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Cell Phone Radiation Health Effects Questions


Q: Is cell phone radiation dangerous?

A: An ever growing body of evidence shows that cell phone and wireless radiation – at even very low levels-  could harm our health in a number of different ways. In 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified cell phone radiation as a Class 2 B Carcinogen “possibly carcinogenic to humans”—in the same category as lead, engine exhaust, DDT, and jet fuel. Studies in Europe show that people who used cell phones heavily for over ten years have a doubled risk of brain cancer, and those who begin using cell phones as teenagers have a four to five times higher chance of being diagnosed with brain cancer. 

 A Yale study funded by the American Cancer Society found an association between thyroid cancer and cell phone use in people with certain genetic susceptibilities.

As of 2020, several expert independent scientists have published their evaluation that the evidence has increased and this radiation is a human carcinogen. 

The 10-year $30 million National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Studies of Cell Phone Radiation found that chronic exposure to RFR was associated with “clear evidence” of cancer in RFR-exposed male rats.In addition, exposed animals had significantly more DNA damage, heart damage and low birth weight. The NTP findings were supported by the Ramazzini Institute study which found  the same types of cancers the NTP found, yet at much lower levels (levels lower than FCC limits as the Ramazzini study was designed to replicate base station/ cell tower exposures). The NTP and Ramazzini findings in animals are further corroborated by research on humans that found people who use cell phones over 10 years “heavily” (defined in these studies as around 30 minutes per day) developed increased tumors—schwannomas and glioblastomas—the same cell type as found in the NTP and Ramazzini Institute studies. 

Q: Can cell phones impact memory? I feel like I am more forgetful. 

A major research study found decreased memory among teenagers with higher cell phone exposures to the brain after one year of repeated exposure. This study replicated previous findings.  A major NIH study found that even very low levels of microwave radiation from cell phones can change brain function. Another study on 4G technology showed that the radiation affected brain neural activity not only in the closer brain region but also in the remote region, including the left hemisphere of the brain.

Experimental research shows that animals exposed prenatally to cell phone radiation develop more damage to critical parts of the brain involved in thinking and impulse control–the hippocampus and cerebellum. In 2012, Yale research demonstrated that when pregnant mice were exposed to cell phone signals, their offspring had much greater levels of hyperactivity, impaired memory and impaired brain development in the part of the brain linked to ADHD. 

EHT has convened several expert conferences where scientists have presented their research on cell phones impact to brain development. For example at the Commonwealth Club in 2013, scientists detailed the science showing brain, breast cancer, and reproductive organ impacts. At this conference, Dr. Suleyman Kaplan presented his research showing significant changes in brain neuron development after exposure to this radiation. You can read his letter to the FCC detailing his research findings and calling for more protective limits.  

Scientists in Korea have additionally found something called Digital Dementia in children. They reported that children who are heavy technology users have brains that are underdeveloped on the right side. This has been characterized by memory loss, attention disorders, lack of eye contact, lack of empathy, and difficulty feeling or showing emotions.  As a result, the Korean government is instituting programs to reduce uses and exposures, especially to young children.

Q: What other health impacts are associated with cell phones?  

Effects documented in published studies have found not only  increased cancer risk, but also  increased cellular stress, increased harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system,learning and memory deficits, behavioral problems, neurological disorders, headaches, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans.  

Recent research also demonstrates a wide variety of cellular damage experimentally including increased oxidative stress from cell phone and wireless radiation. Oxidative stress is important to the development of cancer, among other things, because it essentially disrupts the normal redox state of cells, damaging cells and their DNA through the production of peroxides and free radicals. A 2015 research review showed that peer-reviewed research that looked at oxidative stress showed effects in 93 out of 100 studies. Read more research studies on our webpage dedicated to the science here.

Q: Why do you say we should not carry phones in our pocket? 

