Cell Phones and WiFi and Cancer, Oh My…

Since my last entry on WiFi was a lightning rod for the fringe, I decided I would provide a bit of a rebuttal and an update on the challenges to the public sector on the provision of WiFi and cell phone towers.  Below are many of the charges levied agains cell phones and their infrastructure, as well as WiFi and  the scientific consensus so far on the issue, as provided by the panel of scientific experts that we have access to at CASS and CFI Canada.   Terms can be confusing, and there are many different ones used.  I will stick to using cell phones and WiFi as often as possible, but the term “radio frequencies” or RF may be used as a substitute.  In this post, the major claims, with tomorrow’s covering the precautionary principle and the weight of evidence approach.  Onward Friday to the petitions being launched in several jurisdictions in Canada to limit the installation of WiFi in libraries and cell phone towers in towns, as well as a roundup of a few of the interesting studies coming out in the last few months.  Phew, it has been a while…

Microwave Radiation Causes Cancer

Skeptics and scientists everywhere keep making the point that the RF from wireless communications, specifically those in the 800 MHz to 3000 MHz range, do not have enough energy to break bonds and therefore cannot cause direct DNA damage and cancer.  This remains true. However, this was not the argument that most of the WiFi fringe was making and it was a poor choice to keeping harping on this. This topic is still a moving target, and just this week the World Health Organization’s  International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) did yet another review of the evidence, and officially classed the radiation from cell phones as 2B, concluding 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.”

Group 2B is defined by the IARC as follows:

“Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans. This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of  carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data.”

Sounds scary, right?  However, other examples of class 2B substances or activities from the same list include: coffee, orange oil (clean a counter, lately?), talc (when used in the peritoneal area, or that place down below), pickled vegetables (apparently only in Asia) and, yes, carpentry and joinery.  The folks from Cancer Research UK interpret this as follows:

Group 2B – this is the one that mobile phones now fall under – means something is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. It means there is “limited evidence” that something causes cancer in people, and even the evidence from animal studies is “less than sufficient”. Group 2B means that there is some evidence for a risk but it’s not that convincing. This group ends up being a bit of a catch-all category, and includes everything from carpentry to chloroform.”

So perhaps the overblown media scare that will result in this announcement can be tempered with the thought that you run similar risks when you get up, have a cup of coffee, powder yourself and go down to the woodshop to turn a table leg. Here is a quick round up of the big studies, from NPR.  This is also not the first time a review has been done. The members of an CFI ad hoc group formed as a result of the debate are still very skeptical of the WHO’s results.  They would echo the conclusions of the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) in their report on the effects of  radio frequency emissions after an extensive review of the literature:

“It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans.”

One of the members of our WiFi “privy council”, Dr. Bezad Elahi, a CASS member and an MD pursuing his PhD from University of Toronto in neuroscience, had this to say:

“Both case control and cohort studies provide epidemiologic evidence that cellular telephone use does not have a large effect on the incidence of brain tumors and here is the evidence.”

  1. Inskip PD, 2001  Cellular-telephone use and brain tumors.
  2. Schuz J, Jacobsen R, 2006 Cellular telephone use and cancer risk: update of a nationwide Danish cohort.
  3. Muscat JE, Handheld cellular telephone use and risk of brain cancer.
  4. Christensen HC, 2004 Cellular telephone use and risk of acoustic neuroma.
  5. LynnS, 2005 Long-term mobile phone use and brain tumor risk.
  6. Am J Epidemiol. 2006, Cellular phones, cordless phones, and the risks of glioma and meningioma (Interphone Study Group, Germany).

Dr. Elahi makes a good point.  Given the difficult time we have had showing a link between cell phone use and cancer, the increased risk, if there is indeed one,  is probably so small to not be something to worry about.  Another important point here is that this research concerns a cell phone placed to the head, with the antenna placed in close proximity to the brain.  The strength of the signal from a wireless router is 1/10th that of a cell phone, and is often several meters or tens of meters away from a person in the average household, so the amount of radiation, decreasing exponentially by the inverse square law, is infinitesimal compared to a regular cell phone, which is already much lower than the phones from 10-15 years ago.  For those of you in the know, this leads to a banana equivalent dose (BED) of close to zero, or according to this Guardian article a one year exposure in a classroom is equal to a 20 minute cell phone call (keeping in mind that the cancers studies focused on heavy users who spoke 30 mins or greater a day on their cell phones.)

