Science for Skeptics: Myth Versus Fact on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi

“Every man is entitled to his own opinion. But every man is not entitled to his own facts.”

—U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Common Myths About Cell Phone and Wireless Radiation “Safety” Debunked

The public relations strategy of manufacturing doubt has often been used to delay policies to control or reduce environmental hazards, whether tobacco, climate change, asbestos, vinyl chloride, cell phone radiation or other agents. Here we identify and debunk erroneous statements that appear in the media in response to scientific results suggesting that cell phone radiation could be hazardous.

Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi

MYTH: “No research has found evidence of a link between regular cell phone use and glioma.”

FACT: In fact, multiple research studies of humans indicate that long-term cell phone use could increase a person’s risk for brain tumors. The latest animal study conducted by the U.S. government finds increases in the same types of tumors found to be increased in humans who used phones regularly for a decade or longer. The World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) in 2011, based on epidemiological research showing an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer , associated with long term wireless phone use. These research studies also show an even higher risk for persons who start using cell phones at a young age. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“There is no known biological mechanism for cell phone radiation to cause cancer.”

FACT:

Cell phone radiation does not directly “cause” cancer in the same way that X-rays and atomic bombs do. However, several prominent scientists have published (with full documentation) on the mechanisms by which cell phone/wireless radiation could result in increased cancer. They explain how long-term exposure to extremely low power levels of radiofrequency fields could initiate a series of biological effects with the end result of an increased risk for cancer and a myriad of other serious health effects. There is now sufficient evidence that radiofrequency radiation could result in biochemical changes that alter how our cells functions and increase the oxidative stress (increasing free radicals) in our bodies leading to chronic inflammation and cancer. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“If cell phones were really causing brain tumors, then we should be seeing an epidemic of brain tumors and we are not.”

FACT:

Brain cancers are slow-growing and can take decades to develop after toxic exposure. Rates of lung cancer did not increase in the general population until more than three decades after American men had begun to smoke heavily. Glioblastomas (the type of brain cancer linked to cell phone radiation) are in fact increasing in young Americans, in precisely the areas of the brain that absorb most of the microwave radiation emitted or received by phones. But an increase in glioblastomas of the frontal and temporal lobes and cerebellum cannot be expected to show up in the general population, especially not where the incidence of all brain cancers are considered. Instead, research using case-control designs that study small groups of highly exposed persons are appropriate for identifying cancer risks tied with cell phone use. Thus, Swedish physician-researcher Lennart Hardell reports that persons who began using cell phones as teenagers have a four- to five-fold greater risk of brain tumors.

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer 2B Carcinogenic classification labeling cell phones as a possible carcinogen is the same classification as pickled vegetables, talcum powder, and coffee.

FACT:

In fact, the IARC removed coffee from this list. The myth comment is an attempt to dismiss the seriousness of this determination and mislead the public. Other hazards that made it to the list of 2B carcinogens remain the subject of major regulatory attention, including pesticides like DDT and Kepone, industrial materials such as PBBs, carbon black and carbon tetrachloride, jet and diesel fuel, and mercury. The IARC classification is based on weight of evidence, not amount of risk. With any toxic exposure, it takes decades to accumulate enough weight of evidence, meaning enough scientific research and statistics (in human epidemiology this refers to sick people) to show the exposure is toxic. Cell phone and other wireless emissions cannot be compared with talcum powder, coffee or pickled vegetables. Would you serve your child coffee in class all day long?

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

The Class 2B Carcinogen classification by the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer only applies to cell phone emissions and not to emissions from other wireless devices.

FACT:

Wireless radiation from any device is included in the Class 2B Carcinogen classification by the World Health Organization International Agency for the Research on Cancer (WHO/IARC). In fact, the WHO/IARC has repeatedly documented that radiofrequency radiation “from any source,” be it cell phones, baby monitors, cell towers or Wi-Fi routers, is the “potentially toxic agent.” The WHO/IARC Monograph on RF-EMF clearly states that the Class 2B carcinogen classification applies to RF-EMF in the range of 30 KHz to 300 GHz. Senior officials with the IARC, such as Dr. Robert Bann and Dr. Kurt Straif, have clarified this fact repeatedly in lectures and letters since the 2011 classification. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“This will never be as serious as tobacco.”

