The number of mobile phone subscriptions is now estimated globally at 5 billion and since the introduction of mobile phones over twenty years ago there have been a number of reports regarding the fear of ill-health caused by radiation and radio-waves emitted by mobile phones. A recent press release by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC) has contributed to this debate and the CWU Health Safety and Environment Department wishes to bring the available information to the attention of Branches. The full IARC press release can be found at this link:
Coming out of the report the IARC could have given mobile phones one of five scientific labels: carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic, not classifiable or probably not carcinogenic. The IARC gave mobile phones a 2B* or possibly carcinogenic classification.
Dr Jonathan Samet Chair of the Working Group said that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and a 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”
Others who have commented include Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, who said: “The WHO’s verdict means that there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer but it is too weak to draw strong conclusions from.
“The vast majority of existing studies have not found a link between phones and cancer, and if such a link exists, it is unlikely to be a large one.
“The risk of brain cancer is similar in people who use mobile phones compared to those who don’t, and rates of this cancer have not gone up in recent years despite a dramatic rise in phone use during the 1980s. “However, not enough is known to totally rule out a risk, and there has been very little research on the long-term effects of using phones.”
Christopher Wild, director of the IARC, said: “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings it is important that additional research be conducted into the long term, heavy use of mobile phones, “Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands free devices or texting.”
Despite the warning, the Department of Health said it would not be altering its position that a “precautionary approach” should be taken to mobile phone use and that children should only use handsets for “essential purposes and keep all calls short”. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said there was no clear scientific evidence of a cancer risk from exposure to radiofrequencies at levels below international guidelines. However, it added that the possibility did still remain and that additional research into the matter should be carried out. The HPA said it noted the IARC’s finding and supported “the call for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones”. A spokesman said: “Other agents classified by IARC in Group 2B ‘possibly carcinogenic’ are magnetic fields from electricity, coffee, petrol exhaust fumes and being a print worker”.
A previous major report was the work of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), Chaired by Sir William Stewart which reported in May 2000. The full Stewart Report can be found at:
At the time the Expert Group was asked if it could give specific advice or guidance for the adult and child mobile phone user. The advice was that there is no need for the general population to be worried about the use of mobile phones. However, in line with the precautionary approach highlighted in the report, the Expert Group notes that individuals may choose to use phones for as short a time as possible and use hands-free kits. The Expert Group also discouraged the use of mobile phones whilst driving. Children are likely to be more vulnerable to any unrecognised health risks from mobile phone use than are adults so as a general rule the Expert Group also considers that children less than 16 years of age should be discouraged from using mobile phones.
The CWU would provide similar advice in that mobile phone users should:
• Use mobile phones for as short a time as possible;
• Use hand free kits;
• Where possible text instead of calling;
• Discourage children under the age of 16 from using mobile phones.
The CWU also supports the call for additional research to be conducted into the long term use of mobile phones. The response of employers to this report and any further updates or research will be made available to Branches via LTBs.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer
Group 1: The agent is carcinogenic to humans.
This category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. Exceptionally, an agent may be placed in this category when evidence of carcinogenicity in humans is less than sufficient but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals and strong evidence in exposed humans that the agent acts through a relevant mechanism of carcinogenicity.
This category includes agents for which, at one extreme, the degree of evidence of carcinogenicity in humans is almost sufficient, as well as those for which, at the other extreme, there are no human data but for which there is evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Agents are assigned to either Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) or Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans) on the basis of epidemiological and experimental evidence of carcinogenicity and mechanistic and other relevant data. The terms probably carcinogenic and possibly carcinogenic have no quantitative significance and are used simply as descriptors of different levels of evidence of human carcinogenicity, with probably carcinogenic signifying a higher level of evidence than possibly carcinogenic.
Group 2A: The agent is probably carcinogenic to humans.
This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some cases, an agent may be classified in this category when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals and strong evidence that the carcinogenesis is mediated by a mechanism that also operates in humans. Exceptionally, an agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. An agent may be assigned to this category if it clearly belongs, based on mechanistic considerations, to a class of agents for which one or more members have been classified in Group 1 or Group 2A.
Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans.
This category is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. In some instances, an agent for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals together with supporting evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data may be placed in this group. An agent may be classified in this category solely on the basis of strong evidence from mechanistic and other relevant data.
Group 3: The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.
This category is used most commonly for agents for which the evidence of carcinogenicity is inadequate in humans and inadequate or limited in experimental animals.
Exceptionally, agents for which the evidence of carcinogenicity is inadequate in humans but sufficient in experimental animals may be placed in this category when there is strong evidence that the mechanism of carcinogenicity in experimental animals does not operate in humans.
Agents that do not fall into any other group are also placed in this category.
An evaluation in Group 3 is not a determination of non‐carcinogenicity or overall safety. It often means that further research is needed, especially when exposures are widespread or the cancer data are consistent with differing interpretations.
Group 4: The agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans.
This category is used for agents for which there is evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals. In some instances, agents for which there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in experimental animals, consistently and strongly supported by a broad range of mechanistic and other relevant data, may be classified in this group.