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A Greenfield-type tower used in base stations for mobile telephony

The effect mobile phone radiation has on human health is the subject of recent interest and study, as a result of the enormous increase in mobile phone usage throughout the world (as of June 2009, there were more than 4.3 billion users worldwide[1]). Mobile phones use electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range, and researchers[2] believe this may be either harmful or beneficial to human health. A large body of research exists, both epidemiological and experimental, in non-human animals and in humans. Other digital wireless systems, such as data communication networks produce similar radiation.

The World Health Organization, based upon the consensus view of the scientific and medical communities, has stated in the past that cancer is unlikely to be caused by cellular phones or their base stations and that reviews have found no convincing evidence for other health effects.[3][4] The WHO expects to make recommendations about mobile phones in 2010.[5] National radiation advisory authorities[6] have recommended measures to minimize exposure to their citizens.



Many scientific studies have investigated possible health effects of mobile phone radiations. These studies are occasionally reviewed by some scientific committees to assess overall risks. A recent assessment was published in 2007 by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). It concludes from the available research that no significant health effect has been demonstrated from mobile phone radiation at normal exposure levels:

  • In the studies reviewed, normal exposure to mobile phone radiation did not cause headaches or dizziness, nor did it cause brain cancers, neurological effects or reproductive effects.
  • A few inconclusive studies suggest that it may cause a benign tumour of the auditory nerve.
  • Information on possible effects caused by radiofrequency fields in children is limited.[7]

Radiation absorption

Calculated specific absorbed radiation (SAR) distribution in an anatomical model of head next to a 125 mW dipole antenna. Peak SAR is 9.5 W/kg averaged over a 1 mg cube. (USAF/AFRL).

Part of the radio waves emitted by a mobile telephone handset are absorbed by the human head. The radio waves emitted by a GSM handset can have a peak power of 2 watts, and a US analogue phone had a maximum transmit power of 3.6 watts. Other digital mobile technologies, such as CDMA2000 and D-AMPS, use lower output power, typically below 1 watt, UVA. The maximum power output from a mobile phone is regulated by the mobile phone standard it is following and by the regulatory agencies in each country. In most systems the cellphone and the base station check reception quality and signal strength and the power level is increased or decreased automatically, within a certain span, to accommodate for different situations such as inside or outside of buildings and vehicles. The rate at which radiation is absorbed by the human body is measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), and its maximum levels for modern handsets have been set by governmental regulating agencies in many countries. In the USA, the FCC has set a SAR limit of 1.6 W/kg, averaged over a volume of 1 gram of tissue, for the head. In Europe, the limit is 2 W/kg, averaged over a volume of 10 grams of tissue. SAR values are heavily dependent on the size of the averaging volume. Without information about the averaging volume used comparisons between different measurements cannot be made. Thus, the European 10-gram ratings should be compared among themselves, and the American 1-gram ratings should only be compared among themselves. SAR data for specific mobile phones, along with other useful information, can be found directly on manufacturers' websites, as well as on third party web sites.[8]

Thermal effects

One well-understood effect of microwave radiation is dielectric heating, in which any dielectric material (such as living tissue) is heated by rotations of polar molecules induced by the electromagnetic field. In the case of a person using a cell phone, most of the heating effect will occur at the surface of the head, causing its temperature to increase by a fraction of a degree. In this case, the level of temperature increase is an order of magnitude less than that obtained during the exposure of the head to direct sunlight. The brain's blood circulation is capable of disposing of excess heat by increasing local blood flow. However, the cornea of the eye does not have this temperature regulation mechanism and exposure of 2-3 hours' duration has been reported to produce cataracts in rabbits' eyes at SAR values from 100-140W/kg, which produced lenticular temperatures of 41°C.[9] Premature cataracts have not been linked with cell phone use, possibly because of the lower power output of mobile phones.

Non-thermal effects

The communications protocols used by mobile phones often result in low-frequency pulsing of the carrier signal. Whether these modulations have biological significance has been subject to debate. [10]

Some researchers have argued that so-called "non-thermal effects" could be reinterpreted as a normal cellular response to an increase in temperature. The German biophysicist Roland Glaser, for example[11], has argued that there are several thermoreceptor molecules in cells, and that they activate a cascade of second and third messenger systems, gene expression mechanisms and production of heat shock proteins in order to defend the cell against metabolic cell stress caused by heat. The increases in temperature that cause these changes are too small to be detected by studies such as REFLEX, which base their whole argument on the apparent stability of thermal equilibrium in their cell cultures.

