Science in Society Archive

European Environment Agency Highlight Mobile Phone Cancer Risks

Latest reviews conclude 10 years exposure increases brain tumour risks especially for the young Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Evidence linking head tumour risk from mobile phones is taken very seriously by the European Environment Agency (EEA). The evidence has grown progressively stronger since 2007 and 2009, when EEA issued successive “early warnings” based on the precautionary principle.

The latest reviews of the evidence concluded that those with longer than 10 years of exposure are 1.5 to 2.0 times as likely to have head cancer, particularly on the side of the head where the phone is most used. And the risk is much greater for the young - under 20 - where there is a 5-fold risk.

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Director, and David Gee, Senior Adviser on science, policy and emerging issues of EEA, made a joint statement to the European Council Hearing on EMF on 25 February 2011 [1].

They reiterated the 2009 EEA warning that the evidence, though “still very limited, and much contested”, was nevertheless strong enough (even then), on the basis of the precautionary principle, to justify taking all reasonable measure to reduce exposure to EMF, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly, the exposures to children and young adults. These measures would include stopping the use of mobile phone by placing it next to the brain, which can be achieved by texting, using hands free sets, and adopting phones with an improved design that could generate less radiation and make it convenient to use hands free sets.

The agency called for a reconsideration of the scientific basis for the present EMF exposure standards, which have serious limitations such as reliance on the “contested thermal effects paradigm” and other simplistic assumptions. It recommended effective labelling and warnings about potential risks for mobile phone users. Across the European Union, 80 percent of citizens do not feel they are informed; and 65 percent say they are not satisfied with the information they receive. The agency also suggested that funds needed to finance and organise the “urgently needed research into the health effects of phones and associated masts”. Such funds could include grants from industry, and possibly, a small levy on the purchase and or use of mobile phones, like the one US pioneered in the rubber industry for research on rubber in the 1970s when lung and stomach cancer was emerging as a problem.

“Given the serious and largely irreversible nature of the brain tumour risk from mobile phones, it would be appropriate to take action on relatively weak evidence for an effect.” McGlade and Gee stated.

As a result of their 2009 submission and widespread public concern, the European Parliament passed a resolution on EMF in 2009, which among other things, called for lowering exposure to electromagnetic fields, and for lower exposure limits to better protect the public from health hazards. A similar resolution was again passed in May 2011 (see [2] Wireless Phone Radiation 'Possibly Carcinogenic'

Recent evidence on mobile phones and head cancers

McGlade and Gee drew attention to two recent reviews [3, 4] of major studies that appeared to be conflicting: the Hardell studies from Sweden that had consistently found links between head cancers and mobile phone use, and the Interphone studies that did not. The reviews found consistency when analysis is correctly focussed on the mostly likely at risk group – those with longer than 10 years of exposure – where there is a 1.5 to 2-fold risk of head cancers compared to controls, especially on the side of the head where the phone is most used.

The second review [3], published in February 2011, is particularly significant as the lead author Elizabeth Cardis was the Interphone study coordinator, while her co-author Siegal Sadetzki is another Interphone study participant. They examined both the Hardell and Interphone results and concluded that overall, the findings suggest “the existence of possible association” between mobile phone use and head cancers, and recommended simple and low cost measures to reduce exposures as a precaution particularly among young people.

A new paper from Japan [5], not included in the review, also found an increased risk for acoustic neuromas in the longer exposed groups.

McGlade and Gee made special reference to non-thermal effects of EMFs monograph published by the Ramazzine Institute [6] (see [7] Quantum Coherent Water, Non-thermal Effect, & Homeopathy, SiS 51), which provides a “wealth of evidence” to counteract the claim that there are no biologically significant effects from non-thermal EMFs, these well-documented thermal EMF effects are further grounds for heeding the early warnings and taking the precautionary measures.

Lack of transparency in reporting controversial data

McGlade and Gee criticised the lack of transparency in reporting controversial data in the Interphone study [8], a research programme set up in 2000 to investigate the association between mobile phone use and cancer risk, particularly brain, head or neck. It has been coordinated by the international Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation. The study involves research in 13 countries; Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the UK. 