A: Wireless radiation has been shown to harm the reproductive system as well. Many experiments have been conducted on wireless radiation and sperm. Scientists at the Cleveland Clinic and major research centers around the world have repeatedly found that sperm from healthy men that are exposed to cell phone radiation die three times more quickly and develop three times more damage to mitochondrial DNA than sperm from the same men that are not exposed. Several research reviews indicate reproduction related health problems from cell phones.

Q:  I carry my cell phone in my bra. Is this OK? 

A: Case studies show young women who stored their cell phones in their bra for years developed unusual tumors right below the location of the antennas where they kept their phone. These women had no history of breast cancer or genetic predisposition to the disease, yet developed the unusual cancers at a young age. Learn more about cell phones and breast cancer here.

Q: What about cell phone towers? 

There is a growing body of evidence connecting a myriad of health issued to proximity to cell phone towers. In densely populated cities, there are often a great number of people living close to cell phone towers, and research is documenting that these people are reporting a variety of ailments, including difficulty sleeping, nausea, cancer and more.

However, it is often hard to quantify what people’s actual exposure is in cell towers studies. This is why experimental research is so important. Experimental studies link the radiation from cell towers- called radiofrequency- to cancer and biological effects. Read more research related to cell towers here. 

Q: Is anyone doing anything about it? 

Berkeley California has passed a cell phone right to know ordinance informing people about the radiation emissions from their phones. Several cities have passed proclamations on cell phone radiation.  

Although the FCC is moving full steam ahead with 5G, US states are starting to recognize the lack of accountability. Oregon passed a bill, SB283, which directs the Oregon Health Authority to review peer-reviewed, independently funded scientific studies of health effects of exposure to microwave radiation, particularly exposure that results from use of wireless network technologies in schools. 

New Hampshire passed HB 522 “An act establishing a commission to study the environmental and health effects of evolving 5G technology” which created an expert Commission to study the health and environmental impacts of 5G.  

Over 20 countries have policies in place to educate the public on reducing cell phone radiation. Russia, the UK, Canada, and many other countries discourage the use of cell phones by children, and France and Belgium have actually banned the sale of phones to children. Toronto, Canada limits Wi-Fi in public parks. Several local governments ban cell towers on schools or near hospitals. Please see our web page on policy to read the full list. 

Q: What about children and cell phones? 

A: Cell phones are not safe for children because they are more vulnerable. On July 12, 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the FCC to open a formal inquiry into radiation standards for cell phones and other wireless products because children are more vulnerable to wireless radiation. They state that “The FCC has not assessed the standards for cell phone radiation since 1996” and “children are… disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation”

Current standards were not developed with children’s vulnerabilities in mind. Federal standards are based on an adult male model. Keeping wireless devices close to the pregnant abdomen is potentially dangerous because the developing fetus is especially susceptible to radiation. This is why many doctors and obstetricians recommend reducing cell phone and wireless exposures for pregnant women. See the BabySafe Project

Keep in mind that the brain does not complete development until the mid-twenties.  This means children deserve an additional level of precaution. Small insults on the developing brain can result in large impacts later in life. Their skulls are softer and thinner than an adult’s skull, and they also have more fluid content than an adult.  The radiation is absorbed more deeply into children’s brains and therefore, children need greater protections in place.  

Q: What research has been done on children? 

A: It is unethical to experiment on children. Yet in a way, all the children in this world are in an experiment, without controls. Although there are not scientists purposefully exposing children to cell phone radiation and testing them afterwards, scientists are following children, determining their cell phone radiation exposures and analysing if those with higher exposures have health effects.  As an example, the research study on teenagers found decreased memory after one year. Researchers have also found that higher cell phone radiation exposure was associated with increased ADHD symptoms in children with lead levels in their blood.

Recent research using highly sophisticated computer modeling continues to show that children absorb microwave radiation deeper into their brains as compared to adults. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer’s 2013 Monograph on Radiofrequency details  research showing how “the average radio-frequency energy deposition is twice as high in certain regions of children’s brains and up to 10 times higher in the bone marrow of children’s skulls, compared to energy deposition in adult brains and skulls.”