Blood-brain barrier effects

Swedish researchers from Lund University (Salford, Brun, Perrson, Eberhardt, and Malmgren) have studied the effects of microwave radiation on the rat brain. They found a leakage of albumin into the brain via a permeated blood-brain barrier.[12][13] Other groups have not confirmed these findings in cell [14] or animal studies.[15]


In 2006 a large Danish study about the connection between mobile phone use and cancer incidence was published. It followed over 420,000 Danish citizens for 20 years and showed no increased risk of cancer.[16] The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) considers this report as inconclusive.[17]

In order to investigate the risk of cancer for the mobile phone user, a cooperative project between 13 countries has been launched called INTERPHONE. The idea is that cancers need time to develop so only studies over 10 years are of interest.[18]

The following studies of long time exposure have been published:

  • A Danish study (2004) that took place over 10 years found no evidence to support a link. However, this study has been criticized for collecting data from subscriptions and not necessarily from actual users. It is known that some subscribers do not use the phones themselves but provide them for family members to use. That this happens is supported by the observation that only 61% of a small sample of the subscribers reported use of mobile phones when responding to a questionnaire. [16] [19]
  • A Swedish study (2005) that draws the conclusion that "the data do not support the hypothesis that mobile phone use is related to an increased risk of glioma or meningioma."[20]
  • A British study (2005) that draws the conclusion that "The study suggests that there is no substantial risk of acoustic neuroma in the first decade after starting mobile phone use. However, an increase in risk after longer term use or after a longer lag period could not be ruled out."[21]
  • A German study (2006) that states "In conclusion, no overall increased risk of glioma or meningioma was observed among these cellular phone users; however, for long-term cellular phone users, results need to be confirmed before firm conclusions can be drawn."[22]
  • A joint study conducted in northern Europe that draws the conclusion that "Although our results overall do not indicate an increased risk of glioma in relation to mobile phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn."[23]

Other studies on cancer and mobile phones are:

  • A Swedish scientific team at the Karolinska Institute conducted an epidemiological study (2004) that suggested that regular use of a mobile phone over a decade or more was associated with an increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a type of benign brain tumor. The increase was not noted in those who had used phones for fewer than 10 years.[24]
  • The INTERPHONE study group from Japan published the results of a study of brain tumour risk and mobile phone use. They used a new approach: determining the SAR inside a tumour by calculating the radiofrequency field absorption in the exact tumour location. Cases examined included glioma, meninigioma, and pituitary adenoma. They reported that the overall odds ratio (OR) was not increased and that there was no significant trend towards an increasing OR in relation to exposure, as measured by SAR. [25]

In 2007, Dr. Lennart Hardell, from Örebro University in Sweden, reviewed published epidemiological papers (2 cohort studies and 16 case-control studies) and found that[26]:

  • Cell phone users had an increased risk of malignant gliomas.
  • Link between cell phone use and a higher rate of acoustic neuromas.
  • Tumors are more likely to occur on the side of the head that the cell handset is used.
  • One hour of cell phone use per day significantly increases tumor risk after ten years or more.

In a February 2008 update on the status of the INTERPHONE study IARC stated that the long term findings ‘…could either be causal or artifactual, related to differential recall between cases and controls.’[27]

  • A self-published and non-peer reviewed meta-study by Dr. Vini Khurana, an Australian neurosurgeon, presented an "increasing body of evidence ... for a link between mobile phone usage and certain brain tumours" and that it "is anticipated that this danger has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking".[28] This was criticised as ‘…an unbalanced analysis of the literature, which is also selective in support of the author’s claims.’[29]

A publication titled "Public health implications of wireless technologies" cites that Lennart Hardell found age is a significant factor. The report repeated the finding that the use of cell phones before age 20 increased the risk of brain tumors by 5.2, compared to 1.4 for all ages.[30] A review by Hardell et al. concluded that current mobile phones are not safe for long-term exposure. [31]

