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News Center: Short Takes Archive
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Are Rates Actually Increasing?
Some leading epidemiologists have been saying that cell phones don’t pose a brain tumor risk because cancer rates are not going up. Now comes word that Swedish cancer registry data are in disarray and official statistics may be masking a disquieting trend.
Since 2008, there has been a close to 30% increase in patients with a brain tumor of an “unknown nature” and that increase is not reflected in the national cancer registry, according to a new analysis by Mona Nilsson, a Swedish journalist and the chairman of the Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation.
Nilsson reports that the number of Swedes who died of a brain tumor of an unknown nature rose by 157% between 2008 and 2013. And among those younger than 70, the increase was even “more pronounced” — there were 82 such deaths in 2013, compared to only 7 in 2008. Yet, Nilsson adds, “the number of patients reported dead of brain tumors with a confirmed diagnosis declined” during that same period.
To further support her suspicion that the official brain cancer rates are not to be trusted, Nilsson points to “huge disparities” in brain tumor rates between different regions in Sweden. For instance, the rate among men in Stockholm was 8.99 per 100,000 while in Gothenburg the rate was 15.19 per 100,000. Nilsson points out that there has been a parallel “steep increase” in the number of people treated for brain tumors of an unknown nature in the Stockholm region.
“The Gothenburg region discovered underreporting problems some six or seven years ago and took measures to improve the reporting. That’s why the incidence in Gothenburg is much higher, nearly double, that in the Swedish capital region and probably better reflects the real situation,” Nilsson said in an interview.
The news from Sweden comes as rumors are swirling that the cell phone industry is pressuring IARC to revisit its 2011 decision to classify RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen. In response to a query, Nicolas Gaudin, IARC’s head of communications, told Microwave News that he is “not aware of any such plans.”
Joachim Schüz, a senior manager at IARC, is one of those who points to stable cancer rates as an indicator that cell phones are safe (see “IARC Tries To Play Down Cell Phone Tumor Risks”). Schüz was previously with the Danish Cancer Society and is a coauthor of the Danish cohort study that shows no increased cell phone–tumor risks.
Nilsson’s analysis follows last year’s still unexplained report of what has been called a “frightening” spike in aggressive brain tumors among Danish men. (See our report: “Something Is Rotten in Denmark.”)
Last spring, a French study found a higher rate of brain tumors among heavy users of cell phones, supporting similar indications from IARC’s Interphone study and the work of the Hardell group in Sweden.
The New York Times Looks Back… And Then Gets Slammed
Both now and then the Times quoted David Carpenter. Here’s what he said in 1989: “The whole thing is very worrisome. We see the tips of the iceberg, but we have no idea how big the iceberg is. It ought to concern us all.”
This is what Carpenter told Chang for the update: “Almost nothing has changed in 25 years in terms of the controversy, although the evidence for biological effects of electromagnetic fields continues to grow stronger.”
The only other person interviewed for the new story was Emilie van Deventer of the WHO EMF Project in Geneva, who said, in part: “I am calling you, talking to you using my cell phone. I have a microwave. I have everything. It doesn’t change anything for me. But from a professional point of view, it’s important that we stay on top of it.”
July 18, 2014
There is a disheartening postscript to this story.
Soon after the Times story appeared Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist, who claims to be able to detect pathological science when he sees it, posted a comment on the Forbes magazine Web site slamming the Times for “reviving baseless fears.” Here’s part of what he wrote:
“The New York Times does its readers a disservice when, in the guise of updating a highly-charged issue, it features someone whose alarmist mantra has not changed in 25 years, but who ignores a mountain of accumulated evidence amassed over that time period.”
“The new story revisits Carpenter, who hasn’t changed his mind. He’s still concerned about the threat of electromagnetic fields. People with fringe ideas rarely recant, whether their belief involves cold fusion, alien abductions or ESP.”
