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back to article World Health Organization: Mobile phone cancer risk 'possible'

In a move that's sure to fan the flames of the ongoing debate about the safety of mobile phones, a panel of World Health Organization (WHO) experts has classified those ubiquitous handsets as "possibly carcinogenic to humans". The group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, meeting in Lyon, France, under the auspices of the …

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Anonymous Coward

"Radiation" and "Microwave"? Give me a break!

I have been in the carrier's side as in the RF (Radio Frequency) management including power regulations for 15 years. "Radiation" and "Microwave" are still terms being used by these studies. First of all, technically, energy transmission is radiation, but for the rest of non-technical folks, radiation has been always thought like nuclear plants. Your TV, microwave oven and dryers are producing much more power when you are at the same distance as your cell phone these days. That's why mom says don't stand in front of the TV too close. And I won't stand behind a microwave oven when it's running.

Antenna from a tower or roof top sites are a different story. But the FCC has pretty good rules and regulations for that, given the carriers follow the rules. You, as a landlord or people living close to those antennas can always request a maximum power exposure study from the carriers and check it yourself.

By the way, the spectrum used is not called "microwave." I am very tired of hearing this from folks equating anything in the air that is energized "microwave." Come on. So far, the only cause of damage that I can see myself is the heat generated by the phone and battery. But that's the same thing for us not to touch the hot stove, the hot iron, the hot toaster or even stay out in the sun for "too long" without sunscreen.

Let's be sensible. Continue with studies, but let's not be too alarmed and conclude without evidence. And let's not complaint about phone service (especially at home) when no one wants antennas in their neighborhood. Physics hasn't had a significant breakthroughs for over 50 years on transmission theory.

By the way, did they follow and study a bunch of RF Engineers instead? They will be a good studying group!

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I suspect the heat is the problem.

If you're holding a warm object next to your head for a good few hours a day I would expect you to have some kind of reaction.

Sadly, nobody wants to study the area thoroughly -- they all want a grant to make mobile phones look deadly or completely safe.

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Microwave ovens...

...are the best counter argument to cell phone hysteria I've ever heard. Your typical household microwave oven (here in the States, with our rather wimpy 120v nominal power supply) operates somewhere between 800 and 1300 watts. Compare that to a mobile phone, which will use ~3.6 watts maximum in analogue mode, and just a bit more than half that in GSM - considerably less if close to a tower. Even a very slight leak in the shielding of a microwave oven will result in radically more power broadcast into the environment than your phone will. Does this happen? It's an easy thing to test; take your 2.4ghz wifi device into the same room as your microwave and try using it while you use your microwave. After learning this, I did some demos with a number of friends. In my experience, about one in five will reduce your wifi to a crawl. If you can reliably interfere with your wifi just by reheating your leftovers, your microwave leaks. (If your wifi drops altogether, /I/ would suggest getting a new microwave, but I also recognize that that is probably still falling under the "better safe than sorry" category. I also only saw this once, on a 24 year old microwave.)

Interestingly enough, the only person worried about their microwave was the one with the ancient behemoth that totally killed anything in the 2.4ghz spectrum. Everyone else took it as a curiosity, nothing more. Which leaves me wondering - if people don't care about non-ionizing radiation in their kitchen (which is fair enough, /I/ don't), then why on earth are they worried about their phones?

-d

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Flame

@RF Guy -- Right, and I'm still around!

Once upon a time before OH&S do-gooder dictators came to power, in the days when we climbed transmitting towers to adjust antennas with the RF still switched on, I'd be up there tweaking away, and yet I've lived to tell the tale.

Atop the transmitting tower with my legs wrapped around the mast, the RF arcs would jump from my knees right through two layers of clothes onto the tower. The magenta-violet arcs would burn round holes clean through my jeans and overalls just like the sun and a magnifying glass burn through paper--only much more quickly. The only side effect was some small holes zapped or burned into one's skin around the vicinity of one's knees, and this only occurred because one's clothes prevented direct contact of one's skin with the tower. (Coming into direct contact with the tower prevents any RF arcing from occurring and at VHF/UHF frequencies one simply can't feel electric shocks even though current is flowing.)

My digital watch LCD screen would go completely black with the RF intensity; the only measuring instrument one could use up there was a moving-coil AVO-8 multimeter, as it used a copper oxide rectifier whose frequency response petered out in the upper audio range, thus it remained unaffected by the high intensity RF field.

