How unsafe is cellular radiation?

The debate regarding the potential link between cellphone use and cancer (and other health concerns) is starting to make headlines in South Africa again.

The debate is far from being settled, and a recent World Health Organisation study suggests that mobile phone use is possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the WHO, classified the radiation associated with mobile phone use as Group 2B: “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

But what does Class 2B “possibly carcinogenic to humans” really mean. The best way to describe it is to match the risk up with other well known Group 2B activities and substances.

The IARC has 5 classifications for the risk of agents to humans:

  • Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2A – Probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 2B – Possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • Group 3 – Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
  • Group 4 – Probably not carcinogenic to humans

The following activities and substances may assist to assess the risk associated with each of the groups listed above:

Group 1 – Carcinogenic to humans

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Leather dust
  • Asbestos
  • Coke production
  • Mineral oils, untreated or mildly treated
  • Neutron radiation
  • Painter (occupational exposure as a)
  • Wood dust
  • Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives

Group 2A – Probably carcinogenic to humans

  • Art glass, glass containers and pressed ware
  • Hairdresser or barber (profession)
  • Lead compounds, inorganic
  • Shiftwork that involves circadian disruption
  • Engine exhaust, diesel

Group 2B – Possibly carcinogenic to humans

  • Coffee
  • Lead
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields
  • Talc-based body powder (perineal use of)
  • Engine exhaust, gasoline
  • Welding fumes

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How unsafe is cellular radiation?