I wish I could tell you that we know a lot more about the health effects of radiofrequency (RF) signals from cell phone towers than we did in 2002, but I'm afraid there are still more questions than answers. In fact, in January 2008, the National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, issued a report saying that we simply don't know enough about the potential health risks of long-term exposure to RF energy from cell phones themselves, cell towers, television towers, and other components of our communications system. The scientists who prepared the report emphasized, in particular, the unknown risks to the health of children, pregnant women, and fetuses as well as of workers whose jobs entail high exposure to RF energy.
Because so much of cell phone technology is new and evolving, we don't have data on the consequences of 10, 20 or 30 years worth of exposure to the RF energy they emit. The report chairman, Frank S. Barnes, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Colorado, was quoted in news reports as saying that it is "pretty clear" that there are no major acute effects from all the various sources of RF exposure due to cell phone use: "People aren't using their phones and dropping dead. So the question is, ‘What is happening from long term use, in various ways?'"
The report called for studies of long-term exposure to all wireless devices including cell phones, wireless personal computers, and cell towers. A report issued in 2006 from the World Health Organization (WHO) found no scientific evidence that RF signals from cell towers cause adverse health effects and made the following points:
- Up to five times more of the RF signals from FM radio and television (than from cell towers) are absorbed by the body with no known adverse effects on health in the more than 50 years that radio and TV broadcast stations have been operating.
- Reported cancer clusters surrounding cell phone towers are "often a collection of different types of cancer with no common characteristics" and are therefore "unlikely to have a common cause." What's more, the report noted that there are now so many cell towers that cancer clusters will occur near some merely by chance. And during the past 15 years, no epidemiological studies have found an increased risk of human or animal cancers related to the transmitters.
But none of this proves that RF exposure from cell towers is harmless. We'll have to wait and see what further investigation reveals.
Andrew Weil, M.D.