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Retract Popular Science article  “Cell phones aren’t a public health risk, no matter what California says”

Jan 29, 2018


Retract Popular Science article  “Cell phones aren’t a public health risk, no matter what California says”

We are calling on Popular Science to retract the December 19, 2017 Popular Science article “Cell phones aren’t a public health risk, no matter what California says.” NPR, Science Friday and Public Radio International have picked up the Popular Science article- exemplifying the importance of addressing the inaccuracies in this Popular Science article. In addition, Live Science published “Cellphone Guidelines Won’t Harm, But They Probably Won’t Help Either” on December 20, 2017 which also had a series of half truths, falsities and misleading statements by industry connected John Moulder. 

Inaccurate Irresponsible Statements  

The December 19th Popular Science article written by Sara Chodosh should be retracted because it contains numerous egregious errors indicating that microwave radiation emitted by cell phones is safe. In fact, the renowned U.S. National Toxicology Program last year reported that rodents exposed in their lifetimes to the same levels of cell phone radiation that humans can easily experience today developed highly malignant, rare and aggressive cancers of the brain and nerve of the heart—a finding that is consistent with a growing experimental literature.

EHT is joining with other scientists such as Dariusz Leszczynski PhD, a member of the  World Health Organization International Agency for the Research on Cancer 2011 EMF Working Group to raise serious concerns about this Popular Science article. Leszczynski refers to statements in the Popular Science article as “completely irresponsible,” and concludes, “I think that the Popular Science should be embarrassed publishing such inaccurate, simply “populist”, story.”

Our Recommendations:

We ask that Popular Science either retract or update their article after consultation with independent experts in bioelectromagnetics- specifically the physicians and scientists who have called for a moratorium on 5G due to the health effects 5G poses to human health and the environment.

We ask that any report on cell phones include peer reviewed documented science as well as declarations from independent authoritative sources. We ask that Popular Science refrain from safety assurances. 

The Article Assures Readers They Can Duct Tape The Phone To Their Face 

We call on Popular Science to retract this article which was substantially recycled from an April article by the same writer in response to the Italian jury ruling that cell phone radiation caused a man’s brain tumor. Both articles include the same inaccurate statements and end with the dangerous assurance that readers can duct-tape the phone to their face.

Inaccurate Statement #1: “The scientific consensus is that cell phones are safe, but that we should still do more research.”


This is not true. In 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified this radiation (RF) as a ‘possible carcinogen’ largely due to published scientific evidence of increased brain cancer in long-term heavy users of cell phones. “Heavy use” was defined as about 30 minutes per day. Dr. Samet, Senior Scientist, Chair of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research on Cancer 2011 EMF Group stated that “The IARC 2B classification implies an assurance of safety that cannot be offered—a particular concern, given the prospect that most of the world’s population will have lifelong exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” (Samet 2014). Even Emilie van Deventer, of the World Health Organization’s EMF Project, was quoted in The Daily Princetonian stating, “The data is gray. It’s not black and white…. There is no consensus, it’s true.”


In 2015, the International EMF Scientist Appeal, now signed by over 225 scientists, from 41 nations, who have published peer reviewed publications on electromagnetic fields, was submitted to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Director-General of the World Health Organization and U.N. Member Nations urging the development of more protective guidelines, encouraging precautionary measures and calling for education of the public about health risks.


The governments of more than a dozen nations have taken steps to reduce exposures especially to children, and the State of California recently noted that substantial evidence exists to merit serious concern and to take basic precautions now to reduce exposures. The Connecticut Department of Health states, “Scientists also agree that it is wise to reduce exposure to RF energy from cell phones whenever possible.”


The cell phone industry does not guarantee safety to their shareholders, and a quick read of their annual reports and 10Ks reveals statements such as:


“We cannot guarantee that claims relating to radio frequency emissions will not arise in the future or that the results of such studies will not be adverse to us.  If radio frequency emissions from wireless handsets or equipment on our wireless infrastructure are demonstrated to cause negative health effects, potential future claims could adversely affect our operations, costs or revenues.”- Crown Castle  


Insurance companies classify RF as such a high risk, comparable to asbestos, that they will not insure cell phone companies for damages from their products. Furthermore, most insurance companies expressly exclude electromagnetic field damages from their policies be they for public schools, nurses, or even the National Rifle Association. Many insurance companies even exclude coverage for public officials regarding “supervision, instruction, recommendation, warning or advice given or which should have been given in connection with bodily injury”  related to electromagnetic field exposure.  


