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Opinion: Cell Phone Health Risk?

Security concerns during the Cold War may have led to the generation of misinformation on the physiological effects of microwave radiation from mobile phones.

By | September 25, 2012

image: Opinion: Cell Phone Health Risk? Flickr, photoloni

Recently, Congress tasked its investigative arm, the General Accountability Office (GAO), to consider the health risks of mobile phones and to report back to Congress. While a previous report published in May 2010 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated that there was no evidence of increased health risk resulting from exposure to the radiofrequency (microwave) energy emitted by cell phones, the World Health Organization reported the following year that cell phone radiation may be carcinogenic. Also in 2011, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse published a paper in JAMA reporting that 50 minutes of cell phone use by people altered glucose metabolism in the part of the brain closest to where the cell phone antennas were located. This summer, the GAO completed the task and sent a report to Congress stating that the risks were unclear and deserved greater scrutiny from the government.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  “should formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy (microwave) exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements related to likely usage configurations, particularly when phones are held against the body,” the GAO wrote.

The controversy over whether the technology poses a risk to human health is substantial. And while much of science could be considered controversial, what has, and is, happening in microwave research is not a routine scientific dispute. Concerns about the health risks of cell phones, confusion regarding the evidence for or against such risks, and even misinformation in the scientific literature may all be collateral damage of the Cold War between the USSR and the United States. This was a time when the use of microwave-generating equipment, such as radar, was seen by some as critical to the security of the United States, and efforts were taken to ensure that such innovations were not suppressed by findings that suggested such technology to be unsafe.

Hiding data

During the Cold War, a group at Brooks Air Force Base (AFB) was tasked with reassuring residents when the Air Force wanted to install radar (microwaves) in their neighborhood. To meet that responsibility, the Brooks group hired contractors to write Environmental Impact Statements to justify the placing of the radars—an obvious conflict of interest. Even worse, when a scientist did publish findings that might indicate a risk, Brooks selected contractors to do experiments that suggested the scientist’s research was invalid or not relevant to the safety of Air Force radar.

For example, after my colleagues and I published in 1975 that exposure to very weak microwave radiation opens the regulatory interface known as the blood brain barrier (bbb), a critical protection for the brain, the Brooks AFB group selected a contractor to supposedly replicate our experiment. For 2 years, this contractor presented data at scientific conferences stating that microwave radiation had no effect on the bbb. After much pressure from the scientific community, he finally revealed that he had not, in fact, replicated our work. We had injected dye into the femoral vein of lab rats after exposure to microwaves and observed the dye in the brain within 5 minutes. The Brooks contractor had stuck a needle into the animals’ bellies and sprayed the dye onto their intestines. Thus it is no surprise that when he looked at the brain 5 minutes later, he did not see any dye; the dye had yet to make it into the circulatory system.

Another Brooks AFB responsibility that further incentivized the spreading of misinformation was to lead a lab on a classified microwave-bio weapons program. Competition between this effort and the microwave-bio research programs undoubtedly going on in other nations at the time would explain the Brooks group’s attempts to block and discredit unclassified research in the microwave area and the subsequent publication of the results: it did not want advances in knowledge to appear in the scientific literature where the USSR could benefit from it. This is not unlike the recent uproar over whether bird flu results should be published—or even done at all—because of the fear that they may help terrorists develop biological weapons.

Stalling funding

In addition to actively suppressing results of microwave-bio research, the Brooks group also attempted to block funding for such research in the first place—and largely succeeded. For example, after we and others published the first papers in the mid- to late-’70s showing that very low intensity microwaves could open the bbb, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a report, written by a psychologist at a Kansas Veterans Administration hospital who was neither trained nor experienced in research on the bbb, that concluded “…if a real potential for catastrophic effects exists, it would be evident from the research already reported in the literature.” (An original draft of the report also noted that “DOD funding of research evaluating the effects of microwaves on the bbb should be of low priority,” though this statement was removed before the report was released to the public.)

Largely as a consequence of this report, funding for open microwave-bio research in the United States was essentially shut down. Several months after the report was released, I requested renewal of government funding, which in part supported research on the bbb. I received a letter stating that funding would not be granted unless I dropped the bbb part of the proposal. And in a September 1981 article in Microwave News, 2 years later, the editor wrote, “Surprisingly, no new [bbb] work was reported this year.”

Even now, the recent GAO report states, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) “is the only federal agency we interviewed that is directly funding ongoing studies on health effects of RF energy (microwave radiation) from mobile phone use.” And the NIH funded only one relevant completed experiment, by an in-house researcher, during the time the GAO did its assessment. For many years now most of the published microwave research—what little that has been done—has been conducted in other countries. And as I noted in a recent paper, many, if not most, of those have been epidemiological studies looking for health problems associated with outdated technologies that are not relevant to the phones used today or that will be used in the future.