In 2008 the National Research Council issued a report, calling  for “investigation of the potential effects of RF fields in the development of childhood brain tumor” observed that “with the rapid advances in technologies and communications utilizing [radiation in the range of cell phone frequencies], children are increasingly exposed… at earlier ages (starting at age 6 or before)” and “Children will be exposed to cell phone radiation for more years and therefore in greater total amounts than the current generation of adults”.

To this date, the necessary comprehensive research necessary to understand the full myriad of risks to children has simply not been done.  However,  the accumulated research showing effects on the developing brain and immune system are more than enough to show that children are more vulnerable and face far greater health risks than adults.  

MOBI-KIDS is an ongoing 14 country study looking at cell phones and the risk of brain cancer in children. Results have not been released.   

Q: What about studies showing no effect from wireless exposures? 

A: Often-cited studies seem to imply that no health effects are  found; however, much of this research was done or funded by the cell phone companies, which has led to biased results. This bias ultimately misinforms people about how wireless radiation can affect our body. In addition, many often-cited studies minimize possible health risks from this radiation because the studies did not look at impacts over the long term. For example, it is the research that looked at impacts over ten years of cell phone use (30 min a day) that showed increased brain cancer. On the other hand, studies that looked only at 5 years to 7 years of use did not show health effects.

Some studies are put forward that seem to show “no risk”. Then a deeper analysis of the study shows serious methodological flaws. For example, concerning the often referred to Danish Cohort study please see the published commentary. It is notable that the World Health Organization’s IARC explicitly rejected this widely publicized study from Denmark on brain cancer and cell phones in the British Medical Journal because it lacked detailed information on phone use and the power to find any change in risk. Yet governments continue to cite as support for “no risk”.

As another example, take the often cited 2011 CEFALO study, an international multicenter case-control study which concluded that there was an “absence of an exposure-response relationship” regarding brain tumors and mobile phone use. However, this research only looked at 7 years and brain tumors can take at least 10 years to develop. The study has been highly criticized by experts who later analyzed a subset of the data and found a highly significant association between time since first subscription and brain tumor risk.  In other words, the study’s own data contradicts the conclusion that states there is “no evidence”. Please see the Commentary The JNCI Study by Aydin et al on Risk of Childhood Brain Cancer from Cell Phone Use Reveals Serious Health Problems. 

The EHHI Expert group also commented on the limits of the CEFALO study in their Cell Phone Report. The study data actually shows an increased risk in the heavy cell users in this study and a shortened latency period for the development of brain cancer from cell phone radiation in children. 

Q: The majority of industry-funded studies seem to show wireless radiation is safe. Yet the majority of independent studies show adverse effects. What research has investigated this? 

A: With 87% of brain activity studies sponsored by the mobile phone industry, the issue of conflicts of interest cannot be ignored.  The majority of telecom industry-sponsored research studies show no adverse effect and the majority of non-industry sponsored studies do show an adverse effect. Systematic reviews of the influence of financial interests in medical research have found strong associations between industry sponsorship and pro-industry conclusions (Bekelman et al. 2003;Yaphe et al. 2001). Significant sponsorship and publication biases have been specifically noted in EMF research (Huss 2007,Valentini et al., 2011).

“We examined the methodologic quality and results of experimental studies investigating the effects of the type of radiofrequency radiation emitted by handheld cellular telephones. We hypothesized that studies would be less likely to show an effect of the exposure if funded by the telecommunications industry, which has a vested interest in portraying the use of mobile phones as safe. We found that the studies funded exclusively by industry were indeed substantially less likely to report statistically significant effects on a range of endpoints that may be relevant to health.”

“Conclusions: The interpretation of results from studies of health effects of radiofrequency radiation should take sponsorship into account.” 

Harvard Press published an expose entitled Captured Agency outlining how conflict of interests are complicating science and policy. The book also details how scientists are dependent on industry for research funding because government funding for research on RF health effects has dried up.

