A historical animal study funded and run by a U.S. government agency has reproduced what epidemiology observes in humans: rats exposed to high doses of radiofrequency (RF) radiation from a cell phone had an abnormally high incidence of rare forms of cancers of the brain and peripheral nerves.
But the Trump government is misleading the public and the media about the impact of this study on humans, charge independent researchers. Medpage Today wrote Cell Phone Radiation Unlikely to Cause Cancer – Rare cancer in rats likely not an issue for humans and Popular Science even assured its readers that they could stick their cell phones to their heads with duct tape!
Groundbreaking rodent studies
The ten-year, $25 million U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) project was the most comprehensive and rigorous study ever done on the biological effects of RF in animals. It consists of two separate studies – one on rats, the other on mice – which took place in three U.S. states as well as in Switzerland. To obtain robust results, the researchers used nearly 3,000 animals, double what is required, and invited three panels of experts to analyze the tumors discovered. The two technical reports and the draft conclusions drawn by the researchers were released last February 2nd by the NTP, a program of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). An independent review meeting will be held at the end of March before the two studies are summarized in a scientific journal. (Read the comments here.)
The NTP built special reverberation chambers to expose the animals to three specific absorption rates (SAR) or exposure levels: 1.5, 3 and 6 watts per kilogram in rats and up to 10 W/kg in mice. The American SAR limit for cell phones set by the Federal Communications Commission is 1.6 W/kg The exposure lasted up to nine hours a day for two years, with 10-minute periods interspersed with ten-minute breaks. The animals were exposed to microwave frequencies used by second (2G) and third generation (3G) wireless communication technologies. Produced by software, the waves emitted by an antenna had one of the two types of modulations used in cellular telephony: more powerful and rather short exposures (GSM or Global System Standard for Mobile Communications) or weaker and wider (CDMA or Code-Division Multiple Access, a method using multiple frequencies). The rats were exposed to the 900 megahertz (MHz) frequency and the mice to 1,900 MHz. Half of the 3,000 animals were unexposed, blind (unbeknownst to researchers), « control » subjects.
The greatest biological effects occurred in male rats, a common finding in this type of study, according to the former NTP researcher who designed these studies, toxicologist Ron Melnick. First, there was an abnormally high incidence (11 cases in 550 males vs 1 case in females) of glioma, a rare and very aggressive form of brain cancer. Although the number of casese was not statistically significant, glioma is the same cancer whose incidence is greater in people who use a cell phone 30 minutes per day on average for at least ten years, according to studies by Swedish oncologist and epidemiologist Lennart Hardell. In 2011, his findings were crucial in prompting the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to classify RFs as « possibly carcinogenic to humans » (Group 2B).But the most convincing, because statistically significant, NTP finding related to the higher incidence, and certainly caused by waves according to its scientists, of malignant schwannoma, a cancer of Schwann cells composing the myelin sheath surrounding nerve fibers. This extremely rare form of tumor specifically affected the nerves surrounding the heart of some of the most highly exposed male rats. And the weight of evidence is growing: Microwave News recently announced that an Italian study also found malignant schwannomas of the heart in rats exposed to RFs. This study, which will be published very soon, simulated the waves emitted by cell towers.The malignant schwannoma is similar to the acoustic neuroma (or vestibular schwannoma), a benign but very painful tumor of the auditory nerve, whose incidence is also higher in intensive cellular users over the long term. According to Dr. Hardell, based on the rat NTP study and human epidemiological studies, the evidence is clear: cell phone use causes glioma and acoustic neuroma in humans.
The NTP study “marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk”, Dr. Otis W. Brawley, the American Cancer Society‘s chief medical officer, declared in May 2016. The NTP had just released its preliminary findings — two years before their publication, a rare occurrence — because of their potential major impact on public health. Confirming the validity of the results, Brawley added: “The findings are unexpected; we wouldn’t reasonably expect non-ionizing radiation to cause these tumors. This is a striking example of why serious study is so important in evaluating cancer risk. It’s interesting to note that early studies on the link between lung cancer and smoking had similar resistance, since theoretical arguments at the time suggested that there could not be a link.”
In May 2016, Ron Melnick stunned the world by declaring in Microwave News: « The NTP tested the hypothesis that cell phone radiation could not cause health effects and that hypothesis has now been disproved. The experiment has been done and, after extensive reviews, the consensus is that there was a carcinogenic effect.” In a press release issued last February 2 by the U.S. Environmental HealthTrust (EHT) where he is an advisor, Melnick stressed: « For children, cancer risks may be greater than that for adults because of greater penetration in the brains of children”, their skulls being thinner.
