A Report on Non-Ionizing Radiation

News Center: Short Takes Archive

July 19, 2011

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) features a two-page piece on the IARC decision in its August 3 issue. Many of the usual cast of characters (Feychting, Hardell, Moskowitz, Samet, Swerdlow, Tarone) are quoted except, surprisingly, anyone from NCI. Not a word from either Peter Inskip or Martha Linet (see June 29).
And there is this in the third paragraph of the story: "The [NCI], the American Cancer Society and other organizations were at pains to update their online information and reassure worried consumers that the [IARC] action was not based on any clinically meaningful new evidence but merely on an evaluation of the existing literature. Experts repeated the familiar mantra 'more research is needed,' even as newspaper headlines warned of the potential risk."

Is it really the NCI's job to pacify the public about uncertain risks?

July 17, 2011

More mixed messages this weekend. In an interview headlined "Cell Phones and Cancer: Is There a Connection?," Nora Volkow, while acknowledging the uncertainties in Interphone and other epidemiological studies, continues to argue that precaution is the most sensible course of action. "I would feel confident saying to parents in particular that they should educate their children to avoid using cell phones close to their ears," she says. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), made a splash earlier this year with her color brain scans showing that cell phone radiation can affect brain metabolism.
In contrast, today Siddhartha Mukherjee offers a more skeptical opinion in the Sunday New York Times. It is consistent with what he published in aTimes magazine article a few months ago. That was before the IARC decision to classify RF radiation as possibly carcinogenic —in opposition to his own outlook and, he says, that of the NCI (yet, see this item below). Mukherjee, a professor at Columbia University who won a Pulitzer prize this year, calls the difference in opinion about cell phones between IARC and other cancer agencies a semantic one because IARC's "definition of 'possibly carcinogenic' is much looser." The "split," he says, "has had the unfortunate effect of confounding the public, which now does not know which faction to believe." On that last part, we can all agree.

June 30, 2011

Danish cancer statistics do not show an elevated risk of acoustic neuroma among those who have used mobile phones for 11 years or more. That's the conclusion of a paper just posted by the American Journal of Epidemiology. Interphone acoustic neuroma results, which, sources say, does point to an increase.

The summary of the IARC's RF monograph meeting indicates that both the Interphone and Danish reports were considered by the working group.

June 29, 2011
Updated November 25, 2015

If Martha Linet had represented NCI at the IARC RF meeting instead of Peter Inskip, she probably would not have walked out before the final vote. Linet would have likely been part of the near unanimous bloc designating cell phone radiation as a possible cause of cancer —based on an interview with Linet in the NCI Cancer Bulletin posted yesterday evening. “If one keeps in mind that possible means ‘maybe,’ that fits with the positive reports but overall inconsistent data,” she said.

One is left to wonder whether Linet, as Inskip's boss, will ask him to temper the minority opinion he is preparing for the final IARC monograph due out next year. It may be only Inskip’s viewpoint but inevitably it’ll be seen as NCI’s. (On July 6, Linet responded that she agrees with the IARC decision —see below.)
Linet also pointed out that NCI is funding four epidemiological studies on potential risk factors for meningioma, a type of brain tumor. The projects will collect information on cell phone use. That surprised Olga Naidenko of the Environmental Working Group because past studies have linked cell phones to glioma, acoustic neuroma and parotid gland tumors but not meningioma. “I am afraid that NCI does not want to find a risk,” she told us.
July 6, 2011

Martha Linet confirmed to Microwave News  that she “agrees” with the IARC Working Group’s decision to classify RF radiation, including cell phone radiation, as 2B, ‘possibly carcinogenic.’ Linet, the chief of NCI’s Radiation Epidemiology Branch, added that her opinion “does not imply that NCI endorses the IARC report as [NCI is] a research institute and not a policy-making agency.”

June 28, 2011

Birds do it, butterflies do it, and now we learn that people may do it too. A group at the University of Massachusetts Medical School led by neurobiologist Steven Reppert reports that humans can sense the Earth's magnetic field. The finding prompts the team to suggest "a reassessment of human magnetosensivitiy may be in order." Check out the story in today's New York Times based on an open access paper posted last week by Nature Communications.

June 24, 2011

The WHO EMF project in Geneva has updated its fact sheet on mobile phones (#193) in light of the IARC decision. WHO continues to maintain, as it did last year following the release of the Interphone study, that, "no adverse health effects [due to mobile phones] have been established."

Beyond that, the fact sheet doesn't say much other than that the jury is still out and that more research is needed. What's most notable is what's not included. There's nothing about precaution or about discouraging use by children. When the fact sheet was first revised back in 2000 (it was originally issued back in 1998), it paid at least lip service to precaution: "If individuals are concerned..." We asked Emilie van Deventer, the leader of the EMF project, why the health agency has nothing to say about precaution for exposures to an IARC-designated possible human carcinogen. No word back yet.

June 21, 2011

The attendance list for last week's Bioelectromagnetics Society meeting in Nova Scotia paints a sorry picture of EMF and RF research in the U.S. Of the fewer than 250 who registered (already a small number), only about 50 were Americans, half as many as who came from Europe. Of the 50, maybe just ten do any research at all. If you eliminate those who either collect or qualify for Social Security, there's practically no one left.

When the old timers stop showing up, only the industry reps and their hirelings will be in the room.

June 17, 2011

You can now get free copies of IEEE EMF and RF safety standards —thanks to the U.S. military. The Naval Surface Warfare Center is sponsoring downloads of five IEEE standards, including those specifying exposure limits for RF/MW radiation (C95.1–2005) and those for power-line frequencies (C95.6–2002). The other three cover how to do measurements and set up a safety program.

The free downloads will continue for at least five years. Click here for more details

June 16, 2011

Who wouldn't be confused? Here's a headline from today's U.K. Daily Mail: "Mobile Phones May NOT Increase Cancer Risk as Most Brain Tumours 'Not Within Radiation Range'." Yet, just two days earlier, it gave its readers a very different message: "Number of People with Brain Cancer Could Soar 20-Fold in 20 Years Because of Mobile Phones, Experts Warn." These opposing stories stem from the two tumor location papers from the warring factions within the Interphone study group: One says there is a tumor risk, the other says everything is just fine (see "Dueling Tumor Location Papers".) By the late afternoon in London, the editors at the Mail must have realized that they looked a bit silly; they reworked today's headline to: "Can Your Mobile Give You  a Brain Tumor? Yes (and No) Say a Battery of Scientists and Experts as Health Controversy Continues." You can still see the old headline in the URL of the updated story.

June 10, 2011

Anders Ahlbom has resigned as the chairman of the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority’s expert group on EMFs and RF radiation.

The group issues an annual review of new research. Ahlbom had served as the chairman ever since the group was established close to a decade ago.

Now that he has stepped down, the Authority has closed its investigation into whether Ahlbom's connection to his brother's telecom consulting firm might have constituted a conflict with his advisory role at the Authority. As is now widely known, that potential conflict prompted IARC to remove him from its RF working group.

No word yet as to who will replace Ahlbom.