Inaccurate Statement  #2: “…there’s no evidence that cell phones are dangerous to your health. Period.”


Statements of “no evidence” ignore the numerous peer reviewed published studies that demonstrated a myriad of adverse biological effects from wireless radiation including reproductive dysfunction, single- and double-stranded DNA breaks, creation of reactive oxygen species, immune dysfunction, stress protein synthesis in the brain, altered brain development, and sleep and memory disturbances.

Such statements ignore the evidence, which has substantially increased since the 2011 WHO/IARC classification, on tumor promotion and development from cell phone radiation.


For starters, in 2015, an animal study replicated a 2010 study finding that RF acts as tumor promoter. “The effects on liver and lung tumors, as reported by ITEM in 2010, were fully confirmed…. In addition we found a significantly elevated rate of lymphoma due to exposure…. Our results show that electromagnetic fields obviously enhance the growth of tumors,” stated lead researcher Alexander Lerchl, Professor of Biology at Jacobs University.


Most notably, the carcinogenicity shown in multiple human epidemiological studies is now replicated in the animal studies of the National Toxicology Program (NTP). Long-term cell phone users have been found to be at increased risk for a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma, and also for increased tumors of the schwann cell called acoustic neuroma. In parallel, the NTP found male rats developed these same types of tumors: gliomas and schwannomas.    


“There was a hypothesis out that non-ionizing radiation could not cause cancer,” said Ronald Melnick PhD, the NIH toxicologist who led the team that designed the NTP study, now retired and Senior Advisor to Environmental Health Trust (EHT). “The animals were exposed and unfortunately we found that the radio frequency radiation did cause tumors so I think that hypothesis has now been disproven.”  

Leaders of that study of 6,000 animals were so concerned about the findings that they released experimental test results of the exposed heart and brain showing that animals exposed to the same levels and type of radiation produced by cell phones developed the same tumors as have become evident in evaluations of humans that use phones regularly for a decade—highly malignant rare tumors of the brain called gliomas, as well as tumors of the nerve sheath called neuromas or Schwannomas.


Several scientists who served on the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research on Cancer 2011 EMF Group have publicly stated that the 2011 classification needs to be upgraded due to the scientific evidence published since 2011.


“In my opinion, the currently available scientific evidence is sufficient to upgrade the carcinogenicity of cell phone radiation from the possible carcinogen (Group 2B) to the probable carcinogen (Group 2A)” stated Dariusz Leszczynski, PhD.

“The nine Bradford Hill viewpoints on association or causation regarding RF radiation and glioma risk seem to be fulfilled in this review. Based on that we conclude that glioma is caused by RF radiation. Revision of current guidelines for exposure to RF radiation is needed,” stated Dr. Lennart Hardell, the cancer researcher who called out Agent Orange as carcinogenic in the 80s (long before it was popular to do so). Hardell not only has completed some of the best available human epidemiology on cell phone radiation but he also has repeatedly analyzed the body of scientific evidence and concluded that cell phone radiation is a human carcinogen.


Hardell is joined by other cancer researchers such as Dr. Anthony Miller, longtime WHO advisor and now Senior Medical Advisor to EHT, who shared his conclusion in a recent lecture: “there is sufficient evidence that Radiofrequency radiation is carcinogenic to humans (IARC Category 1).”  


Inaccurate Statement  #3: “The reality is that we haven’t even been able to find a mechanism by which cell phones could cause health problems in the first place. It’s a non-ionizing form of radiation, so it doesn’t damage DNA.”


Such statements ignore the fact that the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) found not only cancer but also genotoxicity—a measure of direct DNA damage. National Toxicology Program scientists presented their findings of DNA damage at the annual meeting of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society concluding that “exposure to RFR [radio frequency radiation] has the potential to induce measurable DNA damage under certain exposure conditions.”


