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— updated 2008-06-21


Herbalist Review, Issue 2007-#2:
Microwave hazards, cell phones, and cancer

by Roger W. Wicke, Ph.D.

A review of current research, with references.

Subtopics on this page…

Copyright ©2007 by RMH-Publications Trust; all rights reserved.


Microwaves -- an introduction

Most people now living on this planet are surrounded by a sea of microwave energy radiating from household and industrial sources:

  • radio and TV stations
  • cell phone towers
  • cell phones
  • computers and television sets
  • microwave ovens

Each decade, new commercial applications result in significant increases in the radiation to which each of us is exposed. Total exposure from a given source generally decreases with the square of the distance from that source. For example, the amount of radiation exposure at two miles from a TV transmitter would be 1/4 the amount of exposure at one mile.

Within the past decade, cell phones are responsible for a huge increase in total radiation exposure for most people. Even non-users in most urban areas are continually bathed in a sea of microwave radiation from local cell phone towers, nearby cell phone users, and other sources. Some scientific studies have revealed significantly increased likelihood of tumors developing on the same side of the brain where the person holds his or her cell phone. (See "Evidence, references" below.)

In the early days of commercial microwave applications, the consensus among the U.S. scientific community was that the health hazards of microwaves could be attributed primarily to thermal effects. In other words, damage was thought to result from the "cooking" of biological tissues exposed to such radiation. This belief stood in stark contrast to consensus within the Soviet scientific community that biological effects were due both to thermal effects and to non-thermal effects at much lower energy densities; non-thermal effects including changes in cellular membrane permeability, DNA and protein configuration, electrical characteristics, and other functional changes in cell metabolism. The Soviets used this difference of opinion to their advantage during the Cold War: the U.S. embassy in Moscow was continually irradiated by the Soviets with low-level microwave radiation, well within the official U.S. safety limits. Many of the embassy employees became ill with cancer or leukemia, yet the U.S. government did nothing to protest, knowing that to do so would be to admit that their own safety standards were grossly inadequate to protect public health.

To this day, the U.S. safety standards for microwave radiation exposure are orders of magnitude more lax than Russian and European standards. Industry lobbying of Congress keeps these inadequate standards in place; to change them would imply that American companies have exposed the population to hazardous radiation levels for decades; such admissions could potentially trigger billions of dollars in liability for damages.


Evidence, references

Industry-sponsored research purports to prove that cell phones and consumer microwave devices are safe by selectively ignoring the increasing evidence of health hazards. The U.S. government, FDA, OSHA, and organizations like the American Cancer Society continue to promote the industry agenda. Following are several references that illustrate this selective bias, minimizing discussion of the evidence, and making dismissive generalizations:

Cellular Phone Towers (American Cancer Society)
Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? (American Cancer Society)
Cell Phone Facts: Consumer Information on Wireless Phones (FDA)
"The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones."
Radiofrequency and Microwave Radiation Hazard Locations and Solutions (OSHA)

In contrast, the following articles discuss the volume of evidence that cell phone radiation does cause cancer and other illnesses. Notably, many of these articles discuss in detail the non-thermal effects that are dismissed as being unimportant by the FDA and other government agencies. (For key articles, I've summarized important points.)

The Largest Biological Experiment Ever, by Arthur Firstenberg

· Radiation emitted from microwave towers has been implicated in diseased and dying forests, population decline in many species of birds, and deformities in farm animals.

· Neuroscientist Olle Johansson has documented "significant and permanent worsening of public health" (including neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease, many types of cancer) coincident with the introduction of the 1800-Mhz cell-phone technology in Sweden in 1997.

· Since the 1970's, many people have been continually exposed to levels of microwave radiation 10 million times greater than natural background radiation levels.

· Cell phones that are turned on (even when not in use) and wireless transmitters are always emitting radiation.

· Microwave radiation, even at intensities well below levels that induce thermal effects, can interfere with the way in which cells normally communicate with each other.

· Typical cell phone radiation levels result in breakdown of the blood-brain barrier; this effect is not reduced by decreased power levels. Only a few minutes of exposure to a cell phone results in leakage of albumin through the blood-brain barrier.

· The lungs, nervous system, heart, eyes, testes and thyroid gland are especially susceptible to microwave radiation damage.

The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation, by Sue Kovach

· The microwave industry has engaged in a systematic campaign to discredit its critics, especially scientists studying the harmful effects of microwaves.

· Many cell phone companies, aware of the health hazards, have written their service contracts to specifically prohibit customers suing the manufacturer or service provider for any health consequences.

· Epidemiologist George Carlo outlined numerous design flaws in a widely quoted study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2006) that purported to prove that cell phones are safe.

· Cell phones entered the marketplace without any safety testing or evaluation, due to a regulatory loophole.

· Cell phone radiation causes DNA damage, impedes DNA repair, causes cell membrane hardening, and disrupts communication between cells. It contributes to brain dysfunction, tumors, and potentially to conditions such as autism, attention deficit disorder, neurodegenerative disease, and behavioral and psychological problems.

Secret Report on Cell Phone Dangers and Tetra Confidential Report on TETRA Strictly for the Police Federation of England and Wales, by B. Trower

· Lloyds and Swiss Re, two of the world's largest insurance companies, have recommended that insurance companies insert exclusion clauses into their health insurance policies to specifically exclude illnesses caused by "continuous long-term low level radiation".