Parallels Between INTEROCC and INTERPHONE
INTEROCC and INTERPHONE have a lot in common —more than their first five letters. So much in common that it’s a bit freaky. Or, maybe it just shows, once again, how small, insulated and polarized the EMF community is.
The most obvious parallels are that Elisabeth Cardis is the principal investigator of both the INTERPHONE and the INTEROCC projects, and that much of the data used in INTEROCC was collected by INTERPHONE in its original questionnaires. Some, but not all, of those who are working on INTEROCC were also part of INTERPHONE. Among them are Martine Hours and Siegal Sadetzki, who have stated publicly that the INTERPHONE results justify precautionary policies, as has Cardis.
The conflicts that brought INTERPHONE to a standstill for years, might have caused similar delays for INTEROCC. Sweden’s Maria Feychting, an INTERPHONE skeptic who doubts the observed links between cell phones and tumors, was slated to work on INTEROCC when the project was first announced in 2007. But she later dropped out. Similarly, Italy’s Suzanna Lagoria, who sides with Feychting on INTERPHONE, was also part of the original INTEROCC project and she quit too. One notable exception is IARC’s Joachim Schüz, another INTERPHONE skeptic, who is a coauthor of the new INTEROCC paper.
Strikingly, a number of those who doubt the link between cell phones and brain tumors seen in INTERPHONE, have also lined up against a link between power-frequency EMFs and brain tumors.
The most widely cited work used to rebut a cell phone-brain tumor association is the Danish Cohort Study, led by Christoffer Johansen at the Danish Cancer Society (see our appraisal). There’s also a Danish cohort study of electric utility workers, and Johansen is in charge of that too. As with cell phones, Johansen’s utility cohort shows no excess of brain tumors (see our INTEROCC story).
Another leading doubter of cell phone tumor risks is Peter Inskip of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). (Inskip famously stormed out of the IARC RF cancer review in 2011, just before the panel designated RF as a possible human carcinogen, see our report.) Here again, the parallels are eye-opening. Inskip is a senior author of NCI’s 2009 paper exonerating ELF EMFs of any association with brain tumors.
And then there’s David Savitz, who wanted to share the “good news” that workers in the electric utility industry face no brain tumor risk, even though his own study shows otherwise. In a commentary on INTERPHONE, Savitz joined Feychting and U.K’s Tony Swerdlow, another leading Interphone naysayer, to downplay —if not dismiss— the idea that INTERPHONE points to a brain tumor risk: “The trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phones can cause brain tumors in adults,” they wrote after the INTERPHONE paper appeared (this was an official ICNIRP opinion). The following year (2012), Savitz left no doubt that he fully agreed with his ICNIRP colleagues, stating under oath, “My interpretation is that … [INTERPHONE] really provided to me fairly clear evidence against the likelihood of [any major health effects].”
Freaky or not, it’s time for some fresh blood in EMF/RF research.
Maybe It Was Never RF, But ELF
The new INTEROCC paper raises an intriguing question: Might the ELF component of GSM phone radiation present a brain tumor risk?
To date, all the attention on the cancer risk from mobile phones has been on RF radiation. Now that INTEROCC points to a credible association between exposure to ELF EMFs and brain tumors (see main story), is it possible, we have been focusing on the wrong type of phone radiation all along?
GSM phones expose the user to ELF EMFs because the RF transmitter in the phone turns on-and-off 217 times a second.1 The radiation from old analog and the newer 3G or 4G phones have much less ELF, if any at all.
Since the INTEROCC data was collected in the INTERPHONE study (see “Freaky or What?”), phone use data would have been available. Yet, phones are not discussed in the INTEROCC paper. “At the very least, they should have mentioned the ELF from phones,” Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch told us from his home in Scotland. Philips points out that, at the time the INTERPHONE data was collected, most people were using GSM phones.
