Science in Society Archive

Wireless Phone Radiation “Possibly Carcinogenic”

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields hazardous to health, says the World Health Organization, after decades of denial; European Parliament recognizes non-thermal EMF effects along with the precautionary principle, calling for lower exposure limits and “genuine independence” of scientific research and  expertise Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and other electrical installations in our environment, homes, and workplaces “possibly carcinogenic to humans” , the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced 31 May 2011, based on an increased  risk for glioma, a malignant brain cancer associated with the use of wireless phones [1]. Earlier in the month, the European Parliament Assembly passed a landmark resolution calling for lower electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure limits, explicitly recognizing for the first time the potentially harmful, non-thermal biological effects of very weak EMFs on plants, insects and animals, as well as human beings [2]. 

These non-thermal EMF effects have their origins in the non-equilibrium thermodynamics and quantum coherence of organisms (see [3] The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms, I-SIS publication) that mainstream biologists, mobile phone companies and regulators alike (including the WHO) have persistently ignored and dismissed, despite repeated warnings from scientists for over three decades (see [4] Non-Thermal Effects , SiS 17). I hope they will now take those effects seriously, in the interest of science and public health (see [5] Quantum Coherent Water , Non-thermal EMF Effects, & Homeopathy and other articles in the series, SiS 51).

WHO Working Group of 31 scientists

WHO’s announcement [1] came after a week of deliberation by a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries at the IARC in Lyon, France.  The Group assessed the available literature on occupational exposures to radar and microwaves, environmental exposures associated with transmission for radio, television and wireless telecommunication, and personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.  A monograph will be published.

Speaking for the Group, Chair Jonathan Samet from University of Southern California, USA, said that “the evidence while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion ... The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.” Director of IARC Christopher Wild called for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones.

European Parliament reaffirms the precautionary approach calling for lower exposure limits & independent scientific expertise

The European Parliament Assembly Report [2] is a much more detailed document. It states in the summary [2]: “One must respect the precautionary principle and revise the current threshold values; waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.” The Assembly recommended the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable) for the exposure standards of EMFs to cover both thermal and non-thermal effects.

The Assembly noted “clear parallels with other current issues, such as the licensing of medication, chemicals pesticides, heavy metals or genetically modified organisms.” Consequently, it stressed that the “independence and credibility of scientific expertise” as being crucial for a “transparent and balanced assessment of potential negative impacts on the environment and human health.”

A comprehensive list of recommendations

The Assembly drew up a comprehensive list of recommendations to the member states of the Council of Europe (which include more countries in Europe outside the European Union), urging them to take all reasonable measure to reduce exposure to EMFs from mobile phones, particularly for children and young people.

In general, member states should reconsider the scientific basis for the exposure limits set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNRP), pay particular attention to electrosensitive persons suffering from a syndrome of intolerance to EMFs, and  introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network. It recommends research on new types of antennas and mobile phones, DECT (digital enhanced cordless telecommunications) devices, and telecommunication based on other technologies that are just as efficient but have less negative effects (such as those based on optical frequencies and infrared light, as suggested by the rapporteur).

For private use, the recommendations include setting thresholds for levels of long-term exposure to microwaves in all indoor areas not exceeding 0.6 V per metre, and in the medium term to reduce to 0.2 V per metre;  risk-assessment for all new types of device prior to licensing; clear labelling indicating the presence of microwaves or EMFs, the transmitting power or the specific absorption rate (SAR) of the device and any health risks connected with its use; and raising awareness on potential health risks of DECT-type wireless telephones, baby monitors and other domestic appliances that emit continuous pulse waves.

For the protection of children, the recommendations include town planning measures to keep high-voltage power lines and other electric installations at a safe distance from dwellings;, strict safety standards for electric systems in new dwellings, reducing threshold values for relay antennas in accordance with the ALARA principle and install systems for comprehensive and continuous monitoring of all antennas; and siting any new GSM, UMTS, WiFi or WIMAZ antennas in consultation with local and regional government officials, local residents and associations of concerned citizens.