Yet when presenting the final draft reports this February 2nd, the NTP’s principal investigator downplayed their implications for human health. “The typical cell phone has radio frequency radiation emissions that are very, very, very, very much lower than what we studied”, stated John Bucher during a teleconference. “We studied the maximum that one could achieve during a call in a poor connection situation.”
Human exposure underestimated
His assertion was quickly contradicted by various experts, including French physician Marc Arazi: “The high radiation levels used by the NTP scientists up to SARs of 6 to 10 W/kg, show significant biological effects(…). It is these same and even much higher levels that were measured during the tests carried out of SAR extremities and body by the National Frequencies Agency (ANFR) between 2012 and 2016 on nearly 270 mobile phones”, said the whistleblower about what he calls the “Phonegate” scandal.
Dr. Arazi says he is conducting “a difficult legal battle to obtain the complete publication of the measurements reports that ANFR and its parent ministry still refuse to make public”. According to the partial data he has obtained, some phones emit radiation levels about nine times higher than the FCC limits and those set by most other countries. But these limits only aim to prevent microwaves pulsed by cell phones from heating human tissues. They do not take into account the dozens of non-thermal effects documented for more than 50 years, including cancer.Indeed, when your ears heat up while using a cell phone, it may be because microwaves are slowly cooking them! In fact, users who press it against their head (rather than using the loudspeaker or a headset) receive a higher dose of radiation than that displayed in the SAR.
The reason is simple: the SAR is based on laboratory tests where cell phones are held at a distance of about 1.5 cm from a plastic skull filled with a liquid to simulate the energy absorbed by a brain. That is why manufacturers’ safety guidelines recommend keeping the handset at this distance from the body. “Cell phones have no business being in our pockets, our bras or on our thighs,” said epidemiologist Devra Davis, president of the EHT, referring to the many other health problems (breast cancer, hyperactivity, cognitive, cardiac, fertility, memory problems, etc.) linked to use of cell phones and other wireless devices. According to Davis, if the cell phones had been tested as people use them (in contact with the body), their sale would never have been approved. Other effects observed in the NTP study include: damage to hippocampal DNA in the brain of some rats and, in mice, significant increases in lung cancer incidence and DNA damage to the frontal cortex in some males as well as increased incidence of malignant lymphoma in all groups of females.
The NTP also found schwannomas in non-significant numbers in several other peripheral nerves, including those of the glands (pituitary, salivary and thymus), eyes, uterus, ovaries, vagina and the trigeminal nerve. While there is no guarantee that these effects will occur in humans exposed to RFs, urgent action is needed because about five billion humans use a cell phone, emphasized Dr. Anthony B. Miller, former director of Epidemiology at the Canadian National Cancer Institute who also advises the EHT: “Even a small rise in very rare cancers from cell phone radiation would constitute a serious public health concern”, he commented last Feb. 5th on the EHT website. For Dr. Miller, also a long-time WHO consultant and Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Toronto, RFs must be classified as a Category 1 agent, « carcinogenic to humans ». In 2011, this world authority was mandated by IARC to validate the analysis of a committee of experts who convinced the WHO-affiliated organization to classify RF as « possibly carcinogenic to humans ». This is based on a 40% increase in the risk of glioma in intensive users of cell phones over the long term (30 minutes per day on average for ten years). However, taking into account the side of the head where users generally pressed their cell phone, the increase in the incidence of glioma was 100%, or twice the average in the general population.
In an opinion published by the Montreal Gazette March 8, McGill University physician Christopher Labos stated that the NTP study was reassuring because it did not show an increased risk of brain cancer and does not apply to humans. Labos is an Associate with McGill’s Office for Science and Society, financed by graphics magnate Lorne Trottier, webmaster of the emfandhealth.com website coauthored by physician Michel Plante, head of Health and Safety at Hydro-Quebec, the province’s electrical utility. Dr Miller sent us this comment after reading Dr Labos’ letter: “Dr Labos does not seem to understand the rationale behind animal carcinogenicity tests. Tests in animals have to use high doses of the agent as the numbers of animals that can be tested (even in as large a study as the US NTP study) can not remotely reach the numbers of humans exposed to the agent (in this case radiofrequency radiation). The assumption then is that there is a dose-response relationship, and that with low doses, there will be low numbers of cancers induced in humans. The schwannomas found in excess in the NTP study in fact are the same type of histology as in vestibular neuromas – tumours of the auditory nerve of the ear, demonstrated in excess in several human epidemiology studies in those who have had prolonged exposure to Radiofrequency radiation from cell phones. Further, it is not true that radiofrequency radiation does not induce changes in DNA. Such changes have been demonstrated in several biological studies and were seen also in exposed animals in the NTP study.