Joe Bowman of NIOSH told us that phone use was not included in the INTEROCC exposure assessment. We then turned to Elisabeth Cardis who was in charge of the project. Here’s what she said: “There appears to be little association between mobile phone use and occupation history in the study thus the potential for confounding is small.” She added that, “The study included patients from a substantially increased age range for whom the detailed phone indices have not been derived.”
1. See, for instance, Figure 4 in this 1997 Danish paper.
Arthur W. Guy, known to all as Bill, died on April 20th at the age of 85. Guy will be best remembered as the leading proponent of the use of specific absorption rates (SARs) as a way of measuring the radiation dose associated with RF/MW exposure.
Guy received a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1966 from the University of Washington, Seattle, and then joined the UW faculty where he remained until his retirement in 1991. He stayed active as a consultant over the next 15 years. He served as a prominent science advisor to the cell phone industry’s research program, known as WTR, run by George Carlo in the mid-1990s.
Guy founded the Bioelectromagnetics Research Lab at UW in 1974, with the assistance of Jim Lin. (Today, Lin serves as the editor-in-chief of the journal Bioelectromagnetics.) During the early 1980’s, Guy ran one of the first studies to investigate the effects of lifetime microwave exposures on rats. The Guy study, as it became known, was prompted by public concerns over a powerful radar —called PAVE PAWS— being built by the U.S. Air Force on Cape Cod. The study was controversial from the start, and became even more so when, to many people’s surprise, it showed that microwaves could promote cancer (see our report from 1984).
Guy played a decisive role in the development of RF exposure standards. He was the chair of the panel that wrote the 1982 ANSI standard, the first for which numerical limits were set as a function of the SAR and thereby changed with frequency. (This is the origin of the well shape in the graphic of RF exposure limits.) He served on a number of panels of the NCRP, including its first to recognize SARs (Report No.67). He later chaired the NCRP committee that wrote the influential report on RF effects and exposure limits. An effort to revise it a decade later, under the direction of Lin, was sidelined by lack of funding.
Henry Lai, who had joined the lab in the early 1980s, kept it going for a time after Guy retired, but it faded away as research money dried up.
C-K. Chou, one of Guy’s doctoral students at UW and later a post-doc in his lab, became the director of Motorola’s RF Dosimetry Lab in Plantation, FL and was later named Chief EME Scientist at Motorola Solutions. (Chou retired from the company last year.) “He taught me to speak the way it is, because that was what he did,” Chou told Microwave News. “I learned from him ‘experiments must be repeatable and explainable’.”
A memorial service will be held in Seattle on May 9th.
EirGrid, the Irish state-owned power line company, is planning to build three new 400 kV lines and to upgrade 2,000 km of existing power lines at a cost of €3.2 billion to help provide reliable service in the years to come. But there's nothing new about its approach to addressing the public's concerns about EMFs.
Take a look at this new 35-minute “Prime Time” video from RTÉ, a local TV station. It illustrates, once again, the double talk endemic to the EMF–health debate as well as the corrosive effect that Mike Repacholi's EMF Project at the World Health Organization (WHO) has had on public discourse of these risks.
Fintan Slye, the CEO of EirGrid, sought to reassure those concerned about ill effects: “There is no way if there were any risks to health associated with what we are doing, that we would proceed with it.” He added, “It is simply not possible” for power line EMFs to lead to cancer. Bill Bailey of Exponent, a consultant to EirGrid, was flown in from the U.S. to sit in the studio audience and support Slye. The scientific evidence, he said, does not demonstrate a health risk from exposure to EMFs encountered in daily life.
Both Slye and Bailey specifically cited the conclusions of the WHO to support their claims. They must have been referring to Repacholi's EMF Project at WHO in Geneva, not the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an agency of the WHO based in Lyon. Back in 2001, IARC designated ELF EMFs as a 2B human carcinogen, that is, exposure to EMFs presents a possible cancer risk. That decision was based on epidemiological studies of children living near power lines (see our coverage).
