Health effects from cell phones, RF electromagnetic fields

I was planning to review the literature on the health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields  and write a brief article on the topic as I used to do almost regularly since 2006. I am adding references to some of my articles in this note.

On 26 April 2012, the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) published an exhaustive review on the topic. The report, which updates AGNIR’s previous review in 2003, considers the scientific evidence on exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, which are produced by mobile phone technologies and other wireless devices, such as Wi-Fi, as well as television and radio transmitters.

A press release from HPA summarized the  conclusions thus:

“The report finds that although a substantial amount of research has been conducted, there is no convincing evidence that RF field exposure below internationally agreed guideline levels (which are applied in the UK) causes health effects in adults or children.

  • The evidence suggests that RF field exposure below guideline levels does not cause symptoms in humans and that the presence of RF fields cannot be detected by people, including those who report being sensitive to RF fields.
  • A large number of studies have now been published on cancer risks in relation to mobile phone use. Overall, the results of studies have not demonstrated that the use of mobile phones causes brain tumours or any other type of cancer.
  • As mobile phone technology has only been in widespread public use relatively recently, there is little information on risks beyond 15 years from first exposure. It is therefore important to continue to monitor the evidence, including that from national brain tumour trends. These have so far given no indication of any risk.
  • Studies of other RF field exposures, such as those at work and from RF transmitters, have been more limited but have not given evidence that cancer is caused by these exposures.
  • Research on other potential long-term effects of RF field exposures has been very limited, but the results provide no substantial evidence of adverse health effects; in particular for cardiovascular morbidity and reproductive function.”

The report can be accessed at:

http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317133827077

Summary reports from my articles

1. Health effects of using mobile phones ( The Hindu March 9, 2006)

http://www.hindu.com/seta/2006/03/09/stories/2006030900111500.htm

RESEARCHERS FROM the King’s College London studied 60 `sensitive’ people who claimed that they get headache-like symptoms within 20 minutes of using a mobile phone and 60 `control’ participants who did not report such symptoms.

They found no evidence to indicate such sensitivity as reported in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal. The `sensitive’ people could not detect such signals nor did they react to them with increased symptom severity.

A sham exposure in which no signal is present was enough to trigger severe symptoms in some participants. Scientists surmised that psychological factors may have an important role in causing this condition.

In 2001, the CA a Journal for Clinicians stated thus: “As cellular telephones are a relatively new technology, we do not yet have the long term follow up on their possible biological effects.

However, the lack of ionising radiation and the low energy level emitted from cell phones and absorbed by human tissues make it unlikely that these devices cause cancer.”

The authors endorsed the following view from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Centre for Devices and Radiological Health: “If there is a risk from these products — and at this point we do not know that there is — it is probably very small”

“Recent epidemiological studies have found no convincing evidence of an increased cancer risk or any other disease with mobile phones” the World Health Organisation concluded in a release on December 2, 2005. The agency clarified that the changes in brain activity, reaction times and sleep patterns in persons using mobile phones, reported by scientists have no apparent health significance.

“We cannot conclusively say whether cell phones will cause cancer or not because the available information is based on very short term studies. But several large studies did not associate cell phones and cancer.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

2. Cell phone safety  ( December 1,  2006)

http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061201/science.htm#1

Physicians in Cleveland and New Orleans and Mumbai studied 364 men undergoing tests at a fertility clinic. They claimed that those who used mobile phones for more than four hours a day had significantly lower sperm counts than those who used them for less time. They also found significant differences in the mobility, viability and morphology of the sperms between the groups.

The news received undue publicity as the finding was provocative.

“On the face of it, the findings seem pretty robust but I can only assume that mobile phone use is some kind of surrogate for something else”, Dr Allan Pacey, at the University of Sheffield told The Times “If you are holding it up to your head to speak a lot, it makes no sense it is having a direct effect on your testes” he clarified.

We know that other life-style factors affect sperm quality. Heavy users may spend more time sitting in cars. Their testes may warm up. Sperms are sensitive to heat. An association between mobile phone use and sperm counts may not be a causal link.

…………………………………………………………………………………..

In December, 2005, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded that recent epidemiological studies have found no convincing evidence of an increased cancer risk or any other disease with mobile phone use.

…………………………………………………………………………………………

You may have some concerns over cell phone safety, but you need not lose sleep worrying over it; its harmful effects, if any, have not been conclusively confirmed.

3. Cell phones : precautionary approach needed

( The Hindu  February 17, 2011)

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/article1462164.ece

Over the years, there has been differing news on the risks of radiation from mobile phones. A WHO booklet published in May 2010, stated that no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use. Studies are ongoing to assess potential long-term effects. WHO noted that there is an increased risk of road traffic injuries when drivers use mobile phones (either handheld or “hands-free”) while driving.

According to HPA (HPA, May 17,2010), there are thousands of published scientific papers covering research about the effects of various types of radio waves on cells, tissues, animals and people. HPA’s views derived from them were identical to those of the WHO.

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

In 2009, members of the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection; most countries have accepted the Commission’s guidelines) Standing Committee on Biology noted that there is some evidence of an effect of exposure to a Global System for Mobile Telecommunication (GSM)-type signal on the spontaneous electroencephalogram (EEG).

This may be of little functional significance since they did not observe significant effects on cognitive performance in adults. They noted that the effect is small and exposure seems to improve performance.

……………………………………………………………………………………..

There were suggestions that radiofrequency energy may cause brain tumours such as glioma

In May 2010, the Interphone Study the largest of its kind in which thirteen countries including UK, Sweden, France and Germany collaborated concluded that overall, no increase in risk of brain tumours was observed with the use of mobile phones.

“There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation”(International J. Epidemiology, 2010)

Over all, we need not lose sleep on the potential harm of mobile phone radiation. Let us minimize mobile phone use as a precautionary measure and discourage children from using them.

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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