We now have a situation that a number of human epidemiology studies (in Sweden, France and also Canada) have demonstrated increased risk of glioma and auditory neuromas in those exposed to radiofrequency radiation for prolonged periods, especially if the exposure began when they were young. We are potentially on the brink of a major human disaster. We must reduce exposure to Radiofrequency radiation to as low as reasonably achievable, as we learnt to do for ionizing radiation (X-rays etc) many years ago.
In a letter published in the March 16 2018 print issue of the Monteral Gazette daily, Dr Miller added: “The occurrence of two tumor types in male Harlan Sprague Dawley rats exposed to RFR, malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the heart, in the National Toxicology Program animal study, together with the case-control studies in humans strongly support the categorization of RFR as carcinogenic to humans (category 1). There is also strong evidence of hypersensitivity to RFR (microwave sickness) in a number of people. This evidence makes it incumbent on all organizations to follow the California example so that all are made aware of the risks and know how to take steps to reduce them (distance is your friend)!”
Simulated waves less harmful
Another expert, American epidemiologist George Carlo, wrote us by email that the rodent exposure method used by the NTP likely underestimated the exposure of a cell phone user. “The NTP used a less harmful wave generator than the modulated waves emitted by a real cell phone, ” explained the researcher who in the 1990s led the first study of its kind funded by cell phone manufacturers. According to Wikipedia, pulse-width modulation is a technique for synthesizing continuous signals using circuits in all-or-nothing operation, or more generally discrete states for well chosen periods to adapt to the communication channel. “The exposure systems used in the NTP study did not use the type of modulation that occurs with actual use of the mobile phone – there was no information transmitted on the signals, no modulation of the voice nor any disturbance of the signal from other competitive signals in the environment, which increases another type of uncontrolled signal modulation. Taken together, the chances of triggering biological cascades were minimal because the exposures of the system used by the NTP were mainly based on the field strength – thus, mainly the thermal effect of the waves – and not on the basis of modulation. We know that modulation is the main trigger of bioactivity.” “Living organisms seem to have decreased defense against environmental stressors of high variability,” he wrote in a study he co-authored in 2015 which compared actual and simulated exposures to the waves.
Igor Belyaev, Head of the Department of Radiobiology at the Slovak Institute for Cancer Research, commented: “I agree that NTP study (similar as any laboratory study) has not accessed all possible signals of mobile communications, which may produce different biological effect due to dependence on variety of physical factors. Sex is one of biological variables that also define effects of non-thermal EMF by yet unknown mechanisms. Thus, sex-dependent effects revealed in the NTP study is in line with known science.
For Arthur Firstenberg, co-founder of the Cellphone Task Force and author of The Invisible Rainbow, it is surprising that at the thermal doses received, the NTP’s rodents have not developed other problems observed in previous studies. “No change in behavior, appearance, appetite, weight and temperature, no effect on sperm, normal blood count, etc. » Something is wrong in this study. These results are impossible.”
Devra Davis commented by email: “Melnick assures me that the GSM signal used here was not a simple, clean and sanitized signal, but one that includes considerable variations in power/density, etc. The fact that this study obtained positive results is quite important. I agree that more realistic signals could be used in additional studies, still the GSM signal is a complex signal with considerable variation within it so that even a clean GSM signal includes complexities that while not as great as the real-world are nonetheless appropriate in test systems. The lack of standardized nomenclature and approaches to mimicking signals remains one of many serious methodological issues that should be resolved….. BUT it is very important to state that the pathology review was completely blinded and that the criticism it was not is a red herring fostered by industry and should not be repeated as even a possibly valid criticism of the study… Bottom line is despite these methodological limitations, the study found positive results, consistent with numerous other in vitro and in vivo results, including Lerchl et al, 2015, which they failed to cite.”
It is the rarity of schwannoma that made its occurrence significant in the NTP rodents: 6% of male rats most exposed to both types of modulations developed it while the usual median incidence is 0.8%. Another critical factor that dispelled doubts about the cause of tumors: the risks increased as the RF/microwave radiation increased. Researchers also noted that the rats (male and female) exposed to the waves more often had diseases or heart damage. Finally, mice and rats also showed increases in tumors of the brain, liver and pancreas and various glands (prostate, thyroid, pituitary, adrenal), except that the researchers could not establish with certainty that they were related to the microwwaves. Just as they do not understand why, on the whole, the most exposed male rats lived longer than the others (perhaps their immune system was activated by the RFs, Swedish neuroscientist Olle Johansson postulated by email).