Thus, the shutdown of normal open microwave research in the U.S. and the misinformation placed in the literature appears to be collateral damage of the actions of people who saw themselves as fighting a war. And since the research was not allowed to proceed in the normal fashion, we don’t have the set of data needed to determine if there is a health hazard of mobile phone use—and, if so, how serious the hazard is.  This suppression of research has now made hundreds of millions of people subjects in a grand experiment that may involve their health, without their informed consent, and the outcome of which can have substantial medical, legal, and economic consequences.

Allan H. Frey (allan@freys.us) is a semi-retired scientist in Potomac, Maryland, who was Technical Director of Randomline, Inc., a consulting and research firm. Read about more unsavory actions that I and others have observed in my chapter of bioethicist Nicholas Steneck’s Risk Benefit Analysis: The Microwave Case.

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Comments

Avatar of: Lloyd Morgan

Lloyd Morgan

Posts: 1

September 25, 2012

What I appreciated was the context you
provide to the initial efforts to suppress the truth. “[The cold war] was a time when the
use of microwave-generating equipment, such as radar, was seen by some as
critical to the security of the United States, and efforts were taken to ensure
that such innovations were not suppressed by findings that suggested such
technology to be unsafe.â€쳌 Because,
in the end reality prevails, the end result is distrust in the government. For example, when fallout from A-bomb
explosions in Nevada, fell as dust on St. George, Utah, they were told there
was nothing to be concerned about.
Decades later, a resultant increase in cancer led to the truth that the
fallout was something to be concerned about and the conservative citizens
learned that the government that they trusted had lied.

You end with, “This suppression of
research has now made hundreds of millions of people subjects in a grand
experiment that may involve their health, without their informed consent, and
the outcome of which can have substantial medical, legal, and economic
consequences.â€쳌
Sadly, because in the end reality will prevail, I feel that with a dramatic
increase of cellphone use induced brain tumors, the population of the United
States will come to distrust anything said by such well-trusted Federal agencies as the
National Cancer Society (NCI) which states, “Studies
thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of
the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck.â€쳌

Avatar of: Bruce Bridgeman

Bruce Bridgeman

Posts: 1

September 25, 2012

Let's get the physics straight first. The only biological effect of microwaves is to create heat - the waves can get molecules moving, but aren't strong enough to break them apart. If your ear doesn't feel warm when you use your phone, it's because the amount of heat is so small it's undetectable. We're talking thousandths of one watt; your kitchen microwave is hundreds of watts. If you want to avoid heating your brain, take off your hat.

Avatar of: PDB

PDB

Posts: 1

September 26, 2012

There are thousands of studies showing biological effect of radiofrequency radiation. Your physics is off. For some studies, look at www.powerwatch.org.uk and read the studies that have a "P" by them.

Avatar of: ST

ST

Posts: 1457

September 26, 2012

Bruce Bridgeman wrote "The only biological effect of microwaves is to create heat."

What is your source for this statement?

Avatar of: Monica Metzler

Monica Metzler

Posts: 4

September 26, 2012

I would very much like to see the author, Allan Frey, debate this this subject with Robert Park, who also happens to be a semi-retired scientist and also happens be right there in Maryland. Bob Park has long written in his newsletter, "Bob Park's What's New" (http://www.bobpark.org/) on this supposed dispute about microwave radiation and rails against what he considers the lack of valid science in most claims of harm caused by cell phones. Here's a bit from July 2011 ---

2. xkcd: IS THIS THE END OF THE GREAT CELL-PHONE SCARE?
There are five-billion cell phones in use worldwide according to industry
figures, and yet there is not a single verified case of cancer being caused
by cell phone radiation. The science that explains why cell phone
radiation can't cause cancer is more than 100 years old
http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu... . Nevertheless, the
Environmental Health Trust, founded by Devra Davis, exists solely to warn
the public about the nonexistent cancer hazard of cell phones, and perhaps
sell a few copies of her book. On the other side is the webcomic xkcd. Go
to http://xkcd.com/925/ .
----

I would hope there is some independent science entity somewhere in the state of Maryland that would develop such a program and finally clarify this issue for all of us.

Avatar of: Monica Metzler

Monica Metzler

Posts: 4

September 26, 2012

I would very much like to see the author, Allen Frey, debate
this issue with Robert Park, who also happens to be a semi-retired scientist
and also happens to be right there in Maryland. Bob Park writes a newsletter in which he regularly addresses
(or rather rails against) what he considers a serious lack of scientific
validity in all claims of any harm caused by cell phone radiation. Here’s an example from July 2011
–

2. xkcd: IS THIS THE END OF THE GREAT CELL-PHONE SCARE?

