Problems in evaluating the health impacts of radio frequency radiation

Enviromental Research – 28feb2023
Saferemr com – Recent Research on Wireless Radiation and Electromagnetic Fields – 02mar2023

Problems in evaluating the health impacts of radio frequency radiation

Ishai PB, Davis D, Taylor H, Birnbaum L. Problems in evaluating the health impacts of radio frequency radiation. Environmental Research. 2023. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.115038.


In an effort to clarify the nature of causal evidence regarding the potential impacts of RFR [radio frequency radiation] on biological systems, this paper relies on a well-established framework for considering causation expanded from that of Bradford Hill, that combines experimental and epidemiological evidence on carcinogenesis of RFR. The Precautionary Principle, while not perfect, has been the effective lodestone for establishing public policy to guard the safety of the general public from potentially harmful materials, practices or technologies. Yet, when considering the exposure of the public to anthropogenic electromagnetic fields, especially those arising from mobile communications and their infrastructure, it seems to be ignored.

The current exposure standards recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) consider only thermal effects (tissue heating) as potentially harmful.

However, there is mounting evidence of non-thermal effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation in biological systems and human populations. We review the latest literature on in vitro and in vivo studies, on clinical studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity, as well as the epidemiological evidence for cancer due to the action of mobile-based radiation exposure. We question whether the current regulatory atmosphere truly serves the public good when considered in terms of the Precautionary Principle and the principles for deducing causation established by Bradford Hill. We conclude that there is substantial scientific evidence that RFR causes cancer, endocrinological, neurological and other adverse health effects. In light of this evidence the primary mission of public bodies, such as the FCC to protect public health has not been fulfilled. Rather, we find that industry convenience is being prioritized and thereby subjecting the public to avoidable risks.


The perennial question of the biological impacts of Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) constitutes an especially challenging matter that has come to the fore recently, in part driven by public concerns over the introduction of 5G mobile communications. 5G Small Cell base stations are permitted to be sited as close as 3 m [meters] from the ground in proximity to homes, schools and offices in many locales in the US. In the U.S. alone, the industry estimates that up to one million new antennas will be required. 5G ranges broadly from 800 MHz to 100 GHz

It is important to note that such dismissive studies presume that the sole biological impact of RFR is a consequence of heating. This presumption ignores a substantial body of independent studies finding that RFR induces numerous adverse biochemical changes affecting the formation of free radicals, the rates of cell growth and death, and cellular membrane transport. These changes are widely reported in organisms as diverse as plants, animals, and humans. Furthermore, the Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (Belpoggi, 2021) of the European Union, and an independent Swiss government scientific advisory group (BERENIS) reaches similar conclusions, adding that “EMF (Electromagnetic Fields) are probably carcinogenic for humans, in particular related to gliomas and acoustic neuromas.” In addition, they add that “… … 450–6000 MHz: these frequencies clearly affect male fertility and possibly female fertility too. They may have adverse effects on the development of embryos, fetuses and newborns”. This indicates that EMF/RF functions like a classic endocrine disruptor impairing both male and female reproductive functions….

… Recent experimental and epidemiological studies have added considerably to the record and have led Miller et al., 2018 to conclude that on the basis of evidence amassed as of 2018 RFR constitutes a class one proven human carcinogen. Another more recent report concurred (Hardell and Carlberg, 2020), as do the recent publications by Lin (2022b) and the (International Commission on the Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields (ICBE-EMF), 2022). This paper builds further on those records and provides an update on the science applying the principles for deducing a causal relationship between RFR and cancer.

These conclusions regarding the carcinogenic and other potential adverse effects of RFR are not shared equally, with strong dissent provided by a vocal number of industry-affiliated scientists (Foster et al., 2000, 2022; Grimes, 2021; Repacholi, 2010). While some that have questioned the causal nature of the relationship may be well-meaning, a disproportionate number of those who discount the data are in the direct or indirect employ of the affected telecom industries. As a result, the ability to carry out independent analysis of the matter remains hampered, fueled in no small part by the genuine complexity of the topic and by a well-organized effort to ‘manufacture doubt’ (Alster, 2015; Weller et al., 2022).