The Council of Europe announced this week, prior to the WHO report, that they were recommending caution with cell phone use adn that the standards should even be lowered.  It is not inconceivable that they saw the WHO report coming but their recommendation comes without any data to support it.  That decision was appropriately critiqued on Ars Technca the same day.

So I can conclude from this discussion that cell phones and WiFi are unlikely to cause cancer but it is still possible there may be a cancer link.  More research is need for sure, and our opinion may evolve over time, however, this charge is often conflated with more subtle effects that are said to change brain function through other means.

Subtler Forms of Interaction with Neuronal Tissue

The less direct approach by those mongering fear was to assert that over time, exposure to cell phones or WiFi could affect the nervous system and cause other less life-threatening, but distressing symptoms, like fatigue, or a “brain fog,” or interfere with the normal functioning of the brain.  No effect has been shown to consistently exist so far, and all effects on tissue are considered to be due to heating.  The microwaves do not break bonds, they just make water and other similar sized molecules jiggle just a bit more, causing a buildup of heat.  From The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), who recently conducted an in depth study on all of the science surrounding RF ( p. 260):

“The mechanisms by which RF exposure heats biological tissue are well understood and the most marked and consistent effect of RF exposure is that of heating, resulting in a number of heat-related physiological and pathological responses in human subjects and laboratory animals. Heating also remains a potential confounder in in vitro studies and may account for some of the positive effects reported”



“Recent concern has been more with exposure to the lower level RF radiation characteristic of mobile phone use. Whilst it is in principle impossible to disprove the possible existence of non-thermal interactions, the plausibility of various non-thermal mechanisms that have been proposed is very low”.

And from CASS advisor and Senior Medical Physicist and Assistant Professor, Dept. of Oncology, University of Alberta, Marc Mackenzie:

“With non-ionizing radiation you can get a heating effect.  Health agencies (Health Canada, FDA) limit the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) to < 1.6 W/kg (2 W/kg in the EU), which is enough energy to heat water by 0.0004 C per s or 0.024 C per minute. While that’s enough to heat tissue 0.72 C in 30 minutes, try jogging on the spot for a minute. You’ll be generating far more heat, and your body is very well equipped to deal with excess heat generated”

The Royal Society of Canada hedged its bets a bit but produced this updated statement on EMF in 2009:

“At present, the results from epidemiologic studies do not provide sufficient evidence to support a clear association between mobile phone use and an increased risk of head and neck benign tumors… Animal carcinogenesis studies conducted to date (Table 2) provide  no convincing evidence that nonthermal RF field exposures either cause or contribute to cancer, although some studies suggest the possibility for low-level exposures to increase the risk of cancer.”

So, RF will not ionize, there is little evidence of increased cancer risk and the heat is negligible.  That only leaves one more health claim.


This is the most dubious claim, but despite the obvious parallels to anxiety disorders it continues to be a constant refrain for those promoting the limitation of WiFi in public spaces (again, conflating the evidence from a cell phone antenna held against the head and a WiFi source tens or hundreds of meters away.)  Despite Magda Havas’s assertions (see section 4,) the World Health Organization is pretty unequivocal about the reality of electro-hypersensitivity:

“EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.”

But don’t take their word for it, here is the conclusion from the review of EHS studies done by Rubin et al in 2009 (IEI-EMF is short for Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields, formerly electro-hypersensitivity):

“No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.”

I am convinced that EHS is a manifestation of an anxiety disorder, which can exacerbate other problems, and lead to heart palpitations, chest pain, sleep disorders, fatigue and cloudy thinking; all the more reason to use the precautionary principle – but apply it correctly.

Tomorrow, the precautionary approach and the weight of evidence: red herrings of doubt.

pics above via FreeFoto and Creative Commons Licence by Ian Britton

25 Responses to “Cell Phones and WiFi and Cancer, Oh My…”

  1. Art Tricquea says:

    Michael, with you on this. Small suggestion for change to text: part way through you use the term “European Council”. The correct term is Council of Europe. The former term might be confused with the European Commission, an entirely different body.

