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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 2/4/11

The Cellphone/Wi-Fi Controversy

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I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the FDA, acting under pressure from the cellphone and wireless industry, has declared cellphones, Wi-Fi and cellphone towers safe. Nor that industry sponsored research of the health effects of EMR (electromagnetic radiation) comes up with very different results than independent researchers. Nor that government and foundation scientists who publish unfavorable research get fired, blacklisted and demonized. Just like the early warning scientists who warned us of the dangers of cigarettes, asbestos, fluoride and genetically modified crops are dangerous.

Both light and radio waves are natural forms of EMR (electromagnetic radiation) that surround us in the natural environment. EMR can be divided into high energy, or ionizing radiation, and low-energy non-ionizing radiation.  The ionizing radiation, like x-rays and nuclear radiation, actually smashes our fragile biochemistry like the proverbial bull in a China shop.  There's no controversy about the damage that it causes.  The dangers of non-ionizing radiation are more subtle.   Microwave ovens, cellphones, Wi-Fi, radar equipment and high voltage lines produce large amounts of EMR of a different frequency than human beings are exposed to naturally. Scientists have been concerned about potential health risks of microwave exposure since the 1930s, when mechanics working on early radar equipment developed a cluster of rashes, headaches and flu-like illnesses.

Study Shows Cell Phones Prevent Brain Tumors

The FDA has pronounced cell phones safe based on the Interphone Study - a series of multinational, case-controlled studies funded by the UN and the cell phone industry - published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in May 2010. You wonder how any reputable scientific journal could publish a study showing that cellphones reduce the risk of brain tumors. But these industry whores have no shame. Dr Magda Havas, Associate Profession of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University in Canada , has done a detailed analysis of the Interphone study was deliberately designed to minimize adverse effects  (http://www.magdahavas.com/2010/05/20/lessons-from-the-interphone-study/). When this didn't work - frequent cellphone users still came out with a high risk of meningioma - they reported this in two appendices in a separate part of the journal that weren't released to the press.

Examples of bias in the study design:

  1. A "regular" cellphone user was defined as someone who made one cellphone call a week - Havas compares to looking for lung cancer in people who smoke one cigarette a week.
  2. Cordless phone users (who experience the same EMR exposure as cellphone users) were included in the control group (the non-exposed group) instead of the experimental group - whereas in a proper study, a genuine control group would have no EMR exposure at all.
  3. 90+ percent of the control (the supposedly non-exposed group) had used cellphones for 10 years or more - which is problematic, as most brain tumors take 10+ years to develop.
  4. The Interphone studied excluded two important age groups - those under 30 (those most vulnerable to carcinogens, as their cells are dividing rapidly) and those over 60 (an age group with high numbers of brain tumors, given their slow development).

Deliberate Misrepresentation of Results

Obviously the scientists who performed the study knew they had gone too far, when their numbers revealed that heavy cellphone use prevented brain tumors. So they attempted to correct some of the bias statistically in two separate appendices. However the appendices were linked with their report, but were inserted in the back of the May 2010 International Journal of Epidemiology.

  • Appendix 1 - contradicts findings in the body of the report (which reports reduced or no increase in meningioma risk), revealing a 84% increase in subjects using digital and analogue phones and a 343% increase in subjects using "unknown" category phones.
  • Appendix 2 - attempts to statistically correct the downward bias (the four design flaws described above) and comes up with a 68% increase in meningioma risk after 2-4 years cellphone use and a 118% increase in meningioma risk after 10+ years.

What Havas and others, find particularly troubling about the Interphone study is that it relates to cellphone use between 2002-2004, when overall cell phone use (particularly among children) was quite low compared to current use. Moreover, it also excludes any data from US cellphone users.

At November 2010 San Francisco conference "The Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields," Dr Joel Moskovitz presented a larger meta-analysis of independent cell phone studies that points to an average of 18,000 preventable glioma (a highly malignant tumor) deaths directly related to cellphones.

Here's a video of Dr Moskovitz's presentation: http://electromagnetichealth.org/electromagnetic-health-blog/cc-video/


In the US , it appears that the cellphone and wireless industry is also working hard to shut down research about EMR health risks. Scientists like Dr Henry Lai at the University of Washington risk having their careers destroyed by publishing studies about the health hazards of cellphones, cellphone towers and Wi-Fi (see http://www.seattlemag.com/article/nerd-report/nerd-report and http://www.psrast.org/mobileng/mobilstarteng.htm#junk). Lai wasn't even thinking about cellphones when he published a study in 1995 about DNA and memory damage in rats exposed to EMR from radar equipment - until a whistle blower leaked an internal Motorola memo about their plan to institute "war games" to get him fired and cut of his grant funding. Although the University of Washington president resisted their request to fire Lai, lack of funding has forced the scientist to discontinue his EMR research.

Meanwhile, as in the case of fluoride and genetically engineered foods, the European Environment Agency recommends the Precautionary Principle (using all new technology cautiously until industry proves it's safe). They have issued the following six recommendations related to cellphones:

  1. Consumers, especially young adults and children (who are at highest risk for brain tumors) should stick to texting and hands-free sets to avoid exposing their brains to EMR.
  2. Manufacturers should design hands-free phones that are easier for consumers to use.
  3. Cellphones should carry warning labels.
  4. Corporate funded research needs to be more broadly focused on biological effects, rather than being limited to "heating" effects of microwaves.
  5. Governments should place a research levy on cell phones to fund independent research
  6. Governments need to better protect cell phone researchers from retaliation from the industry opponents.

European Warnings on Wi-Fi and Cellphone Towers

Following the release of the 2007 Bioinitiative Report http://mreengenharia.com.br/pdf_novo/report.pdf (which cites European studies showing a tripling of cancer rates following the installation of cellphone towers), the European Environment Agency issued similar warnings on "electrosmog" from Wi-Fi and cellphone towers. It's easy to forget that all of us are constantly exposed to artificially high EMR levels - also known as electrosmog - even if we don't use cellphones, cordless phones or Wi-Fi, or only use them at a safe distance from our bodies. And as with cellphones, the FDA denies there is any risk from exposure to Wi-Fi hotspots or routers or cellphone towers.

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I am a 63 year old American child and adolescent psychiatrist and political refugee in New Zealand. I have just published a young adult novel THE BATTLE FOR TOMORROW (which won a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Award) about a 16 year old girl who (more...)
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