Research on mobile radiation
The influence of mobile radiation on human health is a relatively new subject for researchers. Revealing results are still being delivered by current research. It should be emphasized that the most relevant studies have been carried out only in the last few years. There is still much to investigate.
The first significant studies on mobile radiation started to show up at the end of 90s due to the fact that mobile phones were becoming more popular with the general public.
Research is ongoing
There are currently a number of studies being conducted worldwide, the results of which are still unavailable. We have looked into concerns voiced by the media as well as the scientific community.
One such continuous study is the Generalized EMF research using novel methods (GERoNIMO) project. Started in 2014 as an integrated approach from research to risk assessment and support to risk management. 1 It is set to be completed in 2019. The European Union (grant agreement 603794) are providing the financial support for the study, as well as local and national funding sources.
ISGlobal includes 19 partners from 13 countries and as they’re leading this project it shows that there is a real public concern for information regarding the subject of mobile radiation. They have set objectives to close gaps in knowledge on EMF including health effects, reinforcing policy development and proposing non-technological means to reduce EMF exposure.
GERoNiMO will, in particular, allow the investigation of potential effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) and intermediate frequency fields (IF) – alone and in combination with other environmental exposures – on the risks of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, behaviour, reproductive outcomes and aging. 2
The subject of mobile radiation arouses curiosity not only among scientists but also with the general public. Public interest in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) 3 research on rats and mice was so high that the organisation decided to publish partial findings. Their final report was completed in 2018. It is believed to be a milestone in the field of mobile radiation.
A peer review of the Draft NTP Technical Reports on Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation 4 was published in March 2018. It confirmed that there was some evidence to suggest the correlation between cancer in rats and mobile radiation. However, some of the research is still considered equivocal and open to interpretation.
What the media says:
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, noted that the studies were negative for common tumors. These draft reports are bound to create a lot of concern, but in fact they won’t change what I tell people: the evidence for an association between cellphones and cancer is weak, and so far, we have not seen a higher cancer risk in people.
Dr. John Bucher, [National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program (NTP)], stated that the findings of the rare nerve-tissue tumor found in the hearts of male rats does not mean humans should be worried. He also said the effect likely only showed up in the male rats because they were larger, and likely absorbed more radiation than the female rats or mice. 5
Bearing the above quote in mind, it’s important to remember that equivocal evidence does not disprove connections between cancer and EMF. Bucher himself has mentioned the need for further studies in the past. In Conflicting views on chemical carcinogenesis arising from the design and evaluation of rodent carcinogenicity studies. (2008) 6 , he raised the topic that further assessments of human cancer risk of environmental agents based on animal carcinogenicity data due to uncertainties associated with extrapolations of toxicologic findings from studies in experimental animals to human circumstances were required. Bucher suggested some points on how to evaluate the carcinogenic potential of environmental agents and experimental studies.
It is up to you to make an informed decision either way, depending on your personal usage of mobile devices. The intention is not to scare but rather to educate.
What the media says:
Inna Vishik, an Assistant professor of physics at University of California stated that the recent study about cell phones causing cancer in rats should be taken with a grain of salt when making the connection to humans. In particular, the rats in the study were exposed to radiation power densities of 0, 1.5, 3, or 6 W/kg ... This would be equivalent of the 100 kg human getting up to 600 Watts — basically getting microwaved. ... Cell phones are hundreds of times weaker. 7
Dr. David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University at Albany, said he thought the study provided backing for the human epidemiological studies that suggested cell phone use was associated with an increased risk of gliomas and acoustic neuromas, a type of schwannoma. I think this is real, he said, suggesting people used wired earpieces to talk on cellphones. 8
The New York Times, 2016
Re-Inventing Wires: The Future of Landlines and Networks (2018) a book by National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy (Washington, DC) aims to have policymakers rethink the rise in wireless technology, while drawing attention to the consequences which may occur due to the neglect of wired infrastructures nationally (USA). 9
There is a also a continuous large-scale international study conducted in a few European countries. Participants could volunteer to join and now almost 300,000 people are involved. The name of this research, COSMOS 10 , means cohort study of mobile phone use and health. It is planned for at least two decades but partial results are going to be published sooner. This study is an unique opportunity to observe what impact long-term use of electronic devices would have on humans and their health. One of the most important research areas relating to radiation is the link between exposure and infertility.
It is important to use a mobile phone at a distance from your body because mobile phones emit non-ionizing radiation. They are operating at frequencies between 450 and 2700 MHz with peak powers in the range of 0.1 to 2 watts. The radiofrequency exposure of a user goes down fast by increasing the distance between them and the electronic device. A mobile phone user who keeps a phone 30–40 cm away from their body (for example when sending a text message or using a hands free device) will have a much lower exposure to electromagnetic fields than someone holding the handset against their head.
Radiofrequency energy, a form of non-ionizing radiation, is emitted from mobile phones by their antennas. Tissues closest to the antenna absorb this energy instantly. The dose of the absorbed energy is estimated using a measure called the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is expressed in watts per kilogram of body weight. The mobile phone radiation works as any other electromagnetic wave. The largest doses of radiation occur close to the device and lessen further away from the device. The head is most at risk while making calls but keeping a mobile phone switched on in your pocket or against your body may result in certain tissues being affected.
Relevant Studies: A Timeline
In 1999, research proved an increased risk of brain tumours in the anatomical area close to the use of a mobile phone. This case-control study was based on reported cases of brain tumours in mobile phone users. A need for further studies on mobile phone radiation was emphasized.
In 2003 Swedish research found there is nerve cell damage in mammalian brain after exposure to electromagnetic waves from GSM mobile phones. Before that it was already known that mobile phone radiation has the potency to significantly open the blood–brain barrier.
