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U.S. Government Study on Cell Phone-like Radiation

“Game-changing” or just another study?

More threads of evidence are aligning that microwave, radiofrequency radiation (RFR) causes cancer. The first reports are emerging from a world leader in determining hazards and risks of environmental agents, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), within the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This follows on human studies linking cell phone use to brain tumours and increasing incidence of these specific tumours in young Americans, the latest piece of the puzzle is strong evidence of cancer in animal experiments.

With $25 million US, the NTP set out to test the assumption (hypothesis) underlying all regulation of radiation from wireless devices and networks. That is, that the only “established, adverse” biological effects of RFR are related to heating. Emission standards such as Canada’s Safety Code 6 (SC6) are set to preclude more than 1 Celsius degree of heating. “We tested the hypothesis … and that hypothesis is now disproved …“ stated Dr. Ron Melnick, former NTP director of special programs, in a media briefing.


Cell Phone-like Radiation

In elaborate experiments, special “reverberation chamber” individual cages were devised to distribute RFR uniformly, to expose unrestrained animals to whole-body radiation at levels from below the SC6 limit, to 4 times the lowest level (1.5, 3 or 6 Watts per kilogram). Preliminary range-finding experiments determined that the animals did not heat up within this exposure range, so any effects seen are “non-thermal.” Seven groups, of 90 animals each, were exposed to three levels of simulated GSM and CDMA (2G and 3G modulation) RFR signals, or no RFR (control), from gestation to 2 years of life. In contrast, chemical toxicology testing typically exposes groups of 50 animals to levels up to hundreds or thousands of times typical human exposures, so this RFR study is both strong and relevant.

May 27th, 2016, the first set of results were released, by merit of their importance to public health. With RFR exposure, male rats developed significantly more, and/or had significant trends in gliomas (brain cancer) and schwannomas (rare tumors of the nerve sheath) in the heart. Female rats typically have lower numbers of cancers, so although cancers and proliferative lesions (pre-cancerous growths) were seen in exposed female animals and not in controls, these did not gain statistical significance at the 95th percentile level.

A detail that garnered critical attention is that some (not all) of the exposed groups lived longer than control groups. The reason is unknown but the cancer results still stand, as pre-cancerous lesions were seen in no unexposed animals, although lesions were seen early in the exposed animals and there was ample time for control animals to have developed these lesions.

Another criticism was that overall, historical controls in previous studies did develop a low number of tumours. Firstly, zero gliomas or schwannomas had been observed in some previous control groups. Besides, current controls are always preferred because the group of animals, food, water, bedding and housing are all specific to the experiment. For instance, in this case the controls were protected from electromagnetic fields from incubators, fans etc. that might have contributed to outcomes in previous studies. Nevertheless, even when combining historical and current controls, tumour incidence was higher in the exposed animals.

Other researchers also recently reported on cancer in rodents exposed to RFR. A large 2015 study (95 animals per group) exposed mice to much lower RFR levels and/or a known carcinogen (ethylnitrosourea, ENU). In this study, RFR promoted cancer in mice, confirming a 2010 report that UMTS phone signals promoted cancers in mice.

The NTP animal results are directly relevant, because the same tumours have been associated with heavy, long-term, and early initiation of long-term use of cell phones and cordless phones in humans. Gliomas were increased in a French study and follow-up analysis, as well as a large meta-analysis, both published after the International Agency for Research on Cancer panel determination that RFR possibly causes cancer (2011). Acoustic neuromas – schwannomas of the acoustic nerve – also correlate with cell phone use in humans. Thus two tumours, with statistically significant exposure-related trends in rats, are also associated with cell phone use in humans.

Some researchers suggest that little change in overall incidence of brain tumours in populations proves that cell phones don’t cause cancer. In reply, we note that brain tumours occur predominately in the elderly, and in overall statistics these obscure increases in the rarer brain tumours in the young. Indeed, the types of tumours associated with cell phone use, aggressive gliomas, particularly in highly exposed areas of the brain, are in fact
increasing in adolescents and young adults, as seen most recently in the 2016 report from the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the U.S. As well,wireless communications and RFR emissions are escalating very quickly and cancers such as brain tumours have extended latencies, so at best it would be premature to breathe a sigh of relief.

G2 and G3 modulations were examined by the NTP, but G4 and G5 are on their way. New technologies emit lower average power, with savings in battery power, but the signals must still traverse thick walls, and in fact the ratio of peak to average power is higher with modern modulations. Some researchers postulate that these rapidly changing fields may be more biologically potent, and state that RFR technologies should undergo toxicity testing before being deployed.

Cancer is the culmination of many bio-effects, and more details were revealed in a media briefing
hosted by the Israeli Institute of Advanced Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem. It featured Dr. Ronald Melnick, retired NTP scientist and leading architect of the RFR experimental program and Dr. Devra Davis of the U.S. Environmental Health Trust, and was moderated by Prevent Cancer Now Chair Dr. Meg Sears. Dr. Melnick confirmed that the pending report of DNA damage in these animals does indeed report significant damage. As well, in yet-to-be-released studies, a rare heart defect – a right ventricle degenerative lesion – was significantly more frequent in exposed animals.

Wireless technologies are truly changing our lives, but just as we no longer use X-ray machines in shoe stores, in the coming years we will have to choose appropriate applications and alternatives. Individuals, families, students, workers, government and industry can take actions to reduce emissions and exposures. Prevent Cancer Now offers some tips to minimize your personal exposure to RFR.

Environmental Health Trust offers extensive details, history and perspectives on the NTP RFR research program here and catalogues cautionary measures international measures to minimize exposures, particularly of the vulnerable here. Canadians for Safe Technology works to improve policies, scientific processes and regulation, and to reduce exposures to RFR.