The radio frequency field strengths that I and others worked in were in the range of hundreds to thousands of volts per metre. Whilst the frequencies were only about one quarter to third that of mobile/cell phones, the radiation intensity was, nevertheless, 10,000 to 100s of thousands of times stronger than that emitted by a single mobile phone.

We were all aware that frequencies with which we worked were all well within the non-ionizing radiation part of the spectrum by MANY, MANY orders of magnitude. Moreover, we too were well aware of the simple heading effects of RF energy and the safety precautions needed. For example, under certain circumstances, RF heading could be dangerous--being accidentally locked in a resonant cavity/tank circuit room with a 100kW or so of RF energy could easily fry one--even though the heating effect was simple molecular (vibrating) agitation.

One precaution we always observed was to take special precautions with our eyes when working with frequencies of 3GHz and above [i.e.: 10cm wavelength and shorter]. At these frequencies (3GHz is the beginning of the microwave band), the wavelength is effectively relatively short. Here, its 1/4 wavelength--the distance where maximum potential difference occurs (where voltage goes from 0 minimum to maximum across the wavefront)--approaches the length of the eyeball. If exposed to excessive RF field strengths at microwave frequencies, localised heating of the eyeball can occur and cataracts of the eye can form.

Well known and normal work practice was never to stand near or in front of waveguides nor to ever look down them, especially so if the RF power level exceeded 1W or above.

Despite this being decades ago, all the people that I worked with in this high level RF field environment are still alive and well.

Radio Frequency energy in the vicinity of mobile phone wavelengths may produce cancer but it's clear the effect is exceedingly small. Over a period of 80 or so years since the 1930s and especially so from WWII onwards--times in which a few people were first exposed to sufficient RF energy to suffer burns--researchers have been looking for evidence that RF energy causes damage to the human body in ways other than straight penetrative heating. Despite hundreds of research efforts all over the world since the war and that there is some theoretical evidence, especially of possibility of harm to young children, it's very doubtful that we'll see a major change in the usage of cell phones.

Frankly, IMHO, the population's addiction to these devices is so total and complete, that it'd take a scare magnitudes larger than some remote possibility of cancer to have any significant affect on usage. Moreover, I don't see power levels coming down much further either, as the same addiction won't tolerate a lessening of the service area, quality and bandwidth throughput.

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Microwaves and wifi

I actually did the opposite: with a (new) microwave, and a strong wifi signal, I put the netbook inside the microwave to see what happened. (Obviously I didn't turn on the microwave!). With the door ajar, wifi gets in easily; with the door closed, the Faraday cage really does work - no signal at all!

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@Richard Neill

Note that a wifi access point signal is some 400mW. A microwave is ~800 W. Even a poor Faraday cage is probably enough to stop wifi working on a laptop.

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@Daniel4 inverse squares

Is your head normally resting on a microwave oven door while it's running? Rather you than me ....

The power law for EM radiation is inverse-square. A 1W source 3cm distant (phone on ear) equals a 100W source 30cm distant or a 10kW source 3m distant. Microwave in kitchen typically 1m or more from your head would have to be pretty darned leaky to match a phone running at full power in a one-bar signal area.

In fact were that a fair comparison, phones would be provably lethal. The frequency also makes a big difference. Oven microwaves are tuned to be strongly absorbed by water, to maximise heating efficiency. Phone microwaves are not, so most of the radiation goes through your head rather than being absorbed by it.

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You might not have cancer - but...

All the RF engineers with kids that I know had girls.

Except for the others who had boys.

Mines a boy! Maybe its not RF either...

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Anonymous Coward

RF Burns

Mobile usually has a max power at 1W. Many times, it transmit much lower than that (especially when you are in a good coverage area). Good carrier companies optimize the systems so that each mobile transmit at very minimum power (especially CDMA, WCDMA, LTE, WiMax type of systems) so that the network can hear as many mobile as possible to avoid drop calls and no coverage. So when you are using your phone, generally it's way under 1W. And when you are using older phones, you will probably usually higher power. And the faster the speed (uplink), the higher to power it goes, so if you are constantly able to send a large file from your phone, the phone could get hot.

RF does burn skins, but only if you touch it at high power like a waveguide (e.g. cables at the cell site) which usually can carry 30 or 40W of powers through the coax.

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Inverse square law? Really?

