Two new international studies implicating cell phone in some forms of brain tumors are deepening scientists’ worries about the long-term consequences of human exposure to cell phone radiation, especially among children and heavy cell phone users.
“Academic studies with data over 10 years are consistently finding an increased risk of tumors, exactly as we have reported,” said Environmental Working Group Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko, Ph.D..
EWG study echoed
Naidenko, lead author of EWG’s September 2009 report, Cell Phone Radiation: Science Review on Cancer Risks and Children’s Health, says both new studies bolster EWG findings that over the long term, people should take steps to minimize exposure to cell phone emissions, especially their children’s use of the devices.
“Now that four-fifths of the American population are using cell phones,” Naidenko said, “the U.S. government should take a hard look at these findings and update its last-century standards.”
Industry studies found lower risks
Joel Moskowitz, Ph.D., director of the University of California-Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health, and an author of the U.S.-South Korean analysis, said he and his colleagues had observed a “very disconcerting” pattern: “a large discrepancy” between rigorously-designed studies, generally those conducted by financially independent research institutions and “low-quality” studies funded mostly by the cell phone industry.
Industry-financed studies, Moskowitz said, tended to conclude that cell phone use was harmless, or actually beneficial. “It almost seems like they’ve stacked the deck to not find an effect” from cell phone radiation, Moskowitz told Environmental Working Group in an interview last week.
The industry-backed studies “do find some inflated risks in terms of long term users,” Moskowitz said, “but they dismiss [these findings] as not significant.”
By contrast, he said, “the higher quality studies have produced “very systematic and consistent evidence that there are [health] effects, and they see stronger effects where you’d most expect to see them — with longer exposure and on the same side of the brain where the phone is used.”
Conflicts of interest questioned
Because of reservations about potential conflicts of interest, the team, led by researcher-physician Seung-Kwon Myung of the South Korean National Cancer Center, who conducted the initial research while a visiting scholar at U.C.-Berkeley, took the unusual step of analyzing studies according to financial backing. “We feel the need to mention the funding sources for each research group,” the research paper noted, “because it is possible that these may have influenced the respective study designs and results.”
Scientists urge global cell phone regulation reviews
The Australian-European study, led by Vini Khurana, Ph.D., of the Canberra Hospital Department of Neurosurgery and the Australian National University, reviewed 11 international studies of epidemiological data concerning long-term cell phone users. The scientists found significant associations between glioma, an often malignant brain tumor and acoustic neuroma, a usually benign tumor, but not another generally benign brain tumor called a meningioma.
Although more study should be done, the scientists said, enough is known about the dangers of cell phone radiation to warrant “reassessment by governments worldwide of cell phone and also mast radiation exposure standards and the usage and deployment of this technology.” They added:
“If the epidemiologic data continue to be confirmed, then in the absence of appropriate
and timely intervention and given the increasing global dependence on cell phone technology especially among the young generation, it is likely that neurosurgeons will see increasing numbers of primary brain tumors, both benign and malignant.”
Cautions for youthful cell phone
Moskowitz agreed. “You certainly don’t want to be exposing your adolescents, children or babies to unnecessary risks when there are simple things you can do to protect them,” he said.
He advocated encouraging young cell users to send text-messages, because holding a phone 10 inches from the head reduces radiation exposure by a factor of 400. As well, he said, children and adults alike should not keep their phones in pants pockets or in belt holsters because the devices are emitting radiation whenever they’re switched on.
None of this is the last word on cell phone radiation. Other studies are in the works, including a nine-year, multi-national research project under the aegis of the World Health Organization and a series of studies backed by the U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program. Many more academic and government studies are underway. There’s no guarantee that any of these efforts will provide definitive answers.
So in the meantime, consumers are smart to take sensible, practical precautions, for themselves, and especially for their children.