Mobile phones and cancer

August 2011

Image from Wiki Commons
In May 2011, two land-mark statements were made by globally-influential organisations. One was that mobile 'phones are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. The second was that lower exposure limits to such devices are necessary on health grounds.

These are 'landmark' statements because they recognise, for the first time, that the accepted measurement of 'harm' which has been applied up until now is, simplistic, wrong and dangerous.

Mobile 'phones and other electrical installations in our environment, homes and workplaces emit microwaves or electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Regulators have previously endorsed an industry-friendly assumption that such radiation would have to be strong enough to heat (cook!) our cells before it could be harmful.

How mobile-'phone makers got away with that bit of make-believe is a mystery, because the role of electrical potentials in cell membrane function, metabolic processes, and DNA activity has been studied and well-known for generations. The only possible conclusion is that electromagnetic fields must disturb normal cell function, especially that of nerve tissue whose impulses depend on charged particles. Any chronic disruption of normal cell functioning will lead to disease. Such as cancer.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has announced an increased risk in malignant brain cancer (glioma) from the use of wireless phones. This may well be only the beginning of a stream of emerging chronic health problems due to EMFs.

Still to come are the effects of microwaves on other life-forms, especially the ones we depend on for our food (livestock, insects, crop plants, microbes). We have been subjecting all of these to EMFs just as much as we have ourselves.

After producing a detailed report on the EMF issue, the European Parliamentary Assembly (EPA) has passed a resolution calling for lower electro-magnetic field exposure limits (see below).

EMF exposure limits recommended by the EPA

For private use, the EPA recommendations include:
  • the setting of thresholds for levels of long-term exposure to microwaves in all indoor areas
  • a risk-assessment to be carried out on all new types of device prior to licensing
  • clear labelling to indicate the presence of microwaves or EMFs, the transmitting power of the device, and any health risks connected with its use
  • awareness to be raised regarding potential health risks of DECT-type wireless telephones, baby monitors and other domestic appliances that emit continuous pulse waves
  • for the protection of children, town planning measures to keep high-voltage power lines and other electric installations at a safe distance from dwellings
  • strict safety standards for electric systems in new dwellings
  • siting of antennae such as WiFi to be in consultation with local government, residents and associations of concerned citizens.

Significantly, the EPA stated that:
“One must respect the precautionary principle and revise the current threshold values; waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco”.
It noted “clear parallels with other current issues, such as the licensing of medication, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals or genetically modified organisms” and stressed that the “independence and credibility of scientific expertise” are crucial for a “transparent and balanced assessment of potential negative impacts on the environment and human health.” 

Besides the failure to apply the precautionary principle, the 'clear parallels' between EMFs and GMOs include the corruption and avoidance of science: 
  • for example, vulnerable groups such as children or especially sensitive individuals have not been considered
  • for example, scientists sounding warnings have routinely been silenced, discriminated against or their views simply ignored no matter how expert they are
  • for example, independent research has been the exception
  • for example, industry lobby groups are not transparent
  • for example, the rules are set by industry itself, sometimes through NGOs whose origins and structure are unclear
  • for example, scientifically accepted experiments using cultured cell models have been spuriously dismissed because they weren't based on whole organisms
  • for example, 'scientific' findings are clearly biased by the source of funding and affiliations of the scientists (e.g. Swiss researchers have shown that, while 33 percent of studies funded by industry concluded exposure to mobile 'phone radio frequencies had an effect; the figure rises to over 80 percent in studies that were publicly funded)
  • for example, lack of transparency in reporting controversial data
  • for example, huge levels of funds are spent on development and applications of novel technologies while a pittance is devoted to environmental or human health hazards
  • for example, tests have never been carried over an adequate time-span ...
Most importantly, there is abundant evidence on the harmful effects of EMFs: a 2007 review found more than 2,000 reports to analyse. Studies have demonstrated microwave effects on genetic and epigenetic systems, stress markers, cell-metabolism, sleep and heart function. Note that none of these tests involves measurements as gross as thermal damage.

Real science on GM crops (not commercial studies such as feed-conversion) is lagging way behind the depth of study applied to EMFs, but like EMFs the evidence of harm when more sophisticated tests are applied is fast accumulating.


Like EMFs, the effects of GMOs can be irreversible, and perpetuated in future generations.

Perhaps now that the fallacy of simplistic 'testing' of novel technologies has been exposed, and the need for a true application of the precautionary principle spelled out, this will be extended to GMOs and all their associated chemicals (self-generated, applied, absorbed or derived).

In the first instance, you can demand some rights. No one can force you to use a mobile 'phone by sneaking it into your hand disguised as something innocuous. But, even with the relatively rigorous EU labelling laws in place GM foods can be sneaked onto your plate. You can only avoid GM if it is clearly labelled: 'clearly labelled' means front-of-pack and not in print so small and camouflaged by a mess of other labelling that you can't read it; 'clearly labelled' also means produce from animals fed GM feed.

If you want some hard facts on wireless 'phones and brain cancer, check out Wireless Phones and Brain Cancer at the Institute of Science in Society.

  • Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Wireless Phone Radiation “Possibly Carcinogenic”, Institute of Science in Society Report 8.06.11
  • Dr. Mae-Wan Hi, European Environment Agency Highlight Mobile Phone Cancer Risks, Institute of Science in Society Report 15.06.11

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