In a time trends study in Europe, conducted by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen, no significant increase in brain tumors among cell phone users was found between the years of 1998 and 2003. "The lack of a trend change in incidence from 1998 to 2003 suggests that the induction period relating mobile phone use to brain tumors exceeds 5–10 years, the increased risk in this population is too small to be observed, the increased risk is restricted to subgroups of brain tumors or mobile phone users, or there is no increased risk."[32]

Cognitive effects

A 2009 study examined the effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitted by standard GSM cell phones on the cognitive functions of humans. The study confirmed longer (slower) response times to a spatial working memory task when exposed to RFR from a standard GSM cellular phone placed next to the head of male subjects, and showed that longer duration of exposure to RFR may increase the effects on performance. Right handed subjects exposed to RFR on the left side of their head on average had significantly longer response times when compared to exposure to the right side and sham-exposure. [33]

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Some users of mobile handsets have reported feeling several unspecific symptoms during and after its use; ranging from burning and tingling sensations in the skin of the head and extremities, fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness, loss of mental attention, reaction times and memory retentiveness, headaches, malaise, tachycardia (heart palpitations), to disturbances of the digestive system. Reports have noted that all of these symptoms can also be attributed to stress and that current research cannot separate the symptoms from nocebo effects.[34]

Genotoxic effects

A large recent meta-study of 101 scientific publications on genotoxicity of RF electromagnetic fields shows that 49 report a genotoxic effect and 42 do not. [35] Research published in 2004 by a team at the University of Athens had a reduction in reproductive capacity in fruit flies exposed to 6 minutes of 900 MHz pulsed radiation for five days.[36] Subsequent research, again conducted on fruit flies, was published in 2007, with the same exposure pattern but conducted at both 900 MHz and 1800 MHz, and had similar changes in reproductive capacity with no significant difference between the two frequencies.[37] Following additional tests published in a third article, the authors stated they thought their research suggested the changes were “…due to degeneration of large numbers of egg chambers after DNA fragmentation of their constituent cells …”.[38]

In 1995, in the journal Bioelectromagnetics, Wengong Lai and Mohinder Singh reported damaged DNA after two hours of microwave radiation at levels deemed safe according to government standards.[39] Later, in December 2004, a pan-European study named REFLEX (Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Energy Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods), involving 12 collaborating laboratories in several countries showed some compelling evidence of DNA damage of cells in in-vitro cultures, when exposed between 0.3 to 2 watts/kg, whole-sample average. There were indications, but not rigorous evidence of other cell changes, including damage to chromosomes, alterations in the activity of certain genes and a boosted rate of cell division.[40] Reviews of in vitro genotoxicity studies have generally concluded that RF is not genotoxic and that studies reporting positive effects had experimental deficiences.[41]

Sleep and EEG effects

Sleep, EEG and waking rCBF have been studied in relation to RF exposure for a decade now, and the majority of papers published to date have found some form of effect. While a Finnish study failed to find any effect on sleep or other cognitive function from pulsed RF exposure,[42] most other papers have found significant effects on sleep.[43][44][45][46][47][48] Two of these papers found the effect was only present when the exposure was pulsed (amplitude modulated), and one early paper actually found that sleep quality (measured by the amount of participants' broken sleep) actually improved.

While some papers were inconclusive or inconsistent,[49][50] a number of studies have now demonstrated reversible EEG and rCBF alterations from exposure to pulsed RF exposure.[51][52][53][54] German research from 2006 found that statistically significant EEG changes could be consistently found, but only in a relatively low proportion of study participants (12 - 30%).[55]

Health hazards of base stations

Another area of concern is the radiation emitted by the fixed infrastructure used in mobile telephony, such as base stations and their antennas, which provide the link to and from mobile phones. This is because, in contrast to mobile handsets, it is emitted continuously and is more powerful at close quarters. On the other hand, field intensities drop rapidly with distance away from the base of the antenna because of the attenuation of power with the square of distance. Base station emissions must comply with safety guidelines (see Safety standards and licensing below). Some countries however (such as South Africa) do not have any health regulations at all governing the placement of base stations.

Several surveys have found increases of symptoms depending upon proximity to electromagnetic sources such as mobile phone base stations.