  2. Thanks Art – that was a last minute edition I put in between time at work – fixed!

  3. Chris says:

    Because I don’t have the energy to rebut the comments from a ‘semi-retired” theatrical lighting engineer, let me simply state this about your lame attempt to repeat the tired refrain of old that EHS is psychosomatic. The Rubin study you reference was funded in part by the telecommunications industry. LOOK IT UP. Certainly, even a ‘scientist in training’ at the renowned University of Athabasca has heard the phrase ‘conflict of interest’ before.

    Hate to burst your bubble but the genie is finally out of the bag. Deal with it.

    • Tsk Tsk, “Designer” darling, lighting “designer”, not “engineer”…

    • Art Tricque says:

      No, the study was not funded by industry, it was funded by the arms-length foundation established by industry to provide funding. And — in either case — that is still not a conflict of interest, it just means one should examine the research conducted with care to make sure it was well done and that the conclusions were supported by the research. The Rubin et al study was sound (not perfect; no research can logically let alone practically meet that standard), and thus is considered authoritative on the subject. Finally, the IARC announcement says nothing about EHS, so no genies have been released. The best research conducted to date says that EHS is psychosomatic. People who are identified with EHS should get cognitive behavioural therapy (the best treatment research has identified to date) rather than made to continue to suffer with scientifically unsupported theories and treatments.

  4. Michael5MacKay says:

    The difficulty I have with this WHO report is that, apart from the Interphone study, the only specific scientific evidence it relies upon are studies that have not yet been published, so there is at this time no way to determine if the evidence on which the WHO’s conclusion is based is of high quality or methodologically sound.

    Basically, the WHO is saying, “Here is our new scary conclusion, based on the newest evidence, and you can’t cogently consider it, because you don’t have that new fresh evidence.” In other words, trust us, even though you won’t be able to verify it for weeks, long after the meme has permeated the world. The WHO’s decision not to wait until the evidence the evidence it relied upon is available to everyone, seems tactical. This smacks of politics, not science.

    I predict the evidence when we do have a chance to review it, will be underwhelming. This report seems to reflect a change in attitude — assuming EMFs in this frequency range are potentially carcinogenic based upon the precautionary principle.

    Until we can see the evidence, to commemorate the WHO’s decision, I have added Joe Jackson’s “Cancer” to my ipod playlist.

  5. elemental says:

    Kruse is wise to advise abandoning the classic sCeptic’s [is this site not a Canadian undertaking?] fallback on the non-ionizing point. Would any sceptics care to admit that this supposed rebuttal constituted, in their own lingo, a ‘straw man’ argument?
    Regarding the WHO decision: I know little of this organization, but I cannot see why anyone would read much into their classification system for carcinogenicity, other than a signal that even tortoise-like behemoths are catching on. That is, the more interesting news is the relative change, rather than the absolute category in which cell/wifi emissions are now placed.

    • Iain Martel says:

      The reason the non-ionizing point is important, and needs to be made repeatedly, is that the scaremongers are trading on an equivocation between very different kinds of radiation, at least in the mind of their audience. When people hear “radiation”, their immediate reaction is to think of things like X-rays or nuclear radiation. And since these things ARE dangerous, and known to cause cancer (because they are ionizing), this association makes it seem highly likely that cell phone radiation is also harmful. So the first step is to try to short-circuit that misleading association with the far more dangerous kinds of ionizing radiation.
      The key point here in evaluating claims of a cell phone/wi-fi – cancer connection is that, aside from the spurious association with ionizing radiation, there is no plausible reason to suppose that RF devices are carcinogenic. And in such cases, other sources of evidence need to be far more compelling than in cases where there is a known, plausible mechanism. But the other evidence is very far from compelling.

  6. Composer99 says:

    On straw men:

    The Fallacy Files give a good account of the sraw man. Suffice to say, I disagree that pointing out that radio-frequency electromagnetic emissions are necessarily non-ionizing constitutes a straw man argument against claims that they cause harm. Breaking of chemical bonds is, to my understanding, the most common harmful effect of electromagnetic emissions, so noting that RF radiation does not achieve this effect removes one plank of a claim of harm, although I do not expect that it is sufficient to make this point to refute any claim of harm from cell phone or WiFi radiation.