Dr.  Dariusz Leszczynski, was a member of a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries constituted by the World Health Organization (WHO); which classified cell phone radiation as a group 2B carcinogen in 2011 and was working on research for which funding was promised by a Finnish organization Tekes, where about 70 percent funding for research is public money and rest comes from industry. He describes how industry stopped funding his research once effects were found and he is quoted as stating that, “When we found that cell phone effects human body the funding stopped because cell phone manufacturers Nokia and Teliasonnera said they didn’t like it. The scientific advisory board has industry partners as members. If industry partners think research will show a negative effect, it is often not funded by Tekes.”

In the 90’s researchers, Lai and Singh compared rats exposed to a low dose of microwave radiation finding a 30 percent increase in single-strand breaks in brain cell DNA compared to the control group. According to internal documents, Motorola started working behind the scenes to downplay the research.  In a leaked Motorola memo and a draft position paper dated Dec. 13, 1994, Motorola talked about how they had “war-gamed the Lai-Singh issue” and were lining up “scientific” experts who would point out weaknesses in Lai’s study and reassure the public.

If you have any doubt about the power of industry to corrupt the science, simply step out of the EMF issue and look at how the lead industry,asbestos industry, and petroleum industry-funded science that minimized health effects and prolonged the inevitable.  

For more expert analysis on industry influence into cell phone science please go here. 

Q: What is a cell phone fine print warning?

A: Buried in cell phone manuals, cell phone companies specifically instruct us that phones should not be held close to the body. For example, the iPhone 5 manual states “Carry iPhone at least 10 mm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as­ tested levels. Cases with metal parts may change the RF performance of the device, including its compliance with RF exposure guidelines, in a manner that has not been tested or certified.” 

The Blackberry Bold states, “keep the BlackBerry device at least 0.59 in. (15 mm) from your body (including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of teenagers) when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to the wireless network”.  

Without following these instructions, we risk being exposed to levels of radiation that are too high- higher than radiation limits set by our federal government. The reality is that radiation emissions from devices are tested before going on the market- with a space between the device and your body. For cell phones, the distance varies depending on the manufacturer and is under an inch. For laptops, routers and baby monitor, the distance is about 8 inches. Did you know this?

Q: What other devices, besides cell phones, emit this type of radiation? 

A: All devices that are wirelessly enabled will emit microwave radiation when the networks settings are on. These include DECT home cordless phones, the cordless home phone base, cordless baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers, wireless computers, gaming devices, iPads and tablets, wireless speakers, iPods that connect to the internet and even Fitbit.

If a device is wireless including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), it is a two-way microwave radio and has microwave radiofrequency emissions. In the world we live in now people are exposed to microwave radiation from multiple devices in their home,  school, and work every day.  Federal regulations were developed decades ago before such scenarios could even be imagined. This is why we recommend reducing exposures and swapping out wireless with safe corded and wired connections whenever possible.

There is currently a huge push from school boards and local governments to make elementary schools entirely wireless. EHT has developed resources specifically on the issue of wireless exposures in schools

Q: Do government regulations protect us? 

A: Currently, government regulations for wireless radiation are outdated, irrelevant and non protective. They do not protect us from biological effects nor from long term cumulative exposures. For example, cell phone radiation levels are thousands of times lower than federal guidelines. Yet researchers are finding that these very low levels are not safe for the human body because research has found damaging effects even at these very low levels.

Remember that cell phone radiation is microwave radiation.  Microwaves can cook food at high levels.  They heat up food. At low levels (no cooking, non-heating) microwaves are used to send data between cell phones. Clearly we do not want to heat our body or brain. Government limits were set to protect us from heating only. 