The study was completed in 2006 but only finally published in 2010, the delay apparently caused by the 13 scientists who were unable to agree on interpretations of the results. However, these differences were not made explicit in the published report, despite request from the EEA in 2009 to make these differences of interpretation transparent, in order to help decision makers and the public better understand how different scientists can come to very different conclusions about the same data.

To make things worse, media reports were contradictory.  Cardis, the coordinator of the Interphone study, thought that “overall…the results show a real effect”, in line with report co-authors Armstrong, who thought that the results show “some indication of a risk of gliomas”, but could not be said “with certainty” and Sadetzki, who thought the results consistently indicate a risk that while not “strong enough for a causal interpretation,..are sufficient to support precautionary policies.” However, co-author, Feychting was reported saying: “the use of mobile phones for over ten years shows no increased risk of brain tumours.”

Feychting and Ahlbom, another Interphone co-author, took part in a press conference at their institute in Sweden a day before the IARC embargo release date, which compounded the confusion. Ahlbom has since been exposed for serious conflict of interest through links to a lobbying company for the telecoms industry [2].

Lack of independent research

If the public and environment are to be adequately protected from hazards of new technologies, there needs to be sufficient independent research into potential risks early enough for preventing them, McGlade and Gee stated. “We are concerned that over the last three decades there have been large reductions in independently funded scientific research on environmental and related health risks compared to privately funded research on developing the new technologies.

Here they widened their criticism to other areas. For example, £220 m was spend on applications of nanotechnologies by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council compared with less than £2 m on the potential environment, health and safety hazards of nanotechnology. They also drew attention to some areas such as EMFs and GMOs (genetically modified organisms), where “significant barriers to independent research have also been created.”

“Early warning” scientists should be protected

Finally, McGlade and Gee said “It is important for society, science and public health that scientists who bring early warnings of possible later harm are encouraged, rather than harassed.” Harassment of scientists is widespread, and include those studying climate change, GMOs and EMFs, and “scientific associations, lawyers and politicians should consider ways in which societies could provide greater protection for them.”

Unfortunately, the harassment and victimization of honest scientist continue even as the WHO’s IARC was forced into admitting EMFs associated with wireless phones are “possibly carcinogenic” [2].

Article first published 15/06/11


  1. McGlade J and Gee D. Statement on Mobile Phones and the Potential Head Cancer Risk for the Hearing on EMF, Council of Europe, Paris, 25 February 2011,
  2. Ho MW. Wireless phones “possibly carcinogenic”. Science in Society 51.
  3. Hardell L. Wireless phone use and brain tumour risk. In Non Thermal Effects and Mechanisms of Interaction between Electromagnetic Fields and Living Matter (Guiliani L and Soffritti M eds,) pp. 363-78, ICEMS, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna, Italy., 2010.
  4. Cardis E and Sadetzki S. Indications of possible brain tumour risk in mobile phone studies: should we be concerned?. Occup Environ Med  2011, 68, 169-71.
  5. Sato Y, Akiba S, Kubo O and Yamaguchi N. A case-case study of mobile phone use and acoustic neuroma risk in Japan. Bioelectromagnetics 2011, 32, 85–93.
  6. Giuliani L and Soffritti M. eds. Non-thermal Effects and Mechanisms of Interaction between electromagnetic Fields and Living Matter, an ICEMS Mongraph, Ramazzini Institute, European Journal of Oncology Library vol.5, Bologna, Italy, 2010.
  7. Ho MW. Quantum coherent water, non-thermal EMF effects, & homeopathy. Science in Society 51.
  8. The Interphone Study, Health Protection Agency, topics, accessed 7 May 2011,

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Li Kangmin Comment left 19th June 2011 20:08:50
Dear Mae-wan: Could you permit me to translate this article for J. of World Environment? If permitted please send Note 1 to me by email. Thanks Li Kangmin