Bailey knows all about this because he was a member of the IARC panel that reviewed all the scientific evidence in Lyon. The IARC decision was unanimous. There is no record that Bailey dissented. Bailey was then and is now an industry consultant. He would be disqualified from sitting on an IARC panel today. (If you doubt us, just ask Anders Ahlbom.)
Repacholi was also at the Lyon meeting, as an observer. He then spent years trying to undermine that decision for his many industry supporters. As soon as he left the WHO, Repacholi abandoned all pretense and hung out a shingle as a corporate consultant.
Luckily, the TV audience in the studio was well informed and knew that Slye and Bailey were fudging. The jeers tell the story.
Even EirGrid must have gotten the message. A couple of days after the show aired, the company announced that it would now consider placing the power lines underground, according to the Sunday Independent, Ireland's most widely read newspaper. The fact that people have started pelting politicians with eggs must have helped too.
For a copy of the IARC panel's report on the cancer risks from ELF EMFs, click here.
After Data from 2009-11 Added
The research group at the University of Oxford that reported a link between long-term use of a mobile phone and an elevated risk of acoustic neuroma (AN) in May now says that it is no longer there. In a short letter to the International Journal of Epidemiology (IJE), the Oxford team advises that when the analysis was repeated with data from 2009-2011, "there is no longer a significant association." Also gone, the team writes, is the "significant trend in risk with duration of use."
After ten or more years of phone use, the risk of AN is now only 17% higher with a confidence interval (0.60-2.27) that indicates the small increase is not significant. In their earlier paper, the Oxford group reported that the AN tumor risk more than doubled after ten years and was statistically significant (RR = 2.46, CI = 1.07–5.64).
The update comes in response to a letter from Frank de Vocht of the U.K.'s University of Manchester expressing surprise that the Oxford team had not included the finding of the AN risk in its original published abstract —especially given that it "provides further support" for the IARC decision to classify RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen.
In his letter to IJE, de Vocht includes the results of an informal meta-analysis he carried out on studies of long-term use of mobile phones and the incidence of AN:
“As shown, the accumulated scientific evidence remains inconclusive, but does indicate a 14 - 43% summary increased risk of acoustic neuroma because of long-term (10+ years) use of mobile phones, although without reaching statistical significance (95% CI = 0.76–2.67).”
It is too soon to know how the latest data from the Oxford study would affect de Vocht's meta-analysis.
October 8, 2013
Frank de Vocht has —quickly— updated his meta-analysis to take into account the new Oxford data. He now finds a non-significant 18% increase of AN among long-term users. (A relative risk of 1.18 with a 95% CI = 0.67-2.08.)
This may be an underestimate. de Vocht did not take into account a Japanese study which showed that those who used cell phones for more than 20 minutes a day for at least five years had three times more acoustic neuromas than expected. (See our report.) The Japanese results are not presented in the same way as those in the other studies and may not be easily integrated.
But Not for Meningioma
Using a new data set covering 2007-2009, Lennart Hardell and his research team have reaffirmed their previous findings that long-term use of a wireless phone leads to higher rates of both malignant brain tumors and acoustic neuromas (AN), but not of meningiomas, a type of benign brain tumor. In general, they report, the longer the use, the greater the risk for AN and malignant brain tumors.
An excerpt from the brain tumor paper:
“In summary, our results are consistent with an early effect in carcinogenesis (initiator) by analogue mobile phones, and both an early (initiator) and late (promoter) effect by wireless phones of the digital type.”
One from the acoustic neuroma paper:
“The risk increased with time since first use. For use of both mobile and cordless phones the risk was highest in the longest latency group. Tumor volume increased per 100 h of cumulative use and years of latency for wireless phones.”
And one from the meningioma paper:
“The present results strengthen our previous findings of an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma, since a systematic bias in those studies would have been expected also in this study of meningioma using the same methodology. An indication of increased risk for meningioma was seen in the group with highest cumulative use but was not supported by statistically significant increasing risk with latency.”