*sigh*

Do you really think I'm aware of spectrum frequencies and not the inverse square law? And no, I /don't/ tend to lean my head on the microwave - but I've seen plenty of people stand about 6 inches from their microwave oven while waiting for their popcorn to finish. Besides, you apparently weren't paying attention to my post - did I say that I sat a laptop ON the microwave while it was running? No, it was tested in the same room - usually 2-5 meters from the microwave oven.

Now, 802.11 is not exactly the most powerful signal in the world - I'm really, really, REALLY not concerned about what I found. But I stand by my (admittedly unscientific) conclusion - if you were to spend equal time using both, your microwave oven is as, if not more, likely to kill you as your cell phone. Of course, that BLT sandwich I had yesterday is probably even worse, and you aren't going to see me giving those up either.

As far as the "tuning" goes, microwave ovens primarily work via dipole heating, not molecular resonance of water (despite common belief otherwise). This is why they will heat up fats as well as water. A phone in the same frequency range would, hypothetically, produce the same effect. HOWEVER, despite being much closer to your head, only a very small portion of the energy is directed /at/ your head. In addition, the total amount of energy is quite small (minuscule compared to what many of us have experienced in our lives) and I, for one, just can't be bothered to worry about what is less of a risk than walking 3 blocks down the road to my local grocery store.

-d

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Alert

Really f***ing basic here guys.

The term is NON-IONIZING radiation, that is to say it has about as much cancer causing potential as an incandescent light-bulb, and a really weak one at that.

What next? "My homeopathist told me she can cure aids, lets give her some funding."

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Trollface

Yes but...

Would you put an incandescent light bulb in your brain?

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Joke

You don't read many....

cartoons then....

Lightbulbs and brains are the quintessential protrayal of creativity and inventiveness!

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Holmes

"Would you put an incandescent light bulb in your brain?"

I would if I could.

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Silver badge

"Would you put an incandescent light bulb in your brain?"

Sure. Sounds like a really bright idea.

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Pint

sounds fun

pass me the drill

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Meh

Uh...what?

....extremely low-frequency magnetic fields

...cancer

Must have been taken up at the behest of the international hypochondriac association.

Is the UN actually useful? For anything? Except, you know, a veto and war justification platform for big players?

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WHO?

Did you mean World Health Organisation?

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Headmaster

Re: WHO?

The World Health Organisation is an agent of the United Nations. In simple terms, it's part of it.

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Over simplified

Yes they are a specialised agency but I wouldn't lump them in with the other lot. They have their own incompetencies but they have done some good work. Well AIDS really. They do seem to be catching up to the other lot though

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Facepalm

Another bunch

Another bunch of "scientists" trying to secure their next round of funding, perhaps?

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Facepalm

Now, WHO's just let every whacko alive loose.

It'll be worse than Climate Change 'cause it involves the Big-C.

Watch out! Troglodytes will be emerging from wooden cracks everywhere.

I need a ticket to Mars, possibly one-way (sans cell phone).

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Anonymous Coward

well

Well it's possible I could get eaten by a pack of hungry dogs but I still wont put it on my list of "shit I'm worried about" though like anything I'm sure if you strap it to your head and talk on it for six hours a day it may very well f--- you up. Just like if you drink too much water your brains breaks, if you cross the road at rush hour with your eyes closed you'll get hit by a car and if you eat a diet of nothing but junk food you're probably not going to live a full and healthy life.

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@Really f***ing basic here guys

Non-ionising doesn't mean safe, I used to program a non-ionising source of radiation that was used to slice through steel plate to make ships.

Mind you, the control group is going to be tricky if LF fields and coffee also cause cancer. We need to find some people who have been heavy users of mobiles for 25years who didn't drink coffee or work near CRTs !

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Anonymous Coward

Non-Ionizing...

Non-ionizing just means that the molecules are not changing their structure. At least not at that frequency or energy (power) level... But that's the same thing as a fire, hot stove or hot iron... Of course we don't touch those things. Look, nothing is 100% certain, but we, as a scientific community live on statistics and give & take. I love ketchup, but I know what's in this crap. Same concept like everything else. Choose wisely just for you, and just do it without wining about it. I am just tired of anyone complaining about Microsoft or Apple, or their cell service at their home, when they are NOT even interested in knowing how business/consumers and stuff work in general.

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presumably the non-ionizing radiation cutting you mean = laser?

