On January 8th, 2010, the major Finnish newspaper, “Helsingin sanomat“, has published as a “front page” guest editorial (vieraskyna/pääkirjoitus) my text concerning the need for further research on the effects of the mobile phone radiation. The original text (in Finnish) can be found here:
Below is my translation of the text of this editorial.
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are assuring that there is no reason to be concerned about the effects of mobile phone radiation and that the current safety standards protect all users. At the same time scientists are calling for more research. Why?
When evaluating scientific evidence we not only need to determine what we know. We should also consider what kind of important health effects were not yet examined at all. Only by combining the information on what we know and on what we did not examine yet, we can reliably evaluate the validity of the current safety standards.
The majority of research on the biological effects of mobile phone radiation has been done using cells grown in laboratory. In such studies it is possible to determine the biochemical mechanisms of the effect, what provides background information for designing further animal and human studies. However, the evidence gathered in such studies can not be used to estimate health risk or to set safety standards.
Animal studies are used to determine whether examined agent might potentially have any effect on humans. In toxicological studies animals are exposed to an overdose of the agent and examined whether it has any effects on their health. Unfortunately, such study approach can not be fully used in studies of mobile phone radiation because the overdose of microwaves would warm-up the animal and the interpretation of the results would become very difficult. What are we left with, are studies where animals are exposed for a long periods of time to similar levels of mobile phone radiation as these that mobile phone users are exposed to. However, because mobile phone radiation is only a weak stimulus, it might be very difficult to detect its effects. At the same time is necessary to remember that the lack of observable effects in animals does not automatically mean that there will be no effects in humans. That is why the animal experiments using mobile phone radiation have only limited use in evaluation of the safety of mobile phones.
Studies of human volunteers have focused on cognitive effects, blood pressure, headaches, allergy-like symptoms, quality of sleep and whether person can recognize when mobile phone is emitting radiation and when it is switched off. Unfortunately, experimental conditions of such experiments can psychologically affect volunteers causing that their responses might become subjective and unreliable.
More objective information about the effects of mobile phone radiation on human body is possible to obtain using methods of molecular biology. Using this approach it would be possible to find out whether human body reacts to mobile phone radiation at all. In spite of years of research we do not have yet this information.
When evaluating human health risk the most important evidence is provided by epidemiological studies. However, epidemiological methods are not very sensitive and because of it, it is unlikely that epidemiology alone would ever be able to determine whether mobile phone radiation might be a health risk factor and cause brain cancer. An additional difficulty is the long latency period for brain cancer development. Therefore, we need to wait for additional 5-10 years for more reliable answers from epidemiologists.
One of the important questions is the possible effect of mobile phone radiation on children. According to ICNIRP and WHO current safety standards protect also children. For ethical reasons these assurances are based only on experiments with animals.
Contradictory opinions about the possibility of health risk associated with mobile phone radiation is easy to understand when we consider that we still do not have the answer to the basic question: does human body react to mobile phone radiation? If the answer is yes, then we need to determine whether children are more sensitive than adults and what will be the consequences of the life-time exposure. At this point it is good to remember that the mobile phone radiation is a man-made non-physiological agent for which our brains have not been prepared throughout the evolutionary development.
Before we know the answers to the above mentioned questions, the statements claiming that the mobile phones are safe are premature.
To find answers to these questions there are ongoing epidemiological research projects COSMOS, MOBI-KIDS in Europe and the NTP animal study in USA. In addition to such studies we need to conduct molecular biology studies on human volunteers exposed to mobile phone radiation. When results from these new epidemiological, animal, and human volunteer molecular biology studies will be available, then we will be able to better evaluate the reliability of our safety standards.
Because the current safety standards can be considered as unreliable, there is a need for both, further research and for the use of precautionary measures when dealing with mobile phones.