparable to what's emitted by 2G and 3G cellphones (near-field exposure), Ramazzini simulated exposure to cellphone towers (far-field exposure). Ramazzini's rats were exposed to 1.8 GHz GSM radiation at electric field strengths of 5, 25 and 50 volts per meter12 for 19 hours a day, starting at birth until the rats died either from age or illness.

To facilitate comparison, the researchers converted their measurements to watts per kilogram of body weight (W/kg), which is what the NTP used. Overall, the radiation dose administered in the Ramazzini study was up to 1,000 times lower than the NTP's — yet the results were strikingly similar. As in the NTP studies, exposed male rats developed statistically higher rates of heart schwannomas than unexposed rats.

They also found some evidence, although weaker, that RF exposure increased rates of glial tumors in the brains of female rats. Importantly, the exposure levels used in Ramazzini's study were all below the U.S. limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.

This means Americans can legally be exposed to cancer-causing levels of radiation. As noted by Ronald Melnick, Ph.D., a former senior NIH toxicologist who led the design of the NTP study and current senior science adviser to the Environmental Health Trust,13governments really need to protect the public by strengthening regulations.

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