    On industry funding & conflicts of interest:

    In my opinion, the most significant assessment of a piece of research is of its methodology in terms of rigour and quality of evidence-gathering, analysis, and inference.

    It appears to me that claims of a conflict of interest are only marginally related to such assessment, and such claims are probably best brought to the table if the presented data, analyses, and inferences are found to be wanting in some respect (so such flaws can perhaps better be explained in light of a COI).

    A COI is probably more important in the event of failure to disclose potential conflicts than in the event of full and proper disclosure.

    At any rate, simply asserting the existence of a conflict of interest is not sufficient to dismiss a piece of research. It is necessary first to show that the research is flawed in some key respect, and then to show that the claimed COI is a prerequisite for the flaw.

    Since commenter Chris has not provided or linked to refutations of Rubin et al 2009 on the basis of its data, analysis, or inferences, instead having asserted without substantiation that a conflict of interest renders it useless, there is no reason I can see to take Chris’ claims seriously.

  7. elemental says:

    In reply to Iain Martel and Composer99:
    Iain: The point you raise is another oft-repeated claim on this topic in sceptics’ circles. I challenge you to produce evidence supporting the existence of this psychological phenomenon being so widespread. I am not so sure that this word inspires such palpable terror as you believe. To myself, the word ‘radiation’ inspires positive emotions, if any, conjuring up images of oscillating charges (though this picture is, of course, physically flawed), which I find intellectually pleasing. Aside from that, ‘radiation’ is indeed one of the appropriate scientific terms that physicists use to describe such emissions. From my own study, I can attest to hearing and reading ‘radiation’ more often than ‘emissions’ or ‘waves’ – ‘field’ is commonly used, though in this case I would prefer ‘radiation’, as the former doesn’t evoke thoughts of the particular source of the field, being more normally used either in electro/magnetostatics or in contexts where the source is unimportant. I would propose “microwave-band radiation” is the best term, if a little cumbersome.
    Finally, even if the use of the word was indeed maliciously intended to conjure fear in the reader, any person who knows enough not to take seriously the tone (and contents, often!) of media reports should be able to extract the actual information out of an article without adopting the authors emotions. In wikipedia lingo, I don’t believe ‘radiation’ is a valid weasel word.
    In fact, I could argue that your use of the term ‘non-ionizing’ is a similar psychological tactic, this time intended to disingenuously evoke a calming response in the reader. You claim those calling foul on microwaves are conflating two types of radiation, whereas your very use of the term ‘non-ionizing’ does exactly the same thing!

    Semantics? Absolutely, but you brought it up.

    Composer99: from your link:
    ‘The Straw Man is a type of Red Herring because the arguer is attempting to refute his opponent’s position, and in the context is required to do so, but instead attacks a position—the “straw man”—not held by his opponent.’
    Given this characterization, I would certainly argue that the non-ionizing bit constitutes a straw-man argument. Michael Shermer, sceptic #1, made this his main physical counterargument in his rather braindead SciAm article:
    Whereas I can’t recall ever seeing a claim to the contrary made by ‘the other side’. Nobody is saying cellphones cause cancer because they directly break DNA strands (though the argument alone that their energy is outside the non-ionizing regime is technically insufficient to justify the conclusion). Stop bringing it up.

    • Iain Martel says:

      Elemental: I am guessing you are too young to have strong memories of the cold war. If you did, I would be very surprised if you did not share the visceral reaction to the word “radiation” I think I share with most of my and earlier generations. To me, the word immediately conjures images of mushroom clouds, gamma rays, and radiation sickness. Further reflection leads me to thoughts of lead shielding around X-ray machines and the like. Despite years of training in physics, and clear understanding of the difference between different types of radiation, that is still my natural emotional response. If you need persuading that this kind of reaction can cause unwarranted fears, just look up the extremely distrustful reception the first microwave ovens received. Or the widespread fears from the 90s that irradiated food would itself be radioactive, and so carcinogenic. These fears had little to no basis, and yet were readily accepted.

