• 27 JUL 09
    • 0

    #1102: Perhaps ICNIRP’s epidemiology has it terribly wrong…

    As Ahlbon et al points out in the latest ICNIRP inspired cell phone risk assessment, for carcinogens which have a very long average induction time, if there was a causal effect there should be an observable increase in risk much earlier than the average induction time. Asbestos exposure, an unfortunate legacy for many Australian workers, is a prime example here. The average latency period for mesothelioma, a known result of asbestos exposure, is in the 15-30 year time frame but onset of the disease and time of exposure can be far quicker. With asbestos exposure a clear increased risk was seen far earlier than the average induction time.

    With this line of reasoning, in relation to cell phone use and cancer, if there is an increased risk of brain cancers from cell phone use after 10 years use, suggestions of that increased risk should now be apparent. In ICNIRP’s opinion, overall the epidemiological data fails to see an increase in risk before 10 years. According to Ahlbom et al and as restated by Kenneth Rothman, “ Therefore, the absence of an effect for the first 10 years after exposure should have implications that extend beyond that time.” The ‘take-home’ message from this observation for the cell phone industry is that no risk exists at all and so lets get on with selling cell phones to one and all, including small children.

    However, if we get away from the structured reasoning of ICNIRP’s epidemiology and observe what is happing on the ‘front line’ from the neurosurgeons’ perspective, a far different picture emerges.

    In May 2009 three Australian neurosurgeons, Drs. Vini Khurana, Charles Teo and Richard Bittar wrote a ‘Letter to the Editor’ to the medical journal Surgical Neurology. Titled “Health risks of cell phone technology”, the letter expressed the neurosurgeon’s concerns over what they considered was a serious emerging public health risk from the ubiquitous use of the cell phone and the increasing evidence for harm, including brain and salivary gland tumours, male infertility, behavioral disturbances and electrosensitivity. The authors concluded by strongly recommending that children’s cell phone use should be restricted. Khurana and Teo, with co-authors Michael Kundi, Lennart Hardell and Michael Carlberg have also written a peer-reviewed paper published in Surgical Neurology (online) titled “Cell phones and brain tumors: a review including the long-term epidemiologic data”. This paper concludes that “there is adequate epidemiologic evidence to suggest a link between prolonged cell phone usage and the development of an ipsilateral brain tumor” and “ it is likely that neurosurgeons will see increasing numbers of primary brain tumors, both benign and malignant.” On previous occasions Khurana, Teo and Bittar have publicly expressed their concerns over what they were seeing in their surgeries. For example, Dr. Teo said in a 60 Minutes interview (April 3rd, 2009) that he was seeing a rise in the incidence of brain cancer and as a result the public should be informed as to all the potential causes of the disease. Teo said that he was “incredibly worried, depressed at the number of kids I’m seeing coming in with brain tumours….Just in the last three or four weeks I’ve seen nearly half a dozen kids with tumours which should have been benign and they’ve all been nasty, malignant brain tumours. We are doing something terribly wrong.” On the Adelaide Today Tonight TV program on July 21, Khurana mentioned that he was also seeing in his practice an increase in malignant brain tumours, particularly in younger age groups.

    In addition to the above concerns, Professor Bruce Armstrong, the head of the Australian section of the international Interphone Project, studying the possible long-term hazards from cell phone use, saw that for long-term users a suggestion of an increased risk of gliomas on the same side of the head that a cell phone was usually used and as a result recommended that cell phone exposures should be limited, especially for children.

    Earlier Australian calls for concern over the unrestricted use of cell phones by children were expressed by the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 2000. Dr. Gerry Haddad, head of the CSIRO’s Telecommunications and Industrial Physics Department, stated in Senate hearings that there was a need to “restrict use of mobile phones for children for essential purposes…a precautionary principle would seem to be a good idea”.

    The Australian concerns are backed up by statistics from the UK that have found that brain tumours are now apparently the leading cause of childhood cancer mortality in the UK. While childhood leukaemia mortality had decreased 39% between the years 2001 to 2007, childhood brain tumour deaths had increased by 33% over the same period. In addition, according to the U.K charity, Brain Tumour Research, more children and adults under the age of 40 now die from brain tumours in the U.K. than from any other form of cancer and the incidence is increasing with some experts seeing a doubling of brain tumour cases over the past year.

    Concerns over an apparent increase in brain tumour incidence in young people also were raised in U.S. Congressional hearings in September 2008. Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute testified that in his examination of government statistics the incidence of brain cancer has been increasing over the last ten years, particularly among 20-29 year-olds. Herberman pointed out that as the latency for brain tumours is more than ten years and if cell phone were responsible for the increase, brain tumur rates might not peak for at least another five years. At the congressional hearings both Herberman and David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and Environment in Albany, N.Y., cited research findings by Lennart Hardell from Sweden that indicated people who started using cell phones before the age of 20 were five times more likely to develop a glioma, a type of brain tumour. According to Carpenter, “this observation is consistent with a large body of scientific studies that demonstrate that children are more vulnerable than adults to carcinogens.” Carpenter stated at the hearing “the evidence is certainly strong enough for warnings that children should not use cell phones.” He warned that, “The failure to take [strong preventive action] will lead to an epidemic of brain cancer.”

    Concerns have also reached the governmental level in France with the health Minister Rosalyne Bachelot announcing on May 26, 2009 a new initiative which includes banning cell phones in primary schools, banning cell phone use by children under the age of six and the manufacture and marketing of phones that can only be used for texting or be use with an earpiece attached 11. This is to prevent the use of the phone close to the head.

    In March 2, 2009 the Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP) issued official advice that the “health of the present generation of children and future generations is under danger” from cell phone use and therefore the committee has recommended that cell phone use be restricted for people under 18 years of age. The RNCNIRP supports the dissemination of information specifically for parents, teenagers and children on the dangers of cell phone use and has called for the banning of cell phone advertising targeting children.

    Considering what is being observed in the real world, especially by neurosurgeons, perhaps we are now seeing that increased risk (before 10 years time) that ICNIRP is blind to.

    Epidemiology is about estimating health risks but what about the potential huge risk to future society by unquestionably accepting the assurances of ICNIRP’s blinkered version of science and taking no precautionary action to protect the health of our children and issuing advice to cell phone users?

    Don Maisch

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