I presume you mean cutting metal using something like a 10kW laser focused on a 1sqmm?

I'd imagine that is somewhat higher power density (~10GW/m^2) than any base station where the power density can barely reach 1W/m^2. Its probably a higher power density than the highest power broadcast/military/radar antenna anywhere too.

Actually lasers have a different ICNIRP guidlines as they aren't RF - you can even see the bright ones way outside the visible spectrum, once with the left eye and once with the right.

So non-ionizing radiation like any heating process is fine as long as you don't get too much of it. Its funny how people think nothing about sitting in front of a 3kW electric fire (3kW/m^2) or lying in the sun 1kW/m^2 (and that is ionizing radiation!!) yet worry about RF power equivalent to a fridge lightbulb on a pole 200m away.

But this is about phones - if they were so harmless we'd all be alive.

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This post has been deleted by its author

FAIL

Erm, no....

I don't normally appear discourteous but please get a grip.

If this was the case then victims should start dropping like flies right about now.

And all the RF engineers would be like Marie Curie and their tools exhibited behind graphite glass.

Although, if some nutter uses the analogy to force a ban of mobiles in public places for fear of second-hand radiation, I'd love them. Start with schools then public transport and close off with eateries. And given the PC times we live in, force the provision of purpose-built anechoic, antenna totting, faraday cages for the terminally addicted.

God, that must have been some strong milk I had this morning....

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OK, why all the downvotes on this one?

Is it the mention of lawsuits? The mention of tobacco? Or is it the Snow White issue; it is isn't it, you people are still taking the blame for Snow White.

Look, I realize that sitting there up in the windows and watching Snow White and all seven of those height challenged little sawed of SOBs could make you guilty.

Get over it.

Snow White is still in a coma.

Someone has destroyed the negatives and so.

Her prints will never come.

(Covering my head on this post, where is a good -not the face; not the face icon when you need it?}

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WTF?

A title

it seems that WHO standards are getting lower everyday.

And because of this, several supposedly serious, media are reporting about "Cellphones ‘possibly carcinogenic,’ WHO says" (Washington Post); "Cellphones May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel Says" (NY Times).

Of course, that kind of headline brings more sales that the fact, which appears deep inside some articles:

“The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we

need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer

risk,” said Jonathan Samet, who chaired the panel.

Which is another way to say "we are not sure of anything, so please give us more money".

Anyway, if this lead to less ***holes screaming in their phones in trains or the street, it would not be so bad.

R

R

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Mushroom

Cellphones may cause cancer

Yes, cellphones may cause cancer. I'd be happy to say they can cause cancer.

Coffee *does* cause cancer

Peanuts *do* cause cancer

Petrol *does* cause cancer

All these risks are acceptably small. You don't swim in petrol, you sometimes catch a faint whiff of it while filling your car. If you drink seriously carcinogenic amounts of coffee, the stimulant effects will be by far the greater hazard (heart attack or short-term caffeine toxicity). The levels of aflatoxin in peanuts are low, provided they've been grown and stored to acceptable standards. And so on.

Life is carcinogenic, and if cancer doesn't get you, something else will, even surer than the tax-man. Eventually.

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Mushroom

@Anonymous Coward - Right, Fuck 'em!

I used to be extremely pro science once but I'm now beginning to have second thoughts.

___

BTW: Can you even imagine the mealymouthed, two-bob-each-way, tree-hugging, do-gooder, must-lick-arse-or-I'll-not-get-a-grant scientists of today ever having the wherewithal or gumption to invent that bang?

Not bloody likely! General Groves'd have probably shot 'em on sight for treason.

Where are you Oppenheimer? All is forgiven. Edward Ratbag-Nuke-'Em-All Teller; William Personality-Devoid-Eugenicist Shockley, etc. urgently resurrect yourselves, we need you all to kick arse real hard.

Please come back and defend science before we crash-land into another dark age.

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Thumb Up

Who the hell downvoted the above post!????

Add to your list Galois and Turing. Oh wait, they castrated Turing and threw Galois in the slammer....

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Re : Who the hell downvoted the above post!????

Who the hell up-voted the above post...

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LOL

Which is why I love thereg....

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Pirate

study smoking first...