Given the unprecedented and exponentially rising growth in worldwide exposures to this technology, the lack of a vibrant well-funded program of training and research constitutes a major problem. Since the 1990s, panels of government and other experts have repeatedly examined the scientific evidence, found it wanting and called for more research to be conducted. Although the call for further research constitutes the one matter on which all are agreed, funding for this work remains quite limited. Thus, the principal output of such inquiries is to recommend research but has not resulted in major ongoing funding for such research. By the end of the 1990s, Motorola had closed its world class bioelectromagnetics laboratory. The U.S. government programs on the subject were defunded by Congress at the same time. Thus, on this matter the absence of evidence is not proof of safety. Rather it is an indication of the intense struggle that has led to a lack of funding with respect to critical research questions, the failure to monitor human and environmental health impacts, and the ongoing manufacturing of doubt that has been documented by a number of experts (Davis, 2010)….

To clarify the matter, this four-part review evaluates the epistemological foundations for concluding that RFR is carcinogenic in animals and humans. First, we explore possible mechanisms of action underlying biological impacts of non-ionizing RFR. Then we assess recent key experimental findings including detailed reports from the genetic toxicology component of the National Toxicology Program (NTP) study (M. Wyde et al., 2018). We also evaluate evidence from evaluations of exposed human populations obtained through case-control and population-based studies. Finally, we consider the weight of evidence that RFR constitutes a carcinogen and also promotes other negative health effects….


There is a plethora of both experimental and epidemiological evidence establishing a causal relationship between EMF and cancer and other adverse health effects including adverse effects on fetal development and the endocrine system. Increases in biochemical alterations such as DNA damage, increased production of free radicals and other signals found to be predictive of cancer and other degenerative diseases have been clearly demonstrated. While the evidence is not consistent, the reasons for that inconsistency merit independent review and assessment. A number of industry-affiliated scientists have offered criticisms that are subject to bias, as we have outlined here. If progress is to be made in improving the public understanding of this complicated issue, it is imperative to insist on a complete picture of the evidence that relies on independent science.

While we may disagree strongly with the conclusions some critics have provided, we concur wholeheartedly that there is a need for a serious concerted program of research. No such program exists with support from National governments in the United States and Canada. The job of the government is to ensure the protection of Public Health. We earnestly hope that as the situation evolves, those in positions to create the training and funding for major interdisciplinary research programs in engineering, medicine, toxicology, and bioelectromagnetics will do so. In the meantime, we add our voices to those of more than four hundred experts in the field calling for discussion of a moratorium on 5G. Without such a program we are effectively conducting an uncontrolled experiment on ourselves, our families, and our children.

Indeed, the subject of RFR and carcinogenicity remains truly complex. Studies have to simulate intricate exposures that are taking place every day to billions of people around the world. Given the ubiquity of the technology, as we move ahead it will not be possible to find an unexposed control group in the modern world. The inarguable intricacy of the technology can easily become a way of confusing rather than clarifying the matter. The subject of the impact of RFR on human health is one of the most important topics of our age. It is one in which the general public seeks clear answers to a collective, but poorly defined angst. It is the job of experts to present the state of knowledge in clear and concise language that the layman can understand. The numerous omissions and distortions in recent articles originating from the industry perspective do not meet this criteria. The medical and public health communities deserve the whole story, no matter how complicated or unpalatable it may be. There is an abundance of evidence pointed towards deleterious effects of RFR exposure on human health. Further, the growing applications of low levels of RF in medicine through electroceuticals constitutes evidence per se of biological impacts (Mishra, 2017). Any agent that can be beneficial, whether aspirin or oncology drugs, can also have negative impacts. Consequently, it is imperative to insist on a complete picture of the evidence and not the whitewashed or distorted version currently promoted. The need to take into account the complete weight of the evidence in devising regulatory policies is widely ignored to our detriment. It is time that the Precautionary Principle be applied to RFR….

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