The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO), recently classified the radiation associated with mobile phones use as Group 2B: “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
This essentially put cellphone radiation in the same category as the pesticide DDT, gasoline engine exhaust fumes and coffee.
Classifying agents as “possibly carcinogenic” doesn’t mean they automatically cause cancer and some experts said the ruling shouldn’t change people’s cellphone habits.
Despite the lack of conclusive evidence that mobile phone users may be at increased risk of brain cancer, sensationalist headlines linking cellphone use and cancer have littered the media since the WHO’s report.
South Africa is no exception, with Carte Blanche tackling the question as to whether cellphones are as safe as current research suggests.
Carte Blanche aired many voices which included activists questioning the lack of recourse for citizens to block towers in their area and hence prevent possible adverse health effects because of long term cellphone radiation exposure.
Government officials and mobile providers however reiterated the prevailing international view that radiation from cellular towers is safe.
With all the differing views it can be challenging to establish the truth about the health impact of cellular radiation.
Is there real danger?
Various media reports highlighted that the WHO’s classification puts radio frequency electromagnetic fields in the same category as DDT (the pesticide), gasoline engine exhaust fumes and coffee.
It should however be noted that carpentry and joinery, bracken fern (the plant), certain pickled vegetables and occupational exposure in dry cleaning are also examples of agents with a Group 2B classification.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, an international wireless telecommunications industry association spoke out against the WHO report, saying that the IARC working group only reviewed already published studies and did not conduct any new research.
This has not prevented organisations such as Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) from saying that South African employers need to be cognizant of the WHO’s new warning.
OCSA believes that employers should use questionnaires to inform, educate and screen any employees issued with cellphones for company use.
Fortune magazine asked the question “Cell phone use is way up. So why did brain cancer rates fall?” in a recent article.
They concluded that we’ll only know for sure whether there is a link between cellphone use after a few more decades when the radiation dose in the population stabilises at a high level and brain cancer rates either jump or continue to decline.
According to the Fortune magazine article this stabilization appears to have already happened in the US during 2010.
Many industry experts seem to agree with this view, saying that the IARC report, though new, doesn’t really offer any new conclusions about the dangers of cellphone usage.