You have been WARNED: Cell phone radiation is a possible carcinogen

The IARC has warned that cell phone radiation is a possible carcinogen. Why the warning was forgotten? Photo: author

HELSINKI, April 7, 2012What is health? Society went a long way from the definition of health by Hippocrates, “Father of Medicine,” to the current definition by the World Health Organization (WHO). It reflects not only change in medical sciences but also change in our ways of perception of the surrounding world.

Hippocrates provided us with “the humoral theory of health, whereby the four bodily fluids, or humors, of blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile needed to be kept in balance. Illness was caused when these fluids became out of balance, sometimes requiring the reduction in the body of a humor through bloodletting or purging.”

The WHO defines health as “a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Using the WHO definition of health, which speaks of “mental and social well-being,” it is reasonable to argue that cell phones, either as source of radiation or as social communication gadget or both, are detrimental to human health.

Thinking more closely, the vast majority of the rapid technological development affect in some way our “mental and social well-being” and according to the WHO, this should be remedied in order to achieve suitable balance.

Should we go back to caves? Surely, this is not what WHO would like us to do.

The critics of the WHO definition “…argue that the WHO definition of health is utopian, inflexible, and unrealistic, and that including the word “complete” in the definition makes it highly unlikely that anyone would be healthy for a reasonable period of time. It also appears that ‘a state of complete physical mental and social well-being’ corresponds more to happiness than to health…”

Are there people that are simultaneously feeling physically, mentally and socially OK? If not, such answer implies that the whole human race is continuously ill. This is not a joke. This is what the WHO definition leads to.

Putting aside musings of the bureaucrats, what we consider in every day life as health as physical and mental health equals the absence of disease.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

When a person gets ill, returning to the healthy state takes effort, which might be or might not be successful. That is why, whenever possible and feasible, people should use preventive measures, known to diminish the risk of disease. It means using precaution or even the Precautionary Principle, as I suggested already in 2001 in my letter to The Lancet, when dealing with new technologies.

The Precautionary Principle definition says:

“…The precautionary principle applies where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain—where preliminary scientific evaluations indicate that there are reasonable grounds for concern over the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health by the specific element of exposure in question. Such concern over the potential danger(s) may warrant a high (precautionary) level of protection to be chosen.”

In our busy lives we do not always remember what might harm our health, and that is why we are often warned and reminded by the health authorities.

Spring is coming and, as they are every year this time, the news-media are full of warnings about the harmful exposures to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. We are reminded that both solar and solaria-derived UV, when in excess, can cause skin cancer, including the well known “killer” — melanoma. We are being warned.

Throughout the year, warning stories are written about the health risks of tobacco smoke. It has been causally linked with not only lung cancer but with many other diseases. Warnings are not only in news-media but also on the boxes of the product itself.  We are being warned.

These two of many examples of warnings share one important aspect. Both are asking for extra caution for children, because their developing bodies are more sensitive. We are being warned.

As ancient Romans said “repetitio est mater studiorum” – repeating is the mother of learning. This applies also to the warnings. If we wish that the society learns and remembers, warnings should be repeated and repeated and repeated… To sink and to stay in our minds.

Therefore, it comes as surprise that following the 2011 IARC classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen there is silence. Just few articles appeared immediately after the classification was announced, when the news was “hot”. This is followed by a silence.

Should it be that IARC has warned and it is the end of the story? Or should the warning be repeated until people realize that in the current situation of scientific uncertainty the potential impact of this new technology on our health is impossible to predict using the currently available science.

If the IARC’s “prediction” materializes (we do not know), the consequences for health and social well being might be costly. There are over 6 billons of cell phone users. A large portion of those users consist of small children getting their first phone at the age of circa 6 years.

Such users will have some 80 years of cell phone exposures ahead of them. We do not have the slightest idea what such exposures can cause. May be nothing but can we be sure? 

We even do not know if cell phone radiation alters physiology of normal human being, not to mention those with health compromised by a disease.

This is a huge gap in the scientific knowledge.

Development of new wireless technologies is like the speed of Formula 1 racing car. Why?  Because it brings large profit.

Research on health effects of these new technologies is at the speed of Amish horse carriage going through road with lots of speed bumps. Why?  Because it may slow down profitability.

The technological development is fueled by industry itself. Money makes more money. The research on health effects is funded by governments and foundations that are continuously short of money.

This huge gap in speed of research between technology and health should be made significantly smaller and our politicians have duty to do it.

The scientific uncertainty is too large to ignore it.

At the same time, it is already impossible to imagine life without cell phones and other wireless technologies. There is no way back, but the progress should be implemented responsibly. When we do not know enough, we should honestly admit it and inform users how to avoid unnecessary risks.

This is not happening.

After the first generation of life-time users of cell phones reaches advanced age, we will be smarter and more knowledgeable about the possible risks. For now we should be cautious, especially with children. It should be obvious not only to every parent but also to every decision-maker and politician.

The health of the future generations will define economical success and social well being. Are we sure that cell phones and other wireless technologies will not affect it in negative way? We do not know yet.

We have been WARNED, and this warning should be repeated, repeated, repeated… Use cell phone responsibly and reduce exposures whenever possible and feasible.

***

Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” at http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  Dariusz is a Research Professor at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the STUK - Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

 


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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health: http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski

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