A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

News Center: Short Takes Archive

After Data from 2009-11 Added

October 6, 2013
Updated October 8, 2013

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

September 25, 2013
Updated September 27, 2013

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.

All three new papers are open access. For the malignant brain tumor paper, click here; for the AN paper, click here, and for the meningioma paper, click here.

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

July 1, 2013
Updated August 15, 2015

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.”

For more on the Norwegian expert panel and Brundtland's electrosensitivity, see Ergo's article in Plot, published last year, and our coverage.

August 15, 2015

In a 45-minute interview spanning a wide array of topics, Brundtland once again addresses her electrosensitivity. The headline in yesterday’s Aftenposten, reads, in English, “My Body Has Responded to Mobile Radiation for 25 Years.” She advises people not to carry their phones in their pockets.

So Says Norwegian Health Minister

June 28, 2013

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.

Two-Year Gestation

April 19, 2013
Updated November 25, 2015

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has released its detailed evaluation of the cancer risks associated with RF radiation, which serves as the rationale for designating RF as a possible human carcinogen.

The IARC monograph comes close to two years after an invited panel of experts from 14 countries reached this conclusion following an eight-day meeting at IARC headquarters in Lyon, France (see our report).

An electronic copy of the 430-page document is available at no cost from IARC. A paper copy will be available soon.

The basis for IARC designation of RF as a Class 2B carcinogen is summed up in one sentence: "Positive associations have been observed between exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless phones and glioma and acoustic neuroma" (p.421). Those associations with brain tumors and tumors of the acoustic nerve were observed by the Interphone study group and Lennart Hardell's team in Sweden.

The panel's decision was close to unanimous. One strong dissent came from Peter Inskip of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, who walked out of the IARC meeting before the final vote. One or two others, including Maria Blettner of the University of Mainz in Germany, were reported to have also disagreed with the majority opinion. There was talk that the dissenters would file a minority opinion, but no signed statement appears in the IARC monograph. Instead, their view is included in the final paragraph of the report: The available evidence does not support a "conclusion about a causal association" due to "inconsistencies" between the Interphone and Hardell studies and the lack of an exposure-response relationship.

The dissenters also point to a lack of association in a large Danish study —though this effort has been widely criticized (see our take). Finally, the dissenters argue that, "up to now, reported time trends in incidence rates of glioma have not shown a trend parallel to time trends in mobile-phone use." That last argument was punctured in November when the Danish Cancer Society reported a spike in aggressive brain tumors over the last ten years. At the time, an insider called the increase a "frightening development," though no link to cell phones was made.

March 29, 2013
Updated June 4, 2013

Today, the FCC —finally— issued a package of rules and requests for information related to RF health and safety. We say finally because the commission announced that this was on its way last June (see "What's Up at the FCC?"). No one at the FCC is eager to say why it took so long, except that it covers a lot of ground.

The document is indeed long (over 200 pages) and complex. There are some new final rules; for instance, the pinna is now officially an "extremity" and subject to a much looser SAR limit (see ¶42). And, there are some new proposed rules; for instance, a blanket exemption for all transmitters with a power output of 1 mW or less (see ¶121). But none of these is a major change.

The heart of the document is a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to help the FCC determine whether it should reassess its RF exposure limits. This is just about what the GAO recommended last summer that the FCC do with respect to cell phones.

 One of the key issues on the table is whether there is a need for precautionary policies, specifically to protect children (see ¶¶5-7 and ¶¶236-243): 

 [W]e ask whether any precautionary action would be either useful or counterproductive, given that there is a lack of scientific consensus about the possibility of adverse health effects at exposure levels at or below our existing limits. [¶6]

Comments and reply comments will now be submitted to the FCC over the next six months. Then the commission will mull them all over. And perhaps sometime in the future it will issue a new set of rules. No one should expect anything to happen very quickly. After all the FCC's last RF safety proposal came out ten years ago.

June 4, 2013

The FCC's new and proposed rules were published in the Federal Register today. Comments on the proposal are due by September 3, and reply comments by November 1, 2013. 


December 4, 2012

Another in our continuing series  —Nothing Ever Really Changes. 

We recently came across an item in the January 20, 1964, issue of Newsweek titled, “The Mrs. G Effect” about a California housewife, who could hear noises that no one else could hear.

An “expert” was brought in. As far as he could tell, Mrs. G was converting alternating current fields into sound signals “as though she were a radio receiver.” Newsweek also talked to Allan Frey who offered qualified support. “If you use the correct frequency and modulate it properly, it's easy to induce sensations,” Frey told the magazine. “But how it is perceived, it’s too early to tell.” Frey had authority in these matters because three years earlier he was the first to report people's ability to hear certain types of microwaves. Many now call this the “Frey effect.”

A few days ago —or forty-nine years later— we called Frey and reminded him about the Newsweek article. It was not fresh in his mind! “I don't know what they measured, so I don’t know what to conclude,” he said, but he did allow that Mrs. G was probably hearing low frequency, not microwave, signals.

Mrs. G’s condition is no different from what we now call electromagnetic hypersensitivity, Frey told us.


For another reminiscence, see "The Man Who Was Allergic to Radio Waves."