      But all of this is still beside the point, which you have simply ignored. The point is that, setting aside any irrational associations drawn from very different kinds of radiation, there would be no reason why anyone would ever have considered cell phones any more likely to be dangerous than any other technology that has been introduced in the last century. And there certainly wouldn’t be any reason for people to cling to such fears despite the repeated failure of attempts to find a cancer connection. Or perhaps you can provide a better psychological explanation of why people would irrationally cling to such unsupported fears?

  8. gmcevoy says:

    “Nobody is saying cellphones cause cancer because they directly break DNA strands (though the argument alone that their energy is outside the non-ionizing regime is technically insufficient to justify the conclusion).”

    Then, how are they causing cancer?

    Because the frequency of cell phone radiation is roughly a million times below that required to break DNA & cause cancer. This according to Einstein & shown experimentally by Millikan…

    I seem to have noticed most of the WiFi scares centre around schools and the reactions there.

    I wonder if the children experience the same symptoms when shopping anywhere or just hanging at a mall. All bathed in WiFi from the various devices on the networks in the larger chain stores.

    Then of course, there’s those who live in apartment buildings. There are 5 or 6 wireless networks other than my own, overlapping my ‘burb abode.

  9. Bryan says:

    Mike, that was an excellent summary of the data behind the claims (not so much behind the claims, more like the science ignored by the claimants, but you know what I mean).

    One topic I didn’t see covered in this, or your last, post was the differences between studies purporting to find a link between radio/microwave radiation and those who see no link. I am under the impression that most (all?) of the studies which have found links generally had small numbers of participants, while the studies that have found no links were generally ones which involved larger numbers of participants.

    I realize that the ideas of type 1 and type 2 statistical errors, as well as statistical power, are not exactly interesting topics, but any attempts to explain why studies come to apparently opposite results, and why science policy has generally fallen on the side of the “no cancer link”, would be remit without at least some mention of the statistical issues.

    Just to add one last thing in closing. Conflicts of interest are common in scientific research. We scientists do not live in bubbles – I do biomedical research, and I have family and friends in the pharma/biotech industries, investments (mutual funds) that hold those sorts of stock, and I even get free compounds from some companies for use in my research. Its nearly impossible to not have some sort of conflict – the important thing is how those conflicts are dealt with. Arms-length organizations like the one used for the Rubin study are a common way used to separate an industrial funder from the science being done. Financial interactions also always go through a third party, and often, results undergo a 3rd party review. Disclosure of any COI’s is always made in a study. I would disagree with Art on one small point though; while having a COI listed is something worth taking note of, all science should be read with a critical mind and heavily scrutinized. Historically, sloppiness, over interpretation and incorrect methodology has had a far greater impact on science than COIs.

  10. deever says:

    Before reading the rest of Kruse’s June 2 nonsense & then commenting maybe more there, I thought reading from June 1 1st would be more appropriate.

    So the WHO are “fringe” now, eh?

    “Scientific consensus” — same tired phrases, swallowed whole and regurgitated for your poor readers. Well, what’s the IARC consensus (once their Chair was outed then removed, N.B.)? As a fringer — someone very happy to be construed as miles away from skepto-credulos — I don’t even worry so much what the WHO says, although now advocacy has been made easier — what took them so long, does a credulo never wonder? Read what even the august Council of Europe has said about ICNIRP now, and its international sway. I’ve recommended reading Don Maisch’s book to you, you cannot have to have written as you do.
    Dear Skeptos, you only find evidence where you shine the light, where you actually look.

    So right after admitting that the cancer focus was not the best tactic, 1st off you bring your neurosci. guy to talk about cancer. And note all studies cited are way too early to have detected any topical cancer stats of significance — this to rebut IARC?? Even Krewski (to cover for his earlier misbehaviour? to try to somehow control the upshot?) has his name on a supposedly decisive last-minute submission to IARC.

    Then there you go again making as if, e.g., modulation patterns are of no relevance, as if “windows” of bioactivity have not been known for decades, and so on. Why are you still trying to obscure by blocking with simplicitudes?

    The PACE/COE thing comes with no data, he says — did you read Huss’ report? The report notes, “These studies are very numerous indeed”, then goes on among other things to refer to the landmark BioInitiative corrective to Kruse’s monstrous “consensus”, a corrective skeptos don’t seem to ever read — at least look at the bibiliographies? No. It’s settled for the incurious — and skeptos deign to advertise themselves as capable reasoners??