Her PC Is Cabled, Not Wireless
Gro Harlem Brundtland very rarely uses a cell phone, contrary to the impression promoted by the Norwegian Minister of Health that she is no longer electrosensitive, according to a message from Brundtland herself. Brundtland, a medical doctor, is a former prime minister of Norway and was the director of the WHO from 1998 to 2003.
“In her daily work, Gro Harlem Brundtland uses a PC with a cabled, not wireless, Internet connection. Second, she uses a mobile device —a Blackberry— for e-mail. She avoids speaking on cell phones, but has done so a very small number of times,” reads a statement released by Brundtland's press assistant over the weekend. The message was sent to Thomas Ergo, a reporter for Aftenbladet, a Norwegian newspaper, who broke the story late last week. (See also our report.)
“Brundtland's comments are the first time she has talked to the press about her electrosensitivity in 11 years,” Ergo noted in an e-mail to Microwave News.
Ergo's follow-up article on Brundtland ran in Aftenbladet yesterday under the headline, “I Avoid Talking on Mobile Phones.”
Ergo asked Jonas Gahr Støre, the health minister, whether he had misrepresented Brundtland in an effort to promote government policy that RF radiation is safe and causes no ill effects. Støre denied the charge, adding that his views on RF are based on the scientific advice he receives.
Støre was referring to a report of an expert committee, released last November, which concluded in part: “The large total number of studies provides no evidence that exposure to weak RF fields causes adverse health effects.” The 16 members of the committee include some well-known members of the RF research community including: Norway's Lars Klæboe, Gunnhild Oftedal and Tore Tynes as well as Sweden's Maria Feychting, Yngve Hamnerius and Lena Hillert.
At the time, Ergo asked how the government could assure the public that RF radiation was safe after the IARC decision that it was a possible human carcinogen. The chairman of the panel, Jan Alexander, told Ergo that "a fairly large minority [of the IARC committee] disagreed with the conclusion." As for Interphone study, Alexander said that it is only a single study pointing to a tumor risk. Alexander is the deputy director-general of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
In fact, the IARC decision was nearly unanimous and was based on both the Interphone and the Lennart Hardell studies —though many members of the Norwegian expert panel, especially the Swedes, are openly hostile to Hardell and his work.
In May of this year, the Norwegian department of health and human services released its own report whose conclusions were identical to those of its expert committee. The headline on that news story was: “Government: Mobile Radiation Does Not Harm or Bother You.”
So Says Norwegian Health Minister
The world's best-known electrosensitive, Gro Harlem Brundtland, is now using a mobile phone, according to a former top aide. The news, which will likely undermine the credibility of this controversial condition, was reported today by Thomas Ergo in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenbladet. Ergo quotes Jonas Gahr Støre, the minister of health, saying that these days Brundtland talks on a cell phone and surfs the Internet.
Brundtland, a medical doctor who served as the prime minister of Norway for ten years, led the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003. While she was at the WHO, she banned the use of cell phones in her office because, she said, they gave her headaches. For the most part, she declined to be interviewed about her electrosensitivity. Støre worked for Brundtland at WHO in Geneva and later became the Norwegian minister of foreign affairs.
Last year, Ergo published a detailed article on Brundtland's condition and Michael Repacholi's skepticism that such a condition exists. Repacholi has blamed Brundltand for contributing to people's fears of RF radiation. Repacholi served under Brundtland when he was the head of the WHO's EMF Project. He retired in 2006.
Støre told Ergo that he does not mean to imply that electrosensitivity does not exist. It is "arrogant" not to take people seriously, he said. On the other hand, the minister has also recently stated that RF does not harm people or cause electrosensitivity, Ergo told Microwave News.
Up to half a million Norwegians consider themselves to be electrosensitive and affected by radiation, according to Ergo.
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