There are five-billion cell phones in use worldwide according to industry

figures, and yet there is not a single verified case of cancer being caused

by cell phone radiation. The science that explains why cell phone

radiation can't cause cancer is more than 100 years old

http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu.... Nevertheless, the

Environmental Health Trust, founded by Devra Davis, exists solely to warn

the public about the nonexistent cancer hazard of cell phones, and perhaps

sell a few copies of her book. On the other side is the webcomic
xkcd. Go

to http://xkcd.com/925/ . ---

Surely there must be some independent science entity in the
state of Maryland that could arrange a discussion/presentation of relevant
experts who would come together and settle this issue for all of our
benefit.

Avatar of: Monica Metzler

Monica Metzler

Posts: 4

September 26, 2012

I would very much like to see the author, Allen Frey, debate
this issue with Robert Park, who also happens to be a semi-retired scientist
and also happens to be right there in Maryland. Bob Park writes a newletter in which he regularly addresses
(or rather rails against) what he considers a serious lack of scientific
validity in all claims of any harm caused by cell phone radiation. Here’s an example from July 2011
–

2. xkcd: IS THIS THE END OF THE GREAT CELL-PHONE SCARE?

There are five-billion cell phones in use worldwide according to industry

figures, and yet there is not a single verified case of cancer being caused

by cell phone radiation. The science that explains why cell phone

radiation can't cause cancer is more than 100 years old

http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu...
. Nevertheless, the

Environmental Health Trust, founded by Devra Davis, exists solely to warn

the public about the nonexistent cancer hazard of cell phones, and perhaps

sell a few copies of her book. On the other side is the webcomic
xkcd. Go

to http://xkcd.com/925/ . ---

Surely there must be some independent science entity in the
state of Maryland that could arrange a discussion/presentation of relevant
experts who would come together and settle this issue for all of our
benefit.

September 28, 2012

Thank you so much for enlightening us with your very credible account of how the government let us down with regards to public protection. It is still happening, this did not stop with the cold war. Your account helps those in denial about RF radiation harm understand some of the nasty politics behind the lies. www.electrosmogprevention.org

Avatar of: MaybeYes

MaybeYes

Posts: 1

September 28, 2012

I went to both of your links.

The first link gives an opinion of one physicist with NO LINKS to research claiming that non-ionizing non-thermal RF microwave radiation is safe. He may rally against cell phone danger claims but he should back up his rants with valid research.
The second link goes to a CARTOON ridiculing the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer report on May 31, 2011 which "classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use."

Again, if you are going to claim that that something is safe please provide valid research.

Please see research from Dr. Magda Havas, Barrie Trower, Dr. Henry Lai, Dr. Olle Johansson, the REFLEX study, etc. You can find many of the studies here http://www.ideaireland.org/emr...

Avatar of: redrocklass

redrocklass

Posts: 1

September 28, 2012

It is estimated that approximately 6,000 scientific research studies have been undertaken. Microwave frequenciess also create confusion in our 10 trillion cells as it vibrates them and can permanently damage your DNA (http://emfwisecom/science.php. We are electric and magnetic beings and we need to recognize that fact. The cell phones - yes, plural - are all communicating with each other and the cell towers and whatever other surveillance and monitoring devices are also deployed.We are being bathed in radiation. Our children are most at risk for permanent damage. I've heard that the number of children born later diagnosed with autism is now one in 80 to 150, depending on who reports that. Why isn't this being undertaken as a public health crisis????

Avatar of: waveshield

waveshield

Posts: 1

October 5, 2012

Go to www.cprnews.com with over 170 studies posted  world wide on cell phone dangers under world news , very  few from the USA

Avatar of: kdcdotty

kdcdotty

Posts: 1

October 10, 2012

As I understand it most studies show a health risk from cell phone use and RF/microwave radiation, however, as these are not 'controlled' studies, they are deemed invalid by the utility supported scientists who rail against them. Around the world there are increasing reports of 'the hum' being heard in and around our homes being generated by the confluence of cell towers and power line communications. Every legitimate claim of proof of the existence of these harmonic disturbances is met my by the billion dollar industries crony rebuttals. The people who are deemed 'electro-sensitive' are told they have a hearing problem, but audilogists find nothing out of the usual age related hearing loss and tinitus, while ENT's find no structural abnormalities. Yet, the hum continues, unabated, reverberating off the walls in our homes, around the world.

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