In 2010, COSMOS study was launched. It has been going on in five European countries and it investigates the possible health effects of long-term use of mobile phones and other wireless technology. For now, COSMOS has close to 300,000 participants across Europe (the majority of whom are from the UK: 105,000 participants, followed by the Netherlands: 90 000).
In 2010, an Indian experiment on bees showed that radiation is frying the navigational skills of the honey bees and preventing them from returning back to their hives.
Swiss research in 2010, showed that children are more exposed to radiation due to the closer proximity of the mobile phone to their tissues. Scientists used anatomically correct, high-resolution models of the heads of two adults and four children (3-11 years of age). The exposure of the regions inside the brains of young children (e.g. hippocampus, hypothalamus, etc.) turned out to be higher in comparison to adults.
In 2011, the WHO classified mobile devices as a group 2B risk, which means that they have the potential to be carcinogenic. Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that "the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk".
American research on brain glucose metabolism in 2011, found that even weak mobile phone emission influence brain activity and increase glucose metabolism in human.
In Sweden, in 2013, researchers reinvestigated former studies on acoustic neuroma and they confirmed an association between that kind of brain tumour and mobile and cordless phone use. They found that the risk of an acoustic neuroma was higher if the person has used a mobile phone for more than 10 years. For total wireless phone use, the highest risk was calculated for the longest latency time more than 20 years.
The American study from 2013 reported that breast tumours could develop in the regions where mobile phones were placed, e.g. if it was carried in a bra. Research was provided on four young women diagnosed with multifocal breast cancer. None of them had a medical record of this kind of cancer in the family but they all had a habit of keeping a mobile phone in their bra.
In the UK, in 2014, there was a study which observed that exposure to mobile phone radiation affects sperm quality. It was associated with reduced sperm motility and viability. Sperm motility is a measure of how well the sperm in a given semen sample is moving and viability in its most basic sense means 'being alive' (healthy and without defects of the sort that might prevent conception).
In 2016 The National Toxicology Program (NTP) published a partial-report summarizing their research on rats, confirms that there is a connection between mobile phone radiation and cancer. The study has found low incidences of tumours in the brains and hearts of rats which were exposed to radiation from an operating mobile phone. Among rats that received the highest radiation exposures, 2 to 3 percent contracted gliomas (11 out of 540) and 6 to 7 percent (19 out of 540) developed schwannoma tumours which can also develop in the acoustic nerve affecting hearing.
The Iranian research on sperm of healthy donors, in 2016, found that samples which were exposed to radiation had decreased mobility and increased DNA fragmentation, what supported earlier studies' results.
The latest Canadian Interphone study, in 2017, found a statistically significant doubling of risk for glioma among mobile phone users with only 558 lifetime hours of use. The Canadian research was based on data from the INTERPHONE case-control study which had been carried out in 13 countries for three years starting in 2001 and had reported a 40% increase in brain cancer among people who used phones for 1640 lifetime hours. This new study found that it is sufficient to use a mobile phone for one hour a week for 10 years to double the risk of glioma.
In 2017, a Chinese study on long-term mobile phone use showed that it may be associated with an increased risk of glioma. Scientists reviewed studies on mobile phone use and glioma published by the end of 2015 and they confirmed that using a mobile phone for more than 10 years could increase the risk of developing malignant tumours.
In a study entitled Towards 5G communication systems: Are there health implications? evidences about the biological properties of RF-EMF are progressively accumulating and, although they are in some case still preliminary or controversial, clearly point to the existence of multi-level interactions between high-frequency EMF and biological systems, and to the possibility of oncologic and non-oncologic (mainly reproductive, metabolic, neurologic, microbiologic) effects.
A recently published study that was conducted by Swiss TPH in collaboration with the European Union project GERoNiMO says that cumulative RF-EMF brain exposure from mobile phone use over one year may have a negative effect on the development of figural memory performance in adolescents. 11
Scientists face challenges whilst conducting their research into the effects of mobile phone radiation.
As well as the need for long-term studies and decades of waiting, there is also the potential lack of funding. However, public interest in mobile phone radiation is growing so the future of research in this area might emerge too.
Time is required to carry out reliable, long-term research into understanding how radiation has an impact on human health.
The possible adverse health risks of mobile phone use have not yet been thoroughly researched. Current studies tend to be focused on investigating the potential link between the usage of mobile phones and the development of physical and mental discomfort. However, many types of cancer are not detectable until a number of years post exposure, when the development of the tumour becomes known. Other factors which may affect the development of diseases also need to be taken into account.
Studies on mobile phone radiation are expensive. Financial support from the government, organizations and individuals is required. Studies on mobile radiation are usually long and, consequently, costly. Only a few research centers and universities can afford to run them. Similar to The National Toxicology Program research example, financial support from the government is necessary if we wish to carry out the most expensive and promising studies.
The Canadian research could not have been as thorough if it were not funded by the government. The smartphone industry could also be interested in supporting research into the health effects of mobile phone radiation to improve their products. Surprisingly, despite the fact that a number of studies had been funded by mobile phone producers, their results were never published.
Cooperation between the various entities is essential. The dialogue among scientists, governments, representatives of the industry and the public is important to raise the level of understanding about the potential adverse health risks of mobile phones.
Considering the factors mentioned above, cooperation between the various entities is essential. It is important to promote dialogue among scientists, governments, representatives of the industry and the public to raise the level of understanding about the potential adverse health risks of mobile phones. Not only for educational reasons, the exchange of partial results of ongoing studies is the best way to minimize the total cost of future research.