FACT:

This is potentially far worse than tobacco. We never had 100% of people smoking, but we do have nearly all people using cell phones and wireless devices today—and non-users are also exposed to the emissions. Six billion people, including children, use cell phones regularly—some exclusively, as landlines are abandoned—resulting in considerable exposure. Several scientists have compared cigarette smoking to cell phone and wireless radiation. Dr. Franz Adlkofer gave a lecture at the Harvard Law Center for Ethics Lecture in 2011 and specifically paralleled cell phone emissions to cigarette smoke. Furthermore, it is curious how some tobacco industry scientists have moved on and are now defending the wireless industry. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“The Interphone study showed no link between cell phones and brain tumors.”

FACT:

In the Interphone study, those who used a mobile phone for 10 or more years were found to be twice as likely to develop a brain tumor, a statistically significant finding. The heaviest users with the longest use had increased risk. While it is true that the final conclusion of the Interphone study states, “Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed.” yet, in the heaviest users in the Interphone study, a doubled or greater risk is evident. Lead authors of the study later published an article in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine calling for precautions to reduce exposures to the brain in light of the Interphone study’s findings. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“The Danish Cohort is proof there is no risk.”

FACT:

The Danish Cohort Study used flawed data to arrive at a flawed conclusion. The Danish Cohort Study  published in the British Medical Journal is often quoted as proof of safety as it did not find any causal link between brain cancer and cell phone radiation. However, many scientists (including scientists of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research on Cancer) have critiqued the Danish Study for using flawed data resulting in an equally flawed analysis. The problem? Corporate subscribers (in other words: likeliest the heaviest cell phone users) were placed in the control group as they were excluded from the exposed group. When Michael Kundi and colleagues from the Medical University of Vienna mathematically corrected for this concern in the earlier Danish study, they found a significantly increased risk for brain tumors. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

“The scientific consensus is that cell phones and wireless cannot harm us”

FACT:

That is false. There is no scientific consensus that cell phones, wireless and electromagnetic fields are safe, and no medical organization assures us of safety. The opinion of independent scientists is strikingly different than that of industry funded sources who often use the phrase “scientific consensus.” The fact is that numerous medical and scientific organizations are calling for urgent action to reduce wireless exposures and protect public health. They have been warning the public for decades. 

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

Studies showing effects have not been replicated.

FACT:

Research has been replicated in several areas and has repeatedly shown increased brain cancer/tumor risk after over 10 years of cell phone use, increased blood-brain barrier permeability, and the ability of RF to promote cancer and act as a co-carcinogen. All independent research studies looking at long-term cell phone users found increased brain cancer after 10 years and “heavy use” or at about 1625 lifetime hours. Read Mobile phone radiation causes brain tumors and should be classified as a probable human carcinogen (2A) (review) for details.

In the 2016 released findings of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) study of the Carcinogenicity of Radiofrequency Radiation, male rats exposed to wireless radiation develop more unusual, highly malignant brain tumors—gliomas—as well as very rare tumors of the nerves around and within the heart—Schwannomas. The tumors found in the NTP rats parallel the same types of tumors found in human epidemiological studies looking at long-term use of cell phones. The NTP stated, “These findings appear to support the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) conclusions regarding the possible carcinogenic potential of RFR.” Read more about the National Toxicology Program Study here.

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Science on Cell Phones and Wi-Fi
MYTH:

The government safety standards have a safety margin of fifty-fold.

FACT:

There is no “fifty-fold safety” margin. The wireless industry repeatedly states that the current guidelines have a fifty-fold safety factor built in to protect the public. This statement is wrong and rests solely on avoiding heating effects rather than considering newer studies finding impacts on reproduction, development, and cancer. The standard refers solely to antiquated evidence based on an animal study of what temperature in the rectum of trained and food-deprived rats causes them to stop seeking a food reward.

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