Risk assessment should be more prevention- oriented in accordance with the precautionary principle. Early warning scientists must be protected, and public funding for independent research should be increased,  through grants from industry and taxation of products; furthermore, independent commissions should be created for allocating the public funds. Lobby groups must be clearly identified and made transparent, and debates between all stakeholders including civil society should be promoted in accordance with the Aarhus Convention.

Serious conflict of interests among scientists involved in risk assessment

The Assembly Report points to clear parallels of EMF regulation with licensing of chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals or GMOs, and strongly criticized the regulatory agencies: “It is certain that one cause of public anxiety and mistrust of the communication efforts of official safety agencies and government lies in the fact that a number of past health crises or scandals, such as those involving asbestos, contaminated blood, PCBs or dioxins, lead, tobacco smoking and more recently HINI flu were able to happen despite the work or even with the complicity of national or international agencies nominally responsible for environment or health safety.”

The Report highlights the problem of conflict of interests among scientists involved in official agencies responsible for evaluating the risks prior to licensing. The rapporteur calls attention to the fact that the ICNIRP, which drew up the official exposure limits is “an NGO whose origin and structure are none too clear”, and  “furthermore suspected of having rather close links with the industries whose expansion is shaped by recommendations for maximum threshold values for the different frequencies of electromagnetic fields.”

With regard to the frequently inconclusive and contradictory findings of scientific research on the possible risks of products, medicines, or EMFs, the Report mentions the fairly strong correlation between funding and finding. In 2006, Swiss researchers from Bern University showed that 33 percent of studies funded by industry conclude exposure to mobile telephone radio frequencies had an effect; the figure rises to over 80 percent  in studies that were publicly funded.

“Accordingly, in this field and in others, one should call for genuine independence on the expert appraisal agencies and for independent, multidisciplinary and properly balanced expert input.” The report states. “There must no longer be situations where whistleblowers are discriminated against and  renowned scientists with critical opinions are excluded when  experts are selected to sit on expert committees or no longer receive funding for their research.”

Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened, even as IARC was preparing to make its announcement (see Box).

IARC exposed for conflicts of interest while good scientists are victimised

Olle Johansson at Karolinska’s Department of Neuroscience, who for years has gained international recognition alerting the public on the health hazards of EMFs, was evicted from his lab on 27 May, the same day that the European Parliamentary Assembly called for lowering EMF exposure thresholds [6].

In April 2010, Johansson and other eminent researchers, epidemiologist Anne Sasco at University of Bordeaux and biophysicist Dimitris Panagopoulos at University of Athens, participated in a conference before Canada’s House of Commons Standing Committee on Health outlining the dangers of low level EMFs from cell phones, masts and wi-fi. Thereafter, Panagopoulos was reassigned a windowless workspace “the size of a toilet cubicle.” When he found a research post elsewhere, the University of Athens refused to let him take up the new position. Panagopoulous proved microwave radiation damages DNA.

On 8 March 2011, International Women’s day, Sasco’s offices were taken from her by the University administration at Bordeaux.

Just prior to the IARC scientific Working Group meeting, Anders Ahlbom, Professor and Head of the Institute of Environmental Medicine At Karolinska Institute, and member of the IARC, withdrew from the meeting, after he was accused of influencing policy relating to the safety of microwave communications. Swedish investigative journalist Mona Nilsson revealed a serious conflict of interest on the part of Ahlbom, who chaired the ICNIRP Standing Committee on epidemiology until 2008, and has been a member of ICNIRP from 1995 to 2008.