It is a fact that very very low level radiation from cell  phones has biological effects.  Take for example the U.S.  National Institutes of Health research study that found that 50 minutes of exposure to cell phone radiation changed the energy metabolism in the human brain. The cell phone radiation actually increased the metabolism of glucose in the brain areas closest to the antenna. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the brain imaging scientist who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse and led this groundbreaking research stated (of this research that), “Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect.” Later, research on 3G and 4G has also shown that non-thermal (non-heating)  levels of this radiation can alter the brain’s electrical activity.

Furthermore, federal guidelines are based on research that does not consider the special vulnerabilities of various population cohorts such as children or pregnant mothers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Federal health and safety agencies have not yet developed policies concerning possible risk from long-term, non-thermal exposures.” This quote is from a Letter by Robert Hankin of the EPA’s Radiation Protection Division.

How can cell phones be safe if low levels alter brain activity? How can they be safe if there is significant research showing brain cancer in heavy cell phone users? What about research showing sperm damage and brain damage at levels of microwave radiation thousands of times lower than government regulations?

The reality is that most government regulations on allowable public exposures are set tens of thousands of times too high to protect the public.

 Q: How did cell phones get on the market with so many problems?  

A: In short, the industry was given a free pass decades ago that allow the exclusion of devices that emitted low levels of microwave radiation from proper  safety testing. Cell phones and wireless devices are not safety tested like new drugs or medical devices are coming on the market. If a cell phone would have been tested like a drug, it would be taken off the market by now.

Several books have been written on the subject. Click here to see Dr. Devra Davis’s book Disconnect that details how the wireless industry “wargamed” the science.Click here to hear the history from expert scientist Dr. George Carlo of how the industry was able to get this technology to market before it was properly tested and how research findings have been suppressed since. His book Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in a Wireless Age details industry corruption and how research has been suppressed. Dr. Carlo chaired $28 million dollars in research with the wireless industry. When his research found troubling effects, the wireless industry treated it like a public relations problem rather than a public health problem.  

Q: What is a safe level of cell phone radiation? 

A: Research has not yet identified a “safe level” of cell phone or wireless radiation. The United States provides us with an example of a common problem. Their expert scientific federal regulatory agencies the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not do pre-market safety testing nor did they perform research to determine a safe level of cell phone and wireless Radiation.

Instead, they adopted guidelines put out by wireless industry-led groups. 

Although we do not know what a safe level of this radiation is at this time, we do know that even extremely low levels can have serious effects in research studies. We know that intensity is not the only factor to be concerned about because effects can depend on other characteristics of the technology- such as modulation. 

Q: What should governments do? 

A: The government needs to immediately reduce wireless exposures to the public and create awareness about the risks of cell phones and wireless devices. 5G and 4G densification should be halted.  

Several national authorities have taken steps in this direction but a highly engaged public is critical to sustain these efforts. 

The Canadian Parliament issued an excellent example of government recommendations. In 2015 which include updating guidelines, introducing policy measures to reduce exposure and educating the public.India has major research underway and has recommended limiting personal exposures. Israel has a National Institute for Non-Ionizing Radiation Safety. 

Watch a video of Dr. R.S. Sharma, top Indian government scientists discuss the precautionary policies that the Indian government is taking such as educating consumers on safer ways to use cell phones, lowering the allowable RF emissions from cell towers and funding critical research at our lecture series at George Washington University.

Governments can start looking at the larger cost/benefit picture and the high monetary costs they could incur without immediate action. Consider that we now know the financial cost from lead poisoning is estimated at over 43 Billion per year. Now is the time to act. 

Nobody can tell us the full cost of the health damages from wireless.  However scientists are cautioning that it could be unprecedented. “Given that treatment for a single case of brain cancer can cost between $100,000 for radiation therapy alone and up to $1 million depending on drug costs, resources to address this illness are already in short supply and not universally available in either developing or developed countries. Significant additional shortages in oncology services are expected at the current growth of cancer. No other environmental carcinogen has produced evidence of an increased risk in just one decade.” 

The growing body of evidence shows that there clearly are biological effects of prolonged exposure to wireless radiation. The government can use this information wisely to protect public health.