The NTP studies will have to be reproduced in particular to specify if the RFs directly cause the tumors or only favor the development of tumors caused by another factor, and by which mechanism(s) that occurs. It will also be necessary to clarify whether the observed damage to the rodents’ DNA was caused by the RFs or if they only inhibit the mechanisms for repairing this damage, Dariusz Leszczynski, assistant professor of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Radiation and Health, explained in his Between a Rock and a Hard Place blog. According to Dr. Arazi, “900 MHz GSM and CDMA do not have the same biological effects and do not cause the same pathologies. This clearly confirms the need to conduct risk studies for human and animal health before any new frequencies are put into service, such as the 5G that is expected to flood the planet shortly.”
Pediatricians and other experts advocate caution
Despite certain uncertainties, for the past two years, several public health experts – including those from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners and the State of California – have explained how to reduce exposure to RFs, especially among children. It is clear that RFs promote various ailments and diseases by affecting body metabolism. “These [NTP] studies should have been done before 90% of Americans, including children, started using these technologies all day,” recently declared the Environmental Working Group (EWG), world-renowned for its work on hormonal disruptors. As early as in 2009, EWG echoed expert calls for strict exposure limits on chronic, low exposure to RFs, to protect children and other vulnerable populations whose biological reactions to non-ionizing radiation have been documented for over 50 years.
Current thermal limits were developed beginning in 1978, when less than 0.1% of the population lived near radio and television antennas. “Such exposures have exploded and reach nearly 95% of the population today,” says Om P. Gandhi, Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah, involved in developing these standards based on dosimetry rather than biology.The former director of the experimental dermatology unit at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Olle Johansson, also believes medical authorities should urgently protect the most vulnerable by adopting strict RF exposure limits. “The NTP discoveries are important because rats have such a short life expectancy that they rarely develop tumors. We cannot compare people who do not use cell phones, but who are still exposed to microwaves emitted by various sources, with rats from an unexposed control group because they are placed in perfectly shielded rooms. And even if the incidences of tumors observed were considered low, applying such a result to the human population will eventually result in tremendous costs for health care systems around the world.”
As for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which commissioned the NTP study ten years ago, claims it is reassuring. “Even with frequent daily [cell phone] use by the vast majority of adults, we have not seen an increase in events like brain tumors. Based on this current information, we believe that the current safety limits for cell phones are acceptable for protecting public health,” said Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, Director of the FDA Radiological Health and Devices Center, on February 2. But according to Dr Hardell and Microwave News, we are even starting to see increases in the incidence of gliomas in several countries. The problem is that most national cancer registries are incomplete because brain cancers are not classified according to the type of tumor and because many people die with an undiagnosed brain tumor. Moreover, since gliomas often take decades to appear and cell phones only became popular in the 21st century, some experts like Dr. Miller fear that unless drastic measures are taken to reduce exposure of the public to RF, future generations will experience an epidemic of glioma. (In 1993, the FDA was one of three U.S. federal agencies to denounce the thermal-based RF safety limits as inadequate because they ignored long-term non-thermal effects, such as cancer.)
But for Devra Davis, the cancer-incidence debate is sterile and diverts attention away from an even bigger problem. “As damage to male and female reproduction is a well-documented outcome [of cell phone exposure], debating whether or not we are witnessing a human epidemic of glioma is the wrong question to ask when developing public policies. The goal of public health is to prevent disease, not to prove that we are facing an epidemic.”
A powerful lobby
For his part, Microwave News publisher Louis Slesin thinks he knows why NTP management said Feb. 2 that cell phone use is “not a high risk situation” while in 2016, their researchers said that it was necessary to issue a national public health warning. “The Trump Administration ridicules scientific evidence that threatens big business. Whether the subject is global warming, chemical safety or radiation protection, bureaucrats are aware that they have to watch what they say if they want to keep their jobs. Just last week, a brigadier general was tossed off the National Security Council for suggesting that the coming 5G network be nationalized”, he wrote on February 7. “Linda Birnbaum, the director of both the NIEHS and the NTP, is already under fire from House Republicans for advocating the control of toxic chemicals. She can only fight so many political battles at the same time. RF may be a bridge too far.”
Slesin, whose newsletter is published since 1980 and is recognized by Time magazine as “meticulously researched and thoroughly documented”, adds that the military-industrial complex, which uses RF in one way or another in all modern weapons, has been discrediting the studies on their biological effects for decades. “In 1984, the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) Guy study showed that rats exposed to microwaves got cancer. It took eight years before his results to appear in a journal. By then, they were mostly forgotten.”Not to mention the fact that the telecom lobby’s influence now exceeds that of pharmaceuticals. “When the brain cancer controversy began in the early 90’s, the major cell phone companies were Motorola, Nokia and Sony Ericsson,” says Slesin. “Today, the major players are Apple, Google and Microsoft, the high-tech darlings of Wall Street. Each has a capitalization approaching a trillion dollars. They run a massive lobbying operation in Washington and never speak publicly about the impact of the waves on health.”
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