November 30, 2012

EPRI, the research arm of the electric utility industry, has just published what might be a very useful report. Unfortunately, most of us will never get to see it.

The report is an evaluation of consumer-grade RF exposure meters —the type of instrument you might use to measure radiation levels from a cell tower or a smart meter. In a short abstract, which is publicly available, EPRI states, "Consumers need to recognize that each [RF exposure] meter’s performance can vary dramatically at different frequencies, distances, and orientation. Such variations can be significant and may limit interpretation of measurement results."

Those who are unaware of such factors have often gotten themselves all mixed up with spurious readings. That's why this report would be a handy tutorial for the uninitiated. The problem is that only member utilities can access the report without paying the list price of $25,000. That's not a joke. We called an EPRI customer assistance operator and asked for a discount. No dice. We also wrote to Gabor Mezei, EPRI's manager on the project. So far, no word back.

EPRI is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It's worth recalling how it came to be. In November 1965, a series of errors blacked out some 30 million people in the Northeastern states. The electric utility industry was in the doghouse for not doing enough R&D to prevent such accidents. The U.S. Senate proposed setting up a new federal agency to do research paid for with a tax on electricity use. The utilities moved quickly to keep control and EPRI was born.

In a paper published in Science magazine on the occasion of EPRI's 10th anniversary, Chauncey Starr, its founding president, recalled that back in 1973 there were "imputations from many quarters that EPRI was a sham and that the utility industry was not serious about its technical responsibilities." Up until about 15 years ago, EPRI did make an effort to keep people informed about its work. Technical reports were distributed to those who needed them: We have a shelf full of EPRI publications to prove it. Today, EPRI often does not even send a copy of its final reports to those who wrote them.

Last April marked Starr's 100th birthday. We doubt he would have been pleased with the way things turned out.

November 8, 2012
Updated June 2, 2014

The Danish Cancer Society is reporting that the number of men diagnosed with glioblastoma —the most malignant type of brain cancer— has nearly doubled over the last ten years. Hans Skovgaard Poulsen, the head of neuro-oncology at Copenhagen University Hospital, is calling it a "frightening development."

The society is not linking the increase to cell phones or to anything else. "We have no idea what caused it," Poulsen said in a statement issued by the Danish Cancer Society on November 2. (See the June 2, 2014, update below.)

Both the Interphone study and the group led by Sweden's Lennart Hardell have reported that long-term cell phone use is associated with higher rates of glioma. (Glioblastoma is a type of glioma.)

"I think the data is true and valid," Christoffer Johansen of the Danish Cancer Society told Microwave News. Johansen is a member of the team that has been working on the Danish cohort study, which has been investigating the possible links between cell phones and brain tumors. The group has long maintained that there is no association. (For our analysis of the Danish cohort study, follow this link.)

Like Poulsen, Johansen did not offer any explanation as to what may have led to the increase.

Joachim Schüz, who used to work at the Danish Cancer Society and is now with IARC, could not be reached for comment. Schüz and Johansen were members of the Interphone project and work together on the Danish cohort study. 

Schüz has long said that he does not believe that cell phones present a brain tumor risk. One of his main arguments against an association has been that national cancer statistics have stayed relatively stable.

November 9, 2012

This morning, we heard from Joachim Schüz, who is travelling in Asia. He tells us that the news about the increase in glioblastoma is “indeed a concern.” Like Johansen, Schüz does not have an explanation for what may be responsible for the uptick in these aggressive brain tumors, but he does not believe that it is because of better diagnostics.

Schüz added that he sees “no reason to question the quality of the Danish cohort study.”

June 2, 2014

The Danish Cancer Society has removed the original 2012 news advisory noting the spike in glioblastoma from its Web site. (The original link is now “404”). It is still available, however, from the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine”. Here is the news advisory as it was first posted by the society. If you open this link in Chrome, Google will automatically translate the page into English.

See also our follow-up article:
“Something Is Rotten in Denmark.”

August 7, 2012

In its much-anticipated report, released today, the GAO told the FCC to take a fresh look at its cell phone exposure standard and the way the phones are tested for compliance with that limit. The 46-page report is available here.

Julius Knapp, the chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, responded that he and his staff had "independently arrived at the same conclusion." He added that rules that the Commission has already drafted would "address and even expand on the GAO's recommendations" (see our "What's Up at the FCC?").

Some consumer and environmental organizations appear to be happy with the report. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), for instance, thanked the three members of Congress who had requested the GAO investigation after IARC designated RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen last year (see our June 3, 2011, post).

The EWG should keep in mind the old proverb, be careful what you wish for. A close reading of the new report indicates that the most likely outcome of a FCC review would be a substantial weakening of the current cell phone standard in the name of harmonization with the IEEE and ICNIRP.

That might explain why the CTIA, the wireless trade association, also embraced the GAO report. "CTIA welcomes the Commission's continued careful oversight of this issue," stated John Walls, its VP for public affairs.

The U.S. currently has the most stringent cell phone exposure limit in the world. But perhaps not for much longer.

For more, see:
• The Washington Post's blog post;
• Bloomberg's news story;
• The EWG's press release;
• CTIA's press release;
• And this item from Ars Technica, which closes with, "Maybe, finally, we'll get to the bottom of [the mystery of cell phone radiation]." We wouldn't take that bet.