The National Toxicology Program (NTP), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, have published a study on the link between cell phones and our health.
The program released two preliminary reports on its lengthy and costly efforts to study the effects of cell phone radiation on mice. The verdict was decidedly mixed.
NTP scientists found that some groups of male rats – but not female or male or female mice – appeared to be at increased risk of developing tumors near their hearts after being constantly exposed to varying levels of radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The entire body of the animals has been exposed to RF for up to two years (almost their entire lifetime), nine hours a day, at levels much higher than people usually get from their cell phones.
There was also evidence of increased tissue damage around the heart of both female and male rats, while pregnant females and their babies born under constant exposure to the uterus appeared to be underweight. But overall, there was little difference in the actual health of mice and rats compared to their unaffected counterparts at the end of the experiment – some control groups even died earlier than those exposed to radiation.
The researchers concluded that there was “evidence of carcinogenic activity” caused by the radiation emitted by cell phones using 2G and 3G technology (responsible for calls and messages in today’s cell phones) in male mice. Some research shows that cell phone use could be associated with the specific type of tumor highlighted in the NTP studies, called the “schwannoma” (though in the brain, rather than in the heart). But it is not yet clear whether the findings of NTP are true or even relevant to humans.
“At that time, we do not feel we understand the results enough to put a great deal of confidence in the findings,” John Bucher, senior scientist at NTP, told reporters in a statement when discussing the reports on Friday with the Washington Post.
Others, however, called the findings problematic.
“This is the most authoritative published study that connects cancer to cell phone radiation – it should raise awareness for lawmakers and raise awareness for all Americans,” said Olga Naidenko, senior scientific advisor at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) ), in a statement. “These studies should have been done before more than 90 percent of Americans, including children, started using this technology every day.” The EWG was criticized, however, for its unscientific positions on the potential hazards of products to the consumer, as sunscreens.
NTP studies began ten years ago and cost $ 25 million to complete. During this period, there was no shortage of cellular research and cancer studies, with evidence both supporting and contradicting a connection between the two, and more research is currently being done .
Critics have pointed out that it is not believed, nor proven, that radiofrequency radiation causes the kind of DNA damage that can lead to mutations and cancer. Others have argued that some other mechanism may still be responsible for carcinogenic effects. Despite this assertion, more than one study has already found that the overall rate of brain cancer has remained stable over the years, even with cell phones settling in society.
Some public health agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), however, have preferred to take the precautionary approach by classifying radiofrequency energy as an environmental type 2B agent, which means that it may be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Since 2015, the city of Berkeley, Calif., Has had cellphone shops place warnings telling customers that keeping the phone too close to their body can lead to radiofrequency exposure above recommended levels, an ordinance that has faced legal challenges.
And last December, the California Department of Public Health released its controversial and widely debated guidelines on how to reduce its exposure to cell phone radiation amid criticism that they were exaggerated and would only cause confusion in the public.
The FDA (the body that regulates, among other things, foods and medicines in the US) has been terribly contemptuous of any connection between the two, saying in not very clear terms that the “weight of scientific evidence does not show an association between exposure of mobile radiofrequency and adverse health outcomes. ”
In response to the NTP studies released on Friday, the FDA reaffirmed its position, stating that it was eager to participate in a peer review of the reports, due to begin in late March. In 2016, the NTP released partial data from the report, citing its importance for the “discussion on the issue of mobile phone security.” At the time, other experts argued that the findings of a high tumor risk in male rats did not make sense given the general results, and might even simply represent statistical noise, rather than any real effect.
Perhaps in a revealing way, in response to a question asked in both 2016 and last weekend, NTP scientist John Bucher said that the data available did not lead him to change anything in the way he currently uses cell phones.