    There is much more going on deleterious than brain changes, although that is horrible enough (but, we guess, not for these who deign to so reason).

    “Mongering fear”. You make a mongrel out of pure reasoning. Not a single advocate I know has any thought to sow fear. We have been out to lay bare the buried science, and draw reasonable conclusions therefrom, which corroborate in spades the reported and variegated sufferings of so very many — probably a largish batch of you skeptos, too, except that for skepto, stuff just happens, eh?

    After ignorantly wasting readers’ time on more thermalism, the move is then to ‘ehs’. The strange pain in my own right eye when spending too much time from of these screens — that goes away when I screen with fine metallic mesh — that is my “anxiety disorder”. The feeling of prickling scalp I can get when around wifi routers, disappearing completely upon exiting, that’s also my anxiety. The seizures I have witnessed in someone who suffers at miniscule exposures, the Ericsson engineer who collapses at same written about in popsci mag even, the dozens of ehs patients a week Dr Belpomme sees & helps in France ea. wk., the year-long overflow at a Toronto hospital where one unit specializes in this — this is all bunkum.

    Funny thing, these kinds of weird symptoms arose and were reported on first in the US & Europe in the 19th century, and were almost totally psychologized, often as having to do with new life habits enabled or effectively dictated… by the onset of man-made electrical usage, and nearly no one has taken seriously that this man-made business might be the most important physical factor itself bringing about the problems.

    Kruse, this piece of yours is useless; should I bother with the rest of your June 2 one?

    • Steve Thoms says:

      Ahhh…..adding a letter to a word to create an insult. You sir, are surely in the tradition of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain!

      Skeptos, credulos….But, I don’t think you’re being derisive enough. Perhaps if you added o’s to the ends of more words, I think you might get your point across a little more clearly.

      You might want to consider phsyikos, evidencos and scienceos. Since we’re apparently cheerleaders for the “Industry”, I suggest you use “Cheerios.” Can we use the same linguistic device with you?

      Wait a moment….are…are you Devo?

  11. gmcevoy says:

    Further to:

    “Nobody is saying cellphones cause cancer because they directly break DNA strands (though the argument alone that their energy is outside the non-ionizing regime is technically insufficient to justify the conclusion).”

    You’re right, they’re just saying they cause cancer:

    “Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans”


    “Global Scientists Rebuke Coming Decision on Carcinogenicity of Radiofrequency (RF) and Microwaves (MW) by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Calling Any Opinion Rendered ‘Irresponsible’ Without Full Disclosure of the 2004 Interphone Study Results, International EMF Alliance”


    “Radiofrequency/Microwave Radiation and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)”


    “Radiation emitted by cell phones and cell towers has been linked to DNA damage, cancer, immunological impairment, neurological diseases, impaired fertility and impacts on neurological function, including cognition, behavior, performance, mood status, and disruption of sleep.”

    Oops, that one does say DNA damage – despite the fact the frequency is a million times below the threshold.

    Yet another radiation/cancer scare:

    “The 11 Interphone study design flaws, taken together, greatly distort the true risk of brain tumors from cellphone use. Any consideration of Interphone study conclusions must weigh an understanding of these design flaws so as not to mislead the public about risks of cell phone use. It is the view of the editors and endorsers of this report that there is a far greater risk of brain tumors from cellphone use than has been reported in the Telecom-funded Danish cellphone subscriber study or in the Telecom-funded Interphone study 2009″


    “Cell phones and brain tumors: a review including the long-term epidemiologic data”


    “How Susceptible Are Genes to Mobile Phone Radiation?”


    “4-fold increase in risk of leukaemia”

    and then there’s this:

    “Low‐level, non‐thermal (i.e. not strong enough to generate significant heat) microwave radiation similar to that from mobile phones has been shown to do serious damage to the
    DNA in cultures of living cells.” – 1995 Lai & Singh


    “They found that radiation from GSM mobile phone handsets caused both single and double stranded breaks in the DNA of cultured
    human and animal cells.” – The European Commission Reflex Project

    Hmm, seems like plenty of people ARE saying “cellphones cause cancer because they directly break DNA strands”

    except the person called ‘nobody’

  12. gmcevoy says:

    “the year-long overflow at a Toronto hospital where one unit specializes in this”

    Where is this? Sick Kids? Women’s College? TWH? TGH? Scarborough Grace?

