As more evidence emerges of a link between mobile phone use and glioma brain tumours, a group representing the UK engineering and technology profession has issued a report entirely at odds with the new evidence. The report takes the usual industry line that harm from mobile phones is limited to heating effects, and concludes that low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are perfectly safe.

Link between heavy mobile phone use and brain tumours

The results of CERENAT, a French case-control study on mobile phone usage, were recently published online in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The study gathered data from 253 patients with gliomas and 194 with meningiomas, matched with 892 control subjects, using a detailed questionnaire. The authors reported “a possible association between heavy mobile phone use and brain tumours”, echoing previous warnings. The authors concluded that glioma risk was greater for the heaviest users “when considering life-long cumulative duration and number of calls.  Risks were higher for gliomas, temporal tumours, occupational and urban mobile phone use”. The latter finding is particularly interesting, since it may point to an interactive or additive effect between widespread ‘electrosmog’ or other city-specific factors — perhaps even psychosocial stress — and mobile phone use.

‘Independent’ industry group: low-level EMF exposure not harmful

Meanwhile, the UK Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) – “the largest multidisciplinary professional engineering institution in the world” according to Wikipedia – has published the latest findings of its Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group (BEPAG).  BEPAG concludes: “The balance of scientific evidence to date does not indicate that harmful effects occur in humans due to low-level exposure to EMFs”.

BEPAG’s dismissal of concerns appears flippant and unconvincing when one considers the wealth of evidence for harm detailed in the comprehensive BioInitiative 2012 report, authored by 29 independent scientists with specialisms in the field.  BioInitiative 2012 informs us that effects of low-level EMF exposure specifically on cell DNA were recorded in no less than 27 studies, e.g. Ahuja et al, 1999.  Even a mobile telephone company patent application from 2003 acknowledged the cancer risk from wi-fi communications.

Mobile phones: no persuasive evidence, says ‘independent’ industry report

On mobile phones, which have now been around for about 20 years, BEPAG concludes:  “The existing data do not provide persuasive evidence that harmful health effects exist”.  But studies such as CERENAT and those of Dr Lennart Hardell, highlighted by BioInitiative, suggest otherwise.  BEPAG even dismisses concerns about health effects in children, which are being taken very seriously elsewhere.  The whimsically named SCAMP – Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones – study, funded by government and industry and run by Imperial College London, will investigate the effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) on the mental development of 2,500 children. It’s worth noting that funding for such studies does not materialise when there is scientific certainty of zero risk as proposed by BEPAG and others.

Mobile phone harm not limited to heating effects

BEPAG adopts the flawed premise that the only way that radiofrequency (RF)-EMR exposure can damage health is through a heating effect on tissues – the official line of the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR).

However, the conclusions of the BioInitiative 2012 report include: “It appears it is the information conveyed by electromagnetic radiation (rather than heat) that causes biological changes – some of these biological changes may lead to loss of wellbeing, disease and even death”.  What’s more, “There may be no lower limit at which exposures do not affect is unwise from a public health perspective to continue “business-as-usual” deploying new technologies that increase ELF and RF exposures”.

BEPAG expresses concern about the “scientific robustness” of research suggesting health issues associated with EMR, particularly a lack of “independent replication” of initial studies, and bemoans the prominence of such reports in the media. We think it’s no surprise that experimental replication may be slow in emerging, given the lack of research funding in the area. But BEPAG’s apparent distress also rings hollow when one considers its own ‘examination’ of the scientific literature is entirely unreferenced. Even a brief position paper such as this should find space to show us how it reached its conclusions.

If not a whitewash, then BEPAG’s report is at least a considered ‘toeing of the line’ that bolsters the position of the UK government and scientific establishment. Until such time as industry and government alike take on board a full and comprehensive analysis of the available evidence, it is up to us to take the steps necessary to avoid harm from our gadgets and mobile phones.

Apple iPhone take on EMFs

If you’ve got an iPhone, have you ever read the Legal notice that’s tucked away in the Settings? Got to Settings > General > About > Legal > RF Exposure.

Following is an excerpt: “To reduce exposure to RF [radio frequency] energy, use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories. Carry iPhone at least 10 mm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below as-tested levels.”

And how many people really know not to put their phone to their head or not to carry it in their pocket?

With such advice buried so deep in the iPhone’s menu system, it sounds to us like the manufacturers well understand their need to protect themselves from future litigation by brain cancer victims.

How to protect yourself

  • Turn off mobile phone devices when not in use, or switch to 'Airplane Mode', switch off Wi-Fi connectivity (for both open networks and your provider network if you can independently control them), 3G, 4G and Bluetooth when not in use  
  • Turn off wireless connectivity to your personal computers, laptops, tablets, media players, when not using the Internet and especially overnight. Use hardwired Internet connections where possible. If you use a wireless Internet router, then speak to your service provider about how best to turn it off when not in use, since simply switching it off can sometimes reduce the efficiency of your Broadband connection. Be aware of other closed and open networks in the vicinity, and give yourself time away from these where possible 
  • Be aware that when the signal is poor your phone will 'hunt' more intensively for a signal. Avoid using mobile phone devices when signal is poor, when travelling at high speed, or when surrounded by metal, such as in aircraft, lifts, trains and other vehicles. Even when Wi-Fi is provided, and being used, the phone will still be searching for a signal
  • Avoid holding the phone in contact with your ear or body at any time. Use the speakerphone, an 'airtube' or use sufficient volume or speakerphone so you can hear the phone when it is at least 10 mm away from your ear. 
  • Avoid carrying your mobile phone in your pocket, on your belt or close to your body. Keeping the phone more than 10-30 mm away from your body greatly reduces the amount of RF radiation to which you are exposed.
  • Reduce the time you spend in places where many people are using mobile phones in close proximity to one another  
  • Use a wired land line phone where possible, and avoid talking on your mobile phone for longer than absolutely necessary. Use speaker phone or text if possible
  • Be particularly careful about your RG exposure if you feel you are hypersensitive to RF radiation, are planning for a baby, or if pregnant 
  • Avoid using wired headsets, which act as antennas. Use an airtube headset, with or without ferrite beads, which may offer additional protection
  • Avoid use of cordless phones and Smart meters, where possible
  • When buying a mobile phone, first check the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). The lower, the better
  • Be especially aware of and reduce children’s exposure. Discourage use of mobile phones, tablets and wireless technology as much as possible, particularly whilst they are very young. Use hardwired networks where possible. If possible, turn wi-fi off on devices being used by kids. Campaign with other parents to use hardwired networks in schools that are still using wireless Internet routers. Help educate children to use the technology safely, and to be EMR savvy, in the same way as you would teach them to cross the road safely  
  • If you suspect you have EMS symptoms, then keep a diary of your EMR exposure and when your symptoms appear, to check for correlation. Show and discuss this with your doctor or healthcare provider
  • Express any concerns you have about EMR and EMS to your elected representatives, and ask them what is being done to make the technology safer
  • For further information and suggestions, please visit our Electro-Magnetic Radiation campaign page 


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