US Study on Cellphone Radiation Won't Settle Debate

Representational Image

Representational Image

The major finding from these studies was that male mice exposed to 900MHz had a higher risk of a malignant form of cancer near the heart. Unfortunately, such hard and fast assurances have been hard to come by, partly because science rarely deals in definites, but also because it's really hard to test: long-term studies are tricky because we haven't actually been using them that long.

On Friday, the US National Toxicology Program (NTP), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, threw fresh kindling onto the smouldering debate over whether mobile phones are harmful to our health. Most groups were exposed to nine hours of radio waves per day for two years.

Medical advice on how to reduce exposure to cell phone radiofrequency radiation can be found at https://ehtrust.org/take-action/educate-yourself/10-things-you-can-do-to-reduce-the-cancer-risk-from-cell-phones/. Further, although these were large and well-conducted animal studies, the relative rarity of the tumors showing an increase in incidence means that it may be hard to demonstrate significant increases in incidence which may be seen in the very much larger numbers of humans exposed to radiofrequency radiation. The levels ranged from a low of 1.5 watts per kilogram to a high of 10 watts per kilogram, and exposures were limited to the 2G and 3G frequencies, which are still widely used for voice calls and texting. At the time, they noted the overall tumor incidence was low, even though increased in the exposed versus control groups. The amount of radiation to which the laboratory animals were exposed included the levels emitted by cellphones millions of people use everyday. "So, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to human cell phone usage", said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP senior scientist.

If radiofrequency radiation is indeed a carcinogen, Bucher said, it is likely a weak one.

"We don't have any idea really", Bucher said.

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The CTIA had a different interpretation, pointing out that when partial results of the same study were released in 2016 numerous global and US health organizations "maintained their long-standing conclusion that the scientific evidence shows no known health risk due to the [radio-frequency] energy emitted by cellphones". Interestingly, the babies developed to be normal sized and did not show any other developmental defects. He believes that more of the associations between radiation exposure and rodent disease could have reached statistical significance had the study included a larger number of animals.

EWG has been at the forefront of public interest organizations raising concerns about cellphone use and cancer.

The NTP findings have not been peer-reviewed yet, but Dr Bucher said that they are "important because they give us an area of concern, and we now have a starting place where we might know where to look" for potential cancer risks from cell phones.

"Even with frequent daily use by the vast majority of adults, we have not seen an increase in events like brain tumours", he said in a statement.

Two long-awaited studies of how cellphone radiation affects the health of mice and rats, released yesterday, are giving scientists plenty to think about-but the findings won't resolve the decades-old uncertainty surrounding the issue.

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