A 2002 survey study by Santini et al. in France found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people who reported that they were living within 300 metres (984 ft) of GSM cell towers in rural areas, or within 100 m (328 ft) of base stations in urban areas. Fatigue, headache, sleep disruption and loss of memory were among the symptoms reported.[56] Similar results have been obtained with GSM cell towers in Spain,[57] Egypt,[58] Poland[59] and Austria.[60] No major studies have been reported in which health effects did not occur on actual populations living near mobile base stations. However, there are significant challenges in conducting studies of populations near base stations, especially in assessment of individual exposure.[61]

A study conducted at the University of Essex and another in Switzerland[62] concluded that mobile phone masts were unlikely to be causing these short term effects in a group of volunteers who complained of such symptoms.[63] The Essex study has been criticised as being skewed due to drop-outs of test subjects,[64] although these criticisms were answered by the authors.

As technology progresses and data demands have increased on the mobile network, towns and cities have seen the number of towers increase sharply, including 3G towers which work with larger bandwidths.[citation needed] Many measurements and experiments have shown that transmitter power levels are relatively low - in modern 2G antennas, in the range of 20 to 100 W, with the 3G towers causing less radiation than the already present 2G network. An average radiation power output of 3 W is used. The use of 'micro-cell geometries' (large numbers of transmitters in an area but with each individual transmitter running very low power) inside cities has decreased the amount of radiated power even further.[citation needed] The radiation exposure from these antennas, while generally low level, is continuous[citation needed].

Experts consulted by France consider it is mandatory that main antenna axis not to be directly in front of a living place at a distance shorter than 100 meters.[65] This recommendation was modified in 2003[66] to say that antennas located within a 100-metre radius of primary schools or childcare facilities should be better integrated into the cityscape and was not included in a 2005 expert report.[67]

Occupational health hazards

Telecommunication workers who spend time at a short distance from the active equipment, for the purposes of testing, maintenance, installation, etcetera, may be at risk of much greater exposure than the general population. Many times base stations are not turned off during maintenance, but the power being sent through to the antennas is cut off, so that the workers do not have to work near live antennas.

A variety of studies over the past 50 years have been done on workers exposed to high RF radiation levels; studies including radar laboratory workers, military radar workers, electrical workers, and amateur radio operators. Most of these studies found no increase in cancer rates over the general population or a control group. Many positive results could have been attributed to other work environment conditions, and many negative results of reduced cancer rates also occurred.[68]

Safety standards and licensing

In order to protect the population living around base stations and users of mobile handsets, governments and regulatory bodies adopt safety standards, which translate to limits on exposure levels below a certain value. There are many proposed national and international standards, but that of the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is the most respected one, and has been adopted so far by more than 80 countries. For radio stations, ICNIRP proposes two safety levels: one for occupational exposure, another one for the general population. Currently there are efforts underway to harmonise the different standards in existence.[69]

Radio base licensing procedures have been established in the majority of urban spaces regulated either at municipal/county, provincial/state or national level. Mobile telephone service providers are, in many regions, required to obtain construction licenses, provide certification of antenna emission levels and assure compliance to ICNIRP standards and/or to other environmental legislation.

Many governmental bodies also require that competing telecommunication companies try to achieve sharing of towers so as to decrease environmental and cosmetic impact. This issue is an influential factor of rejection of installation of new antennas and towers in communities.

The safety standards in the U.S. are set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC has based its standards primarily on those standards established by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), specifically Subcommittee 4 of the "International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety".

Evolution of safety standards

The following is a brief summary of the wireless safety standards, which have become stricter over time.

  • 1966: The ANSI C95.1 standard adopted the standard of 10 mW/cm2 (10,000 μW/cm2) based on thermal effects.
  • 1982: The IEEE recommended further lowering this limit to 1 mW/cm2 (1,000 μW/cm2 or 10 W/m2) for certain frequencies in 1982, which became a standard ten years later in 1992 (see below).
  • 1986: The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) recommended the exposure limit of 580 μW/cm2.
  • 1992: The ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992 standard based on thermal effects used the 1 mW/cm2 (1,000 μW/cm2) safety limit. The United States Environmental Protection Agency‎ called this revised standard "seriously flawed", partly for failing to consider non-thermal effects, and called for the FCC to adopt the 1986 NCRP standard which was five times stricter.
  • 1996: The FCC updated to the standard of 580 μW/cm2 over any 30-minute period for the 869 MHz, while still using 1mW/cm2 (1,000 μW/cm2) for PCS frequencies (1850-1990 MHz).[70]
  • 1998: The ICNIRP standard uses the limit of 450 μW/cm2 at 900 MHz, and 950 μW/cm2 at 1900 MHz. The limit is frequency dependent.