    Here is a common claim regarding electrosensitivity:

    “Only a small proportion of the population is electrosensitive
    (currently estimated at around three percent) and an even smaller proportion is so badly affected that they can instantly tell whether a device is switched on or off.

    This is often followed up with the “more research required” or “nobody will fund the research” phrases dogmatically regurgitated and perhaps with a soupcon of “it’s a conspiracy”.

    Well, It seems 37 – THIRTY SEVEN!!!!???? – studies have been done regarding this electroallergy to determine:

    1 – can the fields be detected as claimed

    2 – are symptoms worsened by exposure

    The tests aren’t very complex and prolly not too expensive as they involve a cell-phone and a handbag to hide it in.

    And surprise, surprise, surprise (Gomer Pyle):

    - 30 are negative as in can’t automagically tell if the phone is on or off and symptoms don’t jive with the state of the phone either

    - two show some correlation, but then the very same researchers can’t replicate the results

    - two show conflicting results, one says mood worsened the other mood improved

    - three statistically insignificant

    What won’t be a surprise is the conspiracy claim that will greet these results

  13. deever says:

    Since there’s more going on about DNA, I remember in an earlier exchange here bringing mention of the work of Martin Blank, who appeared at HESA Oct 28. See at http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=4738168&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=40&Ses=3 what he says about research findings and DNA & antennae &c after minute 1135 — will a skepto not find this suggestive?

    At Women’s College is the Enviro. Health Clinic, of course very under-resourced, and they are trying to (for many months already) set up a distance consultation programme, probably because of the sad singularity of such a clinic in backward Ontario and for all the demand, and because, they know well, some “ehs” (& others) cannot venture anywhere near downtown Toronto without great

    Because it is now the common term in English, I’ll refer to ‘ehs’, but I do not think it a good term, nor ‘es’ without the ‘hyper’. Perhaps ‘reactive’ would be better, ‘ehr’. I have several objections to its use, but no need to bother with that here. Provocation studies are notoriously problem-filled. I recall from the Levitt & Lai paper (now available at http://nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/A10-018 ) that Trottier made a sad try to trash, mention of one study, eg, where “Some of the electrosensitive subjects later issued a statement saying that the initial exposures made them too uncomfortable to continue participating in the study. This means that the study may have lost its most vulnerable test subjects right at the beginning, possibly skewing later outcomes.”

    All such experimental failures to provoke ‘ehs’ I expect show the complexity of conditions involved that are too hard to “lab”-reproduce or are interfered with in the provocation. Sufferers day to day, moment to moment maybe even, can have varying reactivities. I suggest patient monitoring over longish periods in their own domestic surroundings would yield more valuable results. And yet, I have read of experiments where some participants indeed demonstrated uncanny ability to detect the EM insult. That a single case exists like that should be of interest to an honest onlooker, and must have motivated many researchers trying to do their own provocations. It is useless and worse to average this out. I myself am a milder sufferer, and now that I have come to understand the insult, I do perceive that as my general condition varies, my sense of insult varies.

    One sample symptom, now widespread, that is useful to dwell on is microwave auditory effect, Frey effect, tinnitus. This now seems to be provoked at ever lower power than when first experienced (radar) and later experimentally provoked (Allen Frey). Before we had our “smart” electricity meter replaced, I could tell what time it was by the rise and lowering of my own “hearing” its firing off at least 4x/hr. There are numerous reports of these dangerous meters inducing the same, particularly in people, it seems, from around 50 years of age on. Is this ‘es’ or ‘ehs’? Wifi does not do it to me, so far, there are other symptoms for that in myself; but going near cell base station antennae does. There are some days when, however, it is harder to provoke this in me, eg I have to stay longer near a mast. If any of you in the last decade, esp. in the last few years, have begun to experience buzzing or clicking or humming etc seemingly locatable near or in your head, minus some other injury or having been subject to very loud noise, I expect it is from cumulative exposure to microwaves as part of the latter-day mania you skeptos seem so disinclined to take seriously.

