A year ago the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released the Interphone Report, the conclusion of a ten year project to determine whether or not cell phone radiation caused health problems. At the time, the Interphone study’s conclusion was that the evidence for cell phone hazards just wasn’t there, even though a number of researchers involved in the project expressed concerns about long-term use.
But today, after a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries reviewed the latest research data, the IARC announced that it has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from cell phones “as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.“
Jonathan Samet, overall Chairman of the Working Group, said that "the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk."
In its news release detailing its conclusions, the IARC indicated that this conclusion has implications for public health, particularly given that an estimated 5 billion people around the world use a mobile phone.
“This is the first formal acknowledgment that we may have a problem on our hands—and it could be a very big problem. We don’t know yet,” Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, told Spectrum.
This announcement will likely lead to increased research about the specific effects of cell phone radiation, and will likely give a boost to efforts to insist that a phone’s radiation emission levels are prominently labeled in cell phone stores, something the cell phone industry has been fighting.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 30 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.