More stringent standards

A few nations have set safety limits orders of magnitude lower than the ICNIRP limits.[71] A resolution adopted at a conference in Salzburg in 2000 called a limit of 0.1 μW/cm2 (10,000 times lower than ICNIRP) for "…pulse modulated high-frequency facilities such as GSM base stations…".[72]

In September 2008, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the mid-term review of the European Environment and Health Action Plan 2004-2010. The resolution covered several topic areas, such as Mental Health and Global Warming, and included under the topic "Dangers of new technologies" the statement "… that the limits on exposure to electromagnetic fields which have been set for the general public are obsolete."[73]

In the Courts

In the USA, a small number of personal injury lawsuits have been filed by individuals against cellphone manufacturers, such as Motorola[74], NEC, Siemens and Nokia, on the basis of allegations of causation of brain cancer and death. In US federal court, expert testimony relating to science must be first evaluated by a judge, in a Daubert hearing, to be relevant and valid before it is admissible as evidence. In one case against Motorola, the plaintiffs alleged that the use of wireless handheld telephones could cause brain cancer, and that the use of Motorola phones caused one plaintiff’s cancer. The judge ruled that no sufficiently reliable and relevant scientific evidence in support of either general or specific causation was proffered by the plaintiffs; accepted a motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiffs’ experts; and denied a motion to exclude the testimony of the defendants' experts.[75]

French High Court ruling against telecom company

In February 2009 the telecom company Bouygues Telecom was ordered to take down a mobile phone mast due to uncertainty about its effect on health. Residents in the commune Charbonnières in the Rhône department had sued the company claiming adverse health effects from the radiation emitted by the 19 meter tall antenna.[76] The milestone ruling by the Versailles Court of Appeal reversed the burden of proof which is usual in such cases by emphasizing the extreme divergence between different countries in assessing safe limits for such radiation. The court stated that, "Considering that, while the reality of the risk remains hypothetical, it becomes clear from reading the contributions and scientific publications produced in debate and the divergent legislative positions taken in various countries, that uncertainty over the harmlessness of exposure to the waves emitted by relay antennas persists and can be considered serious and reasonable".[77]


Precautionary principle

In 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the precautionary principle could be voluntarily adopted in this case.[78] It follows the recommendations of the European Community for environmental risks. According to the WHO, the "precautionary principle" is "a risk management policy applied in circumstances with a high degree of scientific uncertainty, reflecting the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research." Other less stringent recommended approaches are prudent avoidance principle and ALARA (As Low as Reasonably Achievable). Although all of these are problematic in application, due to the widespread use and economic importance of wireless telecommunication systems in modern civilization, there is an increased popularity of such measures in the general public, though also evidence that such approaches may increase concern[79]. They involve recommendations such as the minimization of cellphone usage, the limitation of use by at-risk population (such as children), the adoption of cellphones and microcells with ALARA levels of radiation, the wider use of hands-free and earphone technologies such as Bluetooth headsets, the adoption of maximal standards of exposure, RF field intensity and distance of base stations antennas from human habitations, and so forth.

Precautionary Measures and health advisories

Some national radiation advisory authorities, including those of Austria,[6] France,[80] Germany,[81] and Sweden[82] have recommended measures to minimize exposure to their citizens. Examples of the recommendations are:

  • Use hands-free to decrease the radiation to the head.
  • Keep the mobile phone away from the body.
  • Do not use telephone in a car without an external antenna.

The use of "hands-free" was not recommended by the British Consumers' Association in a statement in November 2000 as they believed that exposure was increased.[83] However, measurements for the (then) UK Department of Trade and Industry[84] and others for the French l’Agence française de sécurité sanitaire environnementale[85] showed substantial reductions. In 2005 Professor Lawrie Challis and others said clipping a ferrite bead onto hands-free kits stops the radio waves travelling up the wire and into the head.[86]

Several nations have advised moderate use of mobile phones for children.[87]

See also


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  26. ^
  27. ^ INTERPHONE Study Results update – 7 February 2008
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