Health effects

Health effects

Are there studies showing a link between non-ionizing radiation and developing disease?

There is no unequivocal answer to the question of whether non-ionizing radiation (such as that emitted by mobile phones, household cordless phones, wireless communications networks, cellular base stations and the electric power grid) can endanger health or cause disease.  Scientists are divided in their opinions on the topic.


Most studies on radiofrequency emissions have focused on the development of different types of cancer, especially brain tumors, acoustic nerve tumors and salivary gland malignancies.  Other health outcomes studied were the effects on fertility (e.g. sperm morphology and motility); on brain function (e.g. cognitive function, attention and concentration deficit disorders in children, brain development in babies); on the heart and circulatory system (blood pressure and heart rate); on hearing, saliva (secretion, composition and flow), fat profile of blood, obesity, development of multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, headaches, and the 'non-ionizing radiation hypersensitivity' syndrome.


In 2011 a Working Group of the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated that there was limited evidence of an increased risk of developing malignant brain tumors (glioma) and benign acoustic nerve tumors among mobile phone users.  The Working Group also pointed out that the results of current studies were insufficient for drawing clear conclusions about other types of cancer and/or about occupational or environmental exposure.  Based on this conclusion, they classified radiation from radio waves, such as from mobile phones, in Category 2B in the list of carcinogens, thus defining radiofrequency emissions as possibly carcinogenic to humans.


Studies on electric power grids (extremely low frequency, ELF) also focused on the risk of developing cancer, especially leukemia in children; effects on pregnancy outcomes (miscarriages and birth weight); effects on children's behavior, on cognitive function, hormones, neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's) and heart diseases.


Population studies have pointed to an increased risk of developing leukemia (a blood cancer) among children who lived in close proximity to high tension wires, compared with children who lived further away.  Here too, as for non-ionizing radiation from radiofrequency waves, no unequivocal causal effect between exposure and morbidity has been proven.  However, on the basis of these studies the IARC classified non-ionizing radiation at lowest frequencies as 'possibly carcinogenic to humans' (category 2B).  To date no link between radiation from the electric power grid and other types of cancer has been established conclusively, neither in children nor in adults.