Michael Repacholi - former head of the WHO EMF project, now in business as an industry consultant - and Albom were members of the expert group responsible for setting the high EMF exposure limits we have today. Nilsson uncovered Ahlbom’s connection to his brother’s lobbying company in Brussels. Ahlbom created the lobby firm in 2010 with his brother and sister-in-law who live in Brussels. The brother, Gunnar Ahlbom, has been a telecoms lobbyist in Brussels since the early 90s, and was already active in this field in 1998 when Ahlbom participated in setting the controversial ICNIRP standards on radiation. 

Nilsson listed seven other scientists with conflicts of interest, who were either participants or observers (or would-be observers until turned down) at the IARC meeting.

Data from IARC’s controversial Interphone Study (see main text) have been available since 2004, but only the pooled data were accessible at the IARC meeting; the resulting monograph will be “a travesty for science and public heath”, according to the civil society EMF Alliance.

Exposure limits based solely on thermal effects

The exposure limits of 100 mT for the magnetic component of low or high frequency electromagnetic fields, and 41/42 V/m for the electric component of very high frequency mobile telephony (900 MHz) were set to protect the public against thermal effects only. Regulators and mobile phone companies have persistently denied the existence of non-thermal effects elicited by EMFs that are weaker by a thousand fold or more.

Scientific studies demonstrating the negative effects of certain microwave frequencies on  plants, insects, wildlife or farm animals and human subjects are “very numerous indeed”, the Report stressed. The “Bioinitiative” report of 2007 analysed more than 2 000, and more were added by a monograph published 2010 by the Ramazzini Insittute in Bologna, Italy.

Moreover, a “significant number of top scientists and researchers” have formed the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS) in order to carry out independent research and recommend that the precautionary principle be applied, calling for “far tougher new safety standards and rules.”

Abundant evidence on non-thermal effects still being dismissed

Scientific studies have demonstrated non-thermal biological effects on cells, the nervous system and genetic/epigenetic system. EMFs affect metabolism, sleep, and the electrocardiogram. The studies include epidemiological observations on prolonged use of mobile phones or living near high voltage power lines, base stations or relay antennas.

A major programme of research (REFLEX) funded by the European Commission and involving 12 European research teams, published 2004, found genotoxic effects involving breakages of chromosomes and DNA in cultured human and animal cells, and greatly increased synthesis of stress proteins as the result of EMF exposure at non-thermal levels. (But the results were dismissed because the investigations were intentionally confined to cultured cells, and hence could not be extended to whole organisms ;see [7] Confirmed: Mobile Phones Break DNA & Scramble Genomes, SiS 25).

The Interphone study- the biggest epidemiological survey on the risk of brain tumours - ended with “a profound disagreement between teams of researchers” over the interpretation of the results, but no one could conclude there was no risk (see [8] European Environment Agency Highlight Mobile Phone Cancer Risks, SiS 51). One of the principle weaknesses of the study was the period of analysis, which was too short compared to the latency period for cancer.

Industry is aggressively seeking expansion

Meanwhile, the industry is seeking a further expansion of mobile telephony infrastructure for hosting the fourth generation 4G facility. Notably, Israel has opposed these new infrastructures based on the precautionary principle, and would not authorize the new systems until the effects of the irradiations are verified.

The Assembly Report states [2]: “In connection with the proven or potential risks of electromagnetic fields, it should be noted that after a Lloyd’s report, insurance companies tended to withhold coverage for risks linked with electromagnetic fields under civil liability policies, in the same way as, for example, genetically modified organisms or asbestos, which is hardly reassuring given the potential risks that stem from these electromagnetic fields.”

To conclude

The Report ends with a strong conclusion [2]: “After analysing the scientific studies available to date, and also following the hearings for expert opinions organised in the context of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, there is sufficient evidence of potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on fauna, flora and human health to react and to guard against potentially serious environmental and health hazards.”

The Assembly repeated its resolutions passed in 1999 and 2009 which overwhelmingly supported the precautionary principle for taking preventive actions against the harmful effects of EMFs, in particular by substantially lowering the exposure thresholds for workers and the general public according to the ALARA principle, by restoring “genuine independence of research in that field”, and through “enhanced information and transparency” towards the general public.