The WHO should put more study out about smoking instead... It smells, it causes cancer, it makes people more poor (expensive to buy, higher health insurance cost and have to pay for doc visits more for related health problems), it harms 2nd hand smokers, it burns something for no good reason sending fumes in the air, it doesn't really look or feel cool in my book, humm... Why are and WHO are we talking about cell phones again?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/pirate_32.png

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Anonymous Coward

Hello?

Umm, I'm fairly sure that they don't need to do that in terms of carcinogenicity.

I smoke, got hooked at about 16 years of age. I know it's bad, you know it's bad. It's legal though, and gets me through the day sometimes. Wish I'd never started though, which I wouldn't have done if it was illegal.

Call me pathetic for no willpower if you like, but the fact is: though generally frowned upon, people smoke. For various reasons.

I loathe a nanny state, but I do think the current situation is hypocritical.

My view would be to increase the smoking age by one year, every year. Let the existing addicts live their lives and not trap any others.

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Anonymous Coward

"....increase the smoking age by one year, every year."

I'll have to ask the 10 year old girl I saw smoking in the street the other day how she thinks that will work out.

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I'll have to ask the 10 year old girl I saw smoking in the street how she thinks that will work out.

You really shouldn't bother an expectant mother with such petty questions.

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Anonymous Coward

no outlaw for smoking

Sorry, I am not saying that we should outlaw smoking. But I am just saying that there are much worse thing in life than supporting a claim of cell phones causing cancer without nearly as much evidence as cancer caused by smoking. I don't think either should be outlawed. Neither should we outlaw eating corn syrup. It should be a choice.

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Facepalm

studying smoking

Is there substantial new evidence to alter what they wrote in 2004?

http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol83/index.php

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Mushroom

Will it never end?

All these tests, studies, decades of research and the most damming evidence? "suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation"

Is that it? If I may be permitted to provide a translation. "If there is a risk it is so utterly small that after 10 years of study we cannot even measure it"

The biggest study so far published tracked 420,000 cell phone users over the course of 21 years. Their results: the RF energy produced by the phones did not correlate to an increased incidence of the disease" http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?no_d2=1&sid=06/12/07/223218.

If a 21 year study of 1/2 million users was not able to find a correlation, and a 10 year study can only find a 'suggestion' the actual risk is so utterly small that worrying about it will probably kill me sooner.

The only outstanding unknown left for me is just what will it take for these WHO experts to just say "No risk. No headlines. No Mobile Phone Death Rays headlines. Sorry." 10 million? 20 million? (Dollars not study size, obviously).

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Megaphone

I want pickles in your coffee

I had just read another article, which didn't mention pickles or coffee. Gee, news publishers wanting to _not_ kill a story just yet?

So anyway... just remember to keep adding "like coffee" every time someone mentions this.

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Devil

Good. A step in the right direction

Hopefully this move will encourage further studies. Just because multiple scientific organisations haven't proved there is a definite and serious link between mobile phone handsets or base stations, it doesn't mean there isn't one.

Low levels of EM radiation on these frequencies may not show much effect on human tissue in short running tests, but the reality of decades of exposure across a wider sample of, say, 1000 people might reveal a completely different story.

I use my mobile lightly for short calls, preferring landlines where possible. And I don't like my ears and head heating up with mobiles, it's very uncomfortable physically and mentally. But that's just my view.

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Happy

Sigh

"decades of exposure across a wider sample of, say, 1000"

Well, how about 21 years of research of nearly 1/2 million people? http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?no_d2=1&sid=06/12/07/223218.

Is that a wide enough sample for you yet?

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WTF?

Lets be 100% totally safe...

And turn the universes off.

(new tobacco, my arse!)

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Silver badge

Ah, Justice at last!

So, if I correctly understand this, then all those people who subject me to the inanities of their daily lives, and their banal babble with their friends, their families, and work colleagues, by making me an unwilling and, frankly resentful third party to their side of a cell phone conversation in every sort of public place,... do you mean to tell me that they are all going to suffer a gruesome end because of it?

If this isn't divine justice, then I don't know what is.

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Coat

Easy fix

If you're worried about the risk, don't use a mobile phone.

Keep out of the sun and live in a faraday cage.

Or just use the Three/Vodafone network as there's almost no coverage,which means no risk? Am I rite??

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Headmaster

Just discussed this with my year 11 IT class ...

and the answer was ... who makes phonecalls ? They don;t even text (sms) any more - everything is done on farcebook or twatter

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jai
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oh the irony...

...of reading this article via the m.theregister.co.uk portal...

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