The NTP results provide “strong evidence for the genotoxicity of cell phone radiation,” Melnick told Microwave News last year. This “should put to rest the old argument that RF radiation cannot cause DNA damage.”    

Statements that non-ionizing radiation cannot cause harm are simply false. For example, a new study funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences just published by Kaiser Permanente scientists in the journal Scientific Reports that found women with the highest non-ionizing magnetic field exposures during pregnancy had nearly three times more miscarriages confirms a 2012 study with similar findings. Kaiser principal investigator De-Kun Li, MD, PhD, has previously published findings linking higher prenatal non-ionizing radiation exposures to a higher risk of obesity, and a higher risk of asthma.


Contrary to Chodosh’s statement that “we haven’t even been able to find a mechanism,” many scientists have now published explanations of how non-thermal effects could occur.


Professor Martin Pall has published multiple papers detailing how EMFs can activate voltage-gated Ca2+ channels (VGCCs) leading to increased intracellular Ca2+ stimulating non-thermal responses, one of which is the production of both oxidative stress and free radical breakdown products. Barnes and Greenenbaum’s 2016 publication in IEEE Power Electronics Magazine details how long-term exposure can lead to elevated radical concentrations and an association with aging.” Dr. Magda Havas’ 2017 publication also explained how “nonionizing radiation interferes with the oxidative repair mechanisms resulting in oxidative stress, damage to cellular components including DNA, and damage to cellular processes leading to cancer.” Doyon and Johansson (2017) presented how these non-ionizing exposures have the potential to weaken the immune system by calcineurin inhibition. Sage and Burgio (2017) published a paper “Electromagnetic Fields, Pulsed Radiofrequency Radiation, and Epigenetics: How Wireless Technologies May Affect Childhood Development” on how epigenetics provides an under-recognized mechanism. They explain how scientific research has found RF results in epigenetic changes in DNA expression which can impair normal functioning, not by causing direct damage but by affecting how the cell functions.


Igor Belyaev, Dr.Sc., an expert member of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for the Research on Cancer Working Group on EMFs, who heads the Radiobiology Laboratory in the Slovak Academy of Science’s Cancer Research Institute in Bratislava, has published a number of papers identifying multiple pathways by which non-thermal exposures can induce biological damage to membranes and cellular repair processes.  

And the list goes on.


Inaccurate Statement  #3: “Testicles and brains are both totally unharmed by phone radiation.”


This statement is patently wrong, as a simple search of PubMed or any other reliable resource reveals. It ignores the extensive experimental and human data indicating damage to brain and testes in animals and damage to sperm function in men and advice from the acclaimed Cleveland Clinic. Men who keep phones in their pockets have fewer sperm with more sperm damage, and experimental studies replicate that finding.


Chodosh might want to read what was just published by the Cleveland Clinic in their Health Essentials Newsletter:

It’s best to keep your cell phone as far from the testes as you can, Dr. Sabanegh says. While there are a variety of factors involved — where you keep your phone and what kind you have, for instance — the goal is to minimize things that impair fertility. “We’ve done a lot of research on cell phones,” Dr. Sabanegh says. “In studies where we directly exposed sperm to cell phone radiation, it did damage the sperm.”


The research on brain development is even more concerning. Experimental research shows chronic exposure to wireless reduces brain cells and causes brain cell death in the memory and learning centers of the brain. These significant research results prompted Dr. Suleyman Kaplan to file a comment to the U.S. FCC summarizing his research showing neurological damage as evidence of the need for more protective government limits. This research indicating a neurotoxic effect has prompted over 200 doctors and educators to sign onto the EPA recognised BabySafe Project Appeal urging pregnant woman to reduce exposure.


EHT has a short list of key, peer reviewed studies on cell phone radiation impacts on sperm damage here and on brain development here.


Inaccurate Statement  #4: “…IARC’s role is not to find the weight of the scientific evidence, it’s to list anything that might conceivably be a carcinogen, even if it very likely isn’t.”


Nonsense. The role of IARC is to review the totality of evidence and make the best available expert judgment.


The IARC states, “the classification indicates the weight of the evidence as to whether an agent is capable of causing cancer.”   


