After much deliberation the IARC, the World Health Organisation's cancer research arm, has finally classified extremely low frequency non-ionizing radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a possible carcinogen Group 2b. (See list below for other Group 2b carcinogens.) This places the phones in the middle of five tiers of possible carcinogens, below smoking, asbestos or sunbeds and other things which definitely cause cancer, but still viewed as a potential risk.
More important is the world-wide psychological effect of the organisation's recognition that any relationship exists – a connection which has been categorically denied up till now. Some indication of its significance can be given by the very widespread press coverage that the report has received. (See substantial articles in the Daily Mail and the Guardian for a small sample.) Or, to quote Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Telegraph (4th June 2011):
It's official. The World Health Organisation has finally - in the face of growing evidence that using them for 10 years or more increases the risk of developing brain cancer - classified mobile phones as a "possible carcinogen".
This is a particularly important development, since the UN agency has, in the past, been at the forefront of denying any danger. But it has now realised the important effect on public health "as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children".
It can say that again. Five billion handsets are in use worldwide, and the young are especially susceptible to the disease. Since cancers normally take decades to develop, the possibility that some are emerging after 10 years suggests that mobiles may be a particularly potent carcinogen.
The WHO verdict should be a wake-up call for the industry. While no one is suggesting that phones are banned, a tiny fraction of the vast sums lavished on developing new gizmos could certainly be redirected to fund research into reducing radiation levels.
The IARC press release is more circumspect:
Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices. The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally.
From May 24–31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long-term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer. This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.
The Group discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:
• occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves
• environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication
• personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.
The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period).
Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall 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 cell phones and cancer risk."
"Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings," said IARC Director Christopher Wild, "it is important that additional research be conducted into the long- term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting. "
The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph.
A concise report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones) will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.
Meanwhile, the Council of Europe (not part of the EU nor a law making body but a grouping of 47 European nations whose recommendations are often taken in to consideration by the EU) has issued a report recommending the banning of mobile phones and wifi in schools.
The Council's report, led by Jean Huss, a Green Party MP from Luxembourg, recommends lowering the currently acceptable "threshold values" of electromagnetic radiation, establishing thresholds for lifetime exposure, and - most attention-getting - banning mobile phones and wireless networks in schools, reflecting the committee's particular concerns about the effects of cell-phones on young and developing brains.
The parliamentarians said governments should "give preference to wired internet connections, and strictly regulate the use of mobile phones by schoolchildren on school premises".
It also recommends that national authorities provide information on possible health risks from DECT type wireless telephones, baby monitors and other domestic appliances that emit continuous pulse waves if left permanently on standby and recommend that they be replaced with wired, fixed telephones.
Click here for the full report.
Other Group 2b carcinogens – this is only a small selection from the official IARC/WHO list – the carcinogenic component comes first, where it is found, second.
Acetaldehyde – ethanol, alcohol, traffic fumes, coffee, found in tobacco
Bromodichloromethane – flame retardants
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – antioxidant and preservative in food
Chlordane – Pesticides
Dacarbozine – drug anti-chemotherapy
1,8-Dihydroxyanthraquinone – laxative
Naphelene – mothballs
Hexachloroethane – smoked grenades used by US Military
Medroxyprogesterone 17-acetate MPA – Hormone Replacement Therapy
Metronidazole – gel for fungal tumours
Mitoxantrone – treatment used for breast cancer, leukemia, Multiple sclerosis
Nitromethane – used in explosives, racing car fuel, dry cleaning solvent, super glue, explosive
1-Nitropyrene – emitted in diesel engines
Oxazepam – drugs to treat anxiety & insomnia
Potassium bromate – flour improver
Radio Waves – Wireless phones double the risk of brain tumour
Styrene – Polystyrene, rubbers, also occurs in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beverages
Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) – compound in spray glue
Uramustine – drug used in lymphatic malignancies – apoptosis (cell death) occurs
Zalcitabine – drug used to treat HIV
Zidovudine – drug used to treat HIV/AIDS
Click here for more articles on the health risks of ES
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