But there is also some ambiguity about cellphone radiation’s health effects. As Dr. John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a co-author of the NIH studies, told me, “[Our results] go against the notion that non-ionizing radiation is completely harmless.” In other words, he’s found that the type of radiation cellphones give off could cause biological changes, like promoting tumors, at least in animals.
When you talk, your voice is transmitted from the antenna as radio frequency radiation (RFR) between 800 MHz and 2,200 MHz. A range equal to the middle of microwave frequency and 20% to 80% of the radiation emitted is deposited in the user's head. The microwave radiation is absorbed and penetrates the area around the head, some reaching an inch, to an inch and a half into the brain. Exposure to this microwave RFR has shown to have serious health consequences. Laboratory studies have shown that radiation from cell phones expose the user to a wide range of health problems including:
Since 2011 RF radiation has been classified as a Group 2B “possible” human carcinogen by the International Agency on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization. Based on the new animal findings, and limited epidemiological evidence linking heavy and prolonged cell phone use with brain gliomas in humans, Fiorella Belpoggi, director of research at the Ramazzini Institute and the study’s lead author, says IARC should consider changing the RF radiation designation to a “probable” human carcinogen. Even if the hazard is low, billions of people are exposed, she says, alluding to the estimated number of wireless subscriptions worldwide. Véronique Terrasse, an IARC spokesperson, says a reevaluation may occur after the NTP delivers its final report.
The peer reviewers did have some quibbles with the study; some wished it could have lasted longer (the rodents were exposed to radiation for two years) to catch later-developing tumors, for example, but others on the panel noted that the longer a rodent lives, the more likely it is to develop tumors regardless of radiation, making it harder to find the signal in the noise. Others wanted the researchers to have dissected the rodent brains more than they did, to seek hard-to-find tumors. But they noted that science is an iterative process; the study wasn’t perfect, but it’s better than anything that’s been done so far.
Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from x-rays, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, cell phones, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans (2).