  14. elemental says:

    In response to gmcevoy:
    You continue to miss the point. Ionizing radiation is so defined because one individual photon is of sufficiently high frequency and thus energy to ionize normal matter. A single microwave photon does not, as far as I know, carry enough energy to individually destroy a DNA strand, by the direct mechanism of single-photon incidence and subsequent ionization. I have not seen anyone deny this. The tired refrain does not constitute refutation of the possibility for carcinogenicity of microwave radiation, though it does constitute an example as to the simple-mindedness of the average sceptic. Maybe we are thinking of different things when we use the qualifier “direct”.
    There are in fact legions of plausible mechanisms by which microwaves can have a cancer-causing effect. Off the top of my head, here are a few:
    -damage to tissue, releasing toxic and carcinogenic byproducts – in other words, chronic or repeated low-level exposure to carcinogenic compounds.
    -stress response of the body, or simply of the cells at the site of the incursion, in response to the radiation
    -multi-photon absorption, leading to DNA strand breakage. This could be called direct, I suppose, except requiring more than an individual photon. The idea is, if the field is sufficiently intense, an appreciable number of molecules can absorb several photons in quick succession, possibly gaining enough energy to be ionized, damaged, or chemically changed in some way. Higher frequency radiation can also be generated by these processes. I am a little wary of this one, as such effects normally require high intensities, though somehow I doubt anyone has investigated the microwave-band nonlinear-optical susceptibility of DNA! In any case, my point is that the topic of radiation incident on matter is really not simple, nor well-understood (or well-investigated) in the case of
    I have made the following analogy before: there are more ways to get through a closed a door than with a battering ram. There is a subtle mechanism called a doorknob. One can also remove the hinges. Alternately you could just forget the door and go through the window. If you are small enough, the cat flap might work.
    If a door has such rich dynamics, imagine now the complexity of the human body. To my own narrow mind, it is a miracle that such a thing is stable! Of course, it is natural that our bodies are stable with respect to perturbations imposed by everyday phenomena like visible light, which humans have always been exposed to. Microwaves, on the other hand, have never been encountered in appreciable intensity by a human before the 20th century.
    By the way, I didn’t know Einstein and Millikan ever investigated the effect of microwaves on DNA!

    • gmcevoy says:

      biomolecules – ooh what are they? Cells perhaps or their components? Flesh perhaps? Isn’t flesh full of biomolecules?

      twaddle is as twaddle does

      • elemental says:

        Brilliant response, gmcevoy. Way to address the points made. Well, I guess I had better stop right there, because clearly science is on your side.

    • Composer99 says:

      {citations needed}

  15. deever says:

    What a fine post by elemental. Where then are Thoms-o, Trots, Tricquey, leaving poor Kruse-o out on his limb? What’ll he write in the rest of his trilogy — an about-face? This is serious, skeptos, I haven’t really bothered to look at other possible simplastic skepto reasoning on your site, and do not intend to, but this one is dire & urgent and encompassing, and for every skep head that is turned to face the travesty, one hopes with multiplier effect in telling about it to those skepchicks & ‘chucks close to them, it is worthwhile. I do see value in the personality traits that make for your skepto positions, but if they are unbalanced by equally important complementary traits, you are harming yourselves and others with terrible distortion.

    • Steve Thoms says:

      Deever, Truth be told, I’m just afraid of you. You’re too clever and I’m positive you’ve armed yourself with PhDs in physiology and literature. How else to explain your broad knowledge of saying things without evidence AND adding vowels to the ends of names?

      You sir, are a wordsmith of the highest caliber. You’ve said often that you don’t have the time and energy to read and comment any more, and then…BAM! 1000 new words, many of them with added o’s. You’re just too much for my feeble mind. Thank you, Deever. Your persistence has paid off. You’ve “won” an “argument” over the internet with your “clever” wordsmithery” and your “well “thought out” points.



  • Michael Kruse

    Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario. A semi-retired theatrical lighting designer as well, he re-trained in 2005 as an EMT-PS at the University of Iowa and as an ACP at Durham College, and is currently working towards a B.Sc at the University of Toronto. Michael is a founder and the chair of the board of directors of Bad Science Watch. He is also the recipient of the first annual Barry Beyerstein Award for Skepticism. Follow Michael on twitter @anxiousmedic. Michael's musings are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer or Bad Science Watch.