We suggest Popular Science editors watch Dr. Annie Sasco, Team Leader of Epidemiology for Cancer Prevention at the School of Public Health of the Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2 University in France and former Acting Chief of the Cancer Control Programme of the World Health Organization explain the IARC classification process in her recent lecture about the IARC.  


Remember, the IARC preamble indicates a very important fact: every agent known to cause cancer in humans also will produce it in animals when adequately studied. We study animals to predict and prevent harm. If we fail to heed the results of animal studies then we are effectively treating humans as subjects in an experiment with no controls.


Inaccurate Statement  #6: “So go ahead and leave your phone in your pocket. Talk on it for hours. Heck, you could duct-tape it to your face if you so choose. Just put it down when you get in the car, and you’ll be fine.”


Cell phone manuals explicitly state that the phones must be at a distance from the body because when phones are placed in close proximity to the body, your body can absorb radiation at levels that far exceed government radiation limits. Reports just released from the French government provide clear documentation of this unfortunate reality. France tested hundreds of cell phones and the majority of them were found to exceed government limits when tested in body contact positions.

In 2011, International Agency for the Research on Cancer Director Christopher Wild stated the following in the WHO/IARC press release on cell phone radiation, “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings, it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting.”


Now nearly seven years later, with the release of the NTP study adding to the ever growing body of scientific evidence showing harm from cell phone radiation, the scientific evidence is clear and compelling. We must reduce exposure to avert a public health catastrophe.

Overall, when it comes to understanding those agents that can be risky to human health, there are two types of evidence on which we rely to estimate risks to people: studies with experimental animals, and studies with humans.


We test animals to make drugs or evaluate risks in people-—effectively to predict harm. We study people to determine the impact of past exposures on their current health.  

Furthermore, some puzzling patterns of disease are occurring that could indicate impacts of the growing exposures to cell phone and other wireless radiation. For instance, we have seen an increase in rates of specific brain cancers in people under 40 since 2003, and increased rates of infertility tied with keeping phones in the pockets in young men. There have also been unexplained increases in rectal cancer, atrial fibrillation and stroke in younger Americans that could in part to be due to be their exposures to disruptive levels of microwave RF radiation. According to numerous studies, this type of weak, pulsed radiation has the ability to interfere with the capacity of cells to repair damage and transport calcium in and out of cells.

The number of recently published experimental animal studies is quite extensive, and indicates a variety of harms including increased cancer risk, reduced sperm count, motility and concentration, as well as DNA damage and altered cell structure, damage to ovaries and eggs, reduced brain cells, brain cell death in the memory and learning centers of the brain, behavioral issues including ADHD-like behaviors, hearing loss, headaches, damage to quality and quantity of sleep, formation of tissue-damaging free radicals via oxidative stress, endocrine system damage, disruptions to heart functioning, and synergistic effects between known toxins and wireless radiation.

We should not experiment on our children until the cell phone companies can provide proof of damage. That is what ultimately happened with tobacco smoke, and millions of children and adults have paid the price of that mistake. Our children deserve better.

We call on Popular Science to retract their article because it includes a number of fundamental errors of science, misrepresents the state of the art, and fails to appreciate the substantial body of evidence demonstrating significant damage in experimental animals and to human health.  

Popular Science’s Article Has Been Referenced

12/31/2017 NPR’s Science Friday Ira Flatow interviewed Popular Science “Dangerous Cell Phone Guidelines“ on the California guidelines “the guidelines are a little misguided. Because it’s creating a lot of fear around an issue that we’re not sure people actually need to be afraid of.”  

12/312017 Science Friday Interview in a Public Radio International Press Release “A California public health report suggests that cellphone exposure is bad for us — but the scientific community isn't so sure” 

12/31/2017 Pittsburgh's NPR News Station Runs PRI Piece on California Department of Health 

Experimental research shows chronic exposure to wireless reduces brain cells and causes brain cell death in the memory and learning centers of the brain. Cell phone radiation has also been shown to alter brain activity in humans. In 2011, NIH research found just 50 minutes of a wireless transmitting device (cell phone) next to the brain increases glucose in the part of the brain most exposed. Preliminary 3G and 4G research has further shown that non-thermal levels of this radiation alter the brain’s electrical activity. Read more about brain damage after exposure to radiofrequency here