Article first published 08/06/11


  1. “IARC classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to human”, World Health Organization Press Release No. 208, 31 May 2011.
  2. Huss J. The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment. Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, Parliamentary Assembly, 6 May 2011.
  3. Ho MW. The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms, World Scientific, Singapore, and London, 1993; 2nd ed. 1998, reprinted 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 3rd ed. 2008.
  4. Ho MW. Non-thermal effects. Science in Society 17, 12-13+43, 2003.
  5. Ho MW. Quantum coherent water, non-thermal EMF effects, & homeopathy. Science in Society 51.
  6. “Prof. Johansson loses lab: IARC loses credibility, Karolinksa Institue teaches science world a lesson in politics – shut up or get out”, John Weigel,, 31 May 2011,
  7. Ho MW and Saunders PT. Confirmed: mobile phones break DNA & scramble genomes but no health risks? Science in Society 25 46-47, 2005.
  8. Ho MW. European Environment Agency highlights mobile phone cancer risks. Science in Society 51.

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There are 5 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

john macswayde clements Comment left 9th June 2011 01:01:24
at long last.....near truth emerges as 2011 evolves. what will be further revealed as we get to 2012?

Gene Sperling Comment left 9th June 2011 03:03:19
The increase in studies and research being compromised by lobbying groups, revolving door corporate executives sitting on scientific committees, and paid consultants who misrepresent faulty research in a context designed to defeat and delay meaningful science seems out of control. The punishment of noted scientific authors who speak out against compromise is unacceptable. Where does it stop? Who is able to stop it? From the pharmaceutical industry to the chemical/pesticide industry the evidence is over-whelming, and politicians are the pawns who perpitrate the crime. I have witnessed (in the US) how the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, just two years ago, has accelerated through politics and into disguising scientific thought. Science has been replaced with magic. I appreciate and applaud the courage of scientists and researchers who have staked their careers on the Truth. Bravo! It will take every ounce of public education and awareness we can summon to overcome this media monster.

Rory Short Comment left 10th June 2011 02:02:23
Until it becomes obligatory for all units of currencies to carry a publically available history of the legal identities of their various holders those with money will continue to use money to pay lobbyists etc to influence official decisions in their favour.

FTF Comment left 13th June 2011 16:04:57
Is it possible in the near future we will have both private and public sectors listing or admitting some GMO crops that are deregulated, and no longer commercially grown but still with widespread global contamination in the food chain, list them as being possible cancer causing. It seems probable, imho. Most people I come across are right wing or far right. Not many people like the left slanting people. I can't say I understand why people label one another due to a few policies they align themselves with and forget all of the other issues. I think we are too easily played and controlled, by others and ourselves. Why be so divided. So many people seem to support private companies, more than ever before, no matter what kind of reputation or history they have. Few people actually care to discern for themselves or do any real due diligence. CELL PHONE radiation has always been a cause for concern when used heavily every day, but what about the electronic smog that is everywhere, and digital radio waves, there are so many of them in this information age. In many countries the Intelligence agencies use analogue radio waves for spying and monitoring all electronic communications, globally, it is non targeted and non discriminating, so not specifically targeting any one type of individual, so we are told. Instead their systems scan for keywords. Part of echelon are UK, USA, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, New Zealand and numerous other countries. We do not have privacy, we do not have freedom of choice, we have few rights that are not violated. Where have our natural born rights gone. Why are we so a=pathetic. I apologize for going off topic, but I feel this is in some way related to online and electronic communications.

Felicia N Trujillo, ND Comment left 12th June 2011 06:06:37
This is the most comprehensive article on the issues surrounding research, the pronouncements of industry-funded research,ICNIRP, and the abusive harrassment of those courageous scientists who lived up to their professional ethics is publishing what their science established as facts. Thank you so much! From Santa Fe, NM.