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16 March 2013

European Environment Agency: Mobile Phone Use and Brain Tumor Risk: Early Warnings, Early Actions?


Readers seem to be interested in the 23 January 2013 Report by the European Environment Agency on “Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation”.  The report is the second of its type produced by the European Environment Agency (EEA) in collaboration with a broad range of external authors and peer reviewers. The case studies across both volumes of Late lessons from early warnings cover a diverse range of chemical and technological innovations, and highlight a number of systemic problems. The 'Late Lessons Project' illustrates how damaging and costly the misuse or neglect of the precautionary principle can be, using case studies and a synthesis of the lessons to be learned and applied to maximising innovations whilst minimising harms. The report includes discussions on Fukushima and genetically modified oranisms. 

The following extract is from Part C: “Emerging Issues” on “Mobile phone use and brain tumor risk; early warning, early actions?” – an excerpt from the Introduction and the full text of the Conclusions.

21 Mobile phone use and brain tumour risk: early warnings, early actions? 
by Lennart Hardell, Michael Carlberg and David Gee

Introduction 

… The chapter points to mobile phone industry inertia in considering the various studies and taking the IARC carcinogenic classification into account and a failings from the media in providing the public with robust and consistent information on potential health risks. The IARC carcinogenic classification also appears not to have had any significant impact on governments' perceptions of their responsibilities to protect public health from this widespread source of radiation.

The benefits of mobile telecommunications are many but such benefits need to be accompanied by consideration of the possibility of widespread harms. Precautionary actions now to reduce head exposures would limit the size and seriousness of any brain tumour risk that may exist. Reducing exposures may also help to reduce the other possible harms that are not considered in this case study.

Evidence is increasing that workers with heavy long-term use of wireless phones who develop glioma or acoustic neuroma should be compensated. The first case in the world was established on 12 October 2012. The Italian Supreme Court affirmed a previous ruling that the Insurance Body for Work (INAIL) must grant worker's compensation to a businessman who had used wireless phones for 12 years and developed a neuroma in the brain.

Concluding remarks

It is sometimes claimed by the telecommunications industry and others that:

• the scientific basis for the current ICNIRP limits for exposure to EMF is adequate to protect the public from cancer risks;

• that children are no more sensitive than adults to the RF from mobile phones;

• that there are no biologically significant effects from non-thermal levels of EMF, and

• that, if there are such effects, there are no acceptable mechanisms of action that could explain these effects.

However the recent 400-page review by the Ramazzini Institute and The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS) provides a wealth of evidence on the non–thermal biological and ecological effects of EMF (Giuliani and Soffritti, 2010). The EEA summarised the main findings of this report in its evidence to the Council of Europe' hearing on RF and mobile phones in 2011 (EEA, 2011a, 2011b).

Results from the Hardell-group as well as from the Interphone group show an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma associated with long term mobile phone use. Also use of cordless phones increases the risk when properly assessed and analysed. The risk is highest for ipsilateral exposure to the brain of RF-EMF emissions. Adolescents seem to be at higher risk than adults. For meningioma there is no consistent pattern of increased risk.

Furthermore, of interest is that in the same studies different results were obtained for different tumour types. This strongly argues against systematic bias as an explanation of the findings. In that case the results would have been similar regardless of tumour type.

The IARC conclusion that RF-EMF emissions overall, e.g. occupational and from wireless phones, are possibly carcinogenic to humans, Group 2B (Baan et al., 2011) has been questioned by e.g. members of ICNIRP (Swerdlow et al., 2011). That article appeared online 1 July, 2011, one month after the IARC decision, and concluded that the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypotheses that mobile phone use can cause brain tumors in adults. There has also been unfounded attacks on individual researchers as exemplified in this article, a pattern that repeats similar experiences in the asbestos, lead and tobacco histories. Published results on health effects are questioned by using obscure methods and citing single results out of context without considering the overall pattern.

There is a lack of investigating journalists who can produce nuanced reports in the media. Most journalists seem to make only reference to news reports or press releases without making their own evaluations or without seeming to have read the original articles. Many limitations of epidemiological studies are to be found in the text, but rarely in the abstract which is most often all that is read. Without accurate and reliable reporting in the media the public do not get a robust and consistent information on potential health risks to make their own judgements about how precautionary they should be.

It is remarkable that the IARC carcinogenic classification does not seem to have had any significant impact on governments' perceptions of their responsibilities to protect public health from this widespread source of radiation, especially given the ease with which exposures can be reduced (i.e. texting, handsfree devices and better phone design).

Independent research into the many unknowns about the biological and ecological effects of RF radiations are urgently needed, given the global exposure of over 5 billion people and many other species, especially those, like bees and some birds whose navigation systems are possibly being affected by such radiations (Balmori, 2005, 2009; Sharma and Kumar, 2010), and effects on breeding of wild birds (Everaert and Bauwens, 2007). Research could be in part funded by relevant industries from levies on phones and masts but used independent from their influence.

The benefits of mobile telecommunications are many, but, as with other case studies in the Late lessons from early warnings Volume 1 (EEA, 2001) and the present report, such benefits need not to be accompanied by the possibility of widespread harms. Precautionary actions now to reduce head exposures, as pointed out by the EEA in 2007, and many others since, would limit the size and seriousness of any brain tumour risk that may exist. Reducing exposures may also help to reduce the other possible harms that are not considered in this case study.

Epilogue

The Italian Supreme Court affirmed a previous ruling that the Insurance Body for Work (INAIL) must grant worker's compensation to a businessman who had used wireless phones for 12 years and developed a neurinoma in the brain (http://www. applelettrosmog.it/public/news.php?id_news=44;
http://microwavenews.com/news-center/italian-supreme-court-affirms-tumor-risk). He had used both mobile and cordless phones for five to six hours per day preferably on the same side as the tumour developed. The neurinoma was located in the trigeminal Gasser's ganglion in the brain. This 5th cranial nerve controls facial sensations and muscles. It is the same type of tumour as the acoustic neuroma in the 8th cranial nerve located in the similar area of the brain. Although neurinoma is a benign tumour it causes persistent disabling symptoms after treatment with neurological impairment that severely affects the daily life. The Italian case fulfils the criteria for a causal association; more than 10 years use of wireless phones, high cumulative exposure on the same side as the tumour appeared, and a tumour type that would be predicted based on previous research on use of wireless phones and brain tumour risk. No further appeal of the Supreme Court decision is possible.

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