· The health hazards of microwaves are discussed from a legal angle -- how such evidence might best be used in lawsuits.

2005 update: The convergence of the cold war history of mind control and electromagnetic weapons with new post cold war government neuroscience research programs, by Cheryl Welsh; and Electromagnetic Radiation (emr) Weapons: As Powerful As The Atomic Bomb, by Cheryl Welsh, president: Citizens Against Human Rights Abuse, Copyright Feb. 2001
This article presents a general history of electromagnetic (EM) weapons and mind control and their health effects. (This is highly relevant to cell phone technology, as the potential exists for EM weapons technology to be embedded within cell phone networks, affecting both users and their surrounding communities.)

· Topics include: MK-Ultra; non-thermal bioeffects; non-lethal weapons; the research of Ross Adey, Jose Delgado, and Robert Becker.

Generation X-Ray: Child victims of Technological abuse, by Amy Worthington
"Microwave radiation from any source can drastically impair the ability of kids to concentrate, learn and retain information according to Russian experts.(54) Studies show that wireless radiation can cause nerve conduction in the human brain to slow down, diminishing every category of mental skill including memory, reading, computation, reasoning and reaction time.

  ...the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the two agencies which "regulate" cell phones and other wireless devices have two basic things to say about wireless radiation hazards:

The big lie. "There are no known risks from exposure to RF emissions from wireless phones..."

The disclaimer. "There is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe."

This disingenuous and contradictive mantra has been adopted by both the FCC and the FDA even though the telecom industry's own Wireless Technology Research (WTR) program of the '90s showed that cell phone radiation -- at levels well below "safety" guidelines -- causes blood-brain barrier damage, animal tumors and a 300 percent increase in DNA damage to human blood."

Additional references:

Birds, magnetic and electromagnetic fields, by the H.E.S.E. project

· This is one of the most thorough reviews of the scientific clues and evidence to date of the relationship between decline of bird and bee populations worldwide and cell-phone radiation.

The Effects of Radiation in the Cause of Cancer, by Olle Johansen

· There is a clear association between increased cancer rates and increased exposure to microwaves from radio stations and cell phones within the past decades.

· Microwave radiation seems to act as a potent cofactor in triggering cancers otherwise associated with chemical pollutants and asbestos.

Radiofrequency (RF) sickness in the Lilienfeld Study: an effect of modulated microwaves?; From: Archives of Environmental Health; Date: 5/1/1998; Author: Liakouris, Ana G. Johnson

· Russian scientists, unlike American scientist, acknowledge RF sickness syndrome, which includes manifestation of dermographism (i.e., psoriasis, eczema, and inflammatory and allergic skin problems); neurological diseases; reproductive disorders; and tumors.

The Health Implications of Playing with Big Brother's Most Cool Tool - Pt 2, by Amy Worthington
You Don't Deserve Brain Cancer - You Deserve the Facts, by Amy Worthington
Cell Phones Cancer Connection; by Stewart Fist, The Australian Newspaper, April 29, 1997

My personal reasons for compiling this article

In 1990, I moved to a remote town on an Indian Reservation in western Montana, specifically to escape the polluted air, noise, electromagnetic buzz, and general craziness of Denver, Colorado. The lack of technological sophistication of western Montana was a plus for me. Even TV and radio reception in my town is difficult due to the surrounding mountains, which is fine with me as I rarely have the patience to listen to mindless and mind-numbing chatter. I possess no microwave oven and do without most of the gadgets that clutter other people's homes. Notably, cell phones do not work here; the local mountain ranges and relative distance to the nearest cell phone transmitter towers prohibit their use.

During the summers, tourists invade Montana; many come here to temporarily escape the frenzy of their lives, and many find relief. However, an increasing number of these people insist on bringing their cell phones with them so that they can chatter about what they had for breakfast, the gewgaws they recently bought, and a hundred other insignificant nothings. Businessmen claiming to come here for relaxation want to stay connected with their wheeling-and-dealing 24/7. Recently, these folks have strongly hinted that our little village needs cell phone service.

To these people, my advice is to stay away. Consider that your addiction to toxic technology affects not just you but everyone around you.

As an herbalist, I often see clients who complain of various neurological symptoms, including visual disturbances, persistent or recurring headaches, insomnia, poor memory, etc. While these symptom complaints may be due to a wide range of factors, if the individual frequently uses a cell phone, it would be an oversight to ignore it as a possible causative factor. No amount of herbs or vitamins can neutralize all the damage caused by cell phones. The obvious solution may be to stop using it.

Within the next decade, I predict that there will be massive lawsuits against the cell-phone and wireless industry worldwide, as cancer rates escalate and the effects of persistent, low-level microwave radiation become undeniable. Schools all over the world are banning or considering banning cell-phones and wireless networks because of the health risks to children whose developing brains are especially sensitive; this trend is likely to spread:

Health fears lead schools to dismantle wireless networks, by Sylvia Wright
Wi-Fi: Children at Risk from 'Electronic Smog'
Wi-Fi: A Warning Signal
Health fears lead schools to dismantle wireless networks, by Joanna Bale
Taiwan Removes All Cell Towers Near Children, by Joanna Bale
Cell-Phone Towers and Communities: The Struggle for Local Control, by B. Blake Levitt