Scientists and public health officials assess risks to human health based on the entire body of evidence, rather than individual scientific studies. The evidence is considered by panels of experts in this field. We look to such expert reviews for advice on mobile devices, masts and health. We only consider the opinion of panels commissioned by recognised national or international health agencies, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO), The Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN), The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) (formerly the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority - SSI) and The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA).
Since 2001, there have been a significant number of expert reviews of scientific research studies into mobiles, masts and health published by expert panels around the world. This page contains a summary of reviews published from 2006 to date. See the table of expert reviews for a complete list of reviews meeting our standards of scientific rigour.
In May 2011, an expert group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals (RF), including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC has classified RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.” The full findings are expected in 2012. The WHO will produce an RF health risk assessment based on a review of the scientific evidence for all potential health effects of exposure to RF fields. The IARC classification will inform this.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), a non-governmental organisation formally recognised by the World Health Organization, provides guidance on limiting human exposure to RF fields. See their 1998 guidelines which, in August 2009, the ICNIRP confirmed were still valid.
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
In July 2009, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) published a review “Exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, biological effects and health consequences (100 kHz-300 GHz)”. This review is an important input to the WHO health risk assessment process and forms the basis for a thorough re-evaluation of ICNIRP’s science-based guidance on limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields.
In this review, extending to more than 350 pages, ICNIRP provides its detailed analysis and discussion on the implications for health of studies published after release of their 1998 exposure guidelines.
This review is consistent with earlier expert review findings that, apart from RF heating, there is still no convincing evidence for adverse health effects from the low level RF fields from mobile devices and base stations.
ICNIRP’s full conclusions on experimental studies of RF biological effects can be found in section II.6.2 of the review, here are some extracts:
“... Whilst it is in principle impossible to disprove the possible existence of non-thermal interactions, the plausibility of various non-thermal mechanisms that have been proposed is very low.”
“Concerning cancer-related effects, the recent in vitro and animal genotoxicity and carcinogenicity studies are rather consistent overall and indicate that such effects are unlikely at SAR levels up to 4 W kg-1...”
“The evidence from double-blind provocation studies suggests that subjective symptoms, such as headaches, that have been identified by some individuals as associated with RF exposure, whilst real enough to the individuals concerned, are not causally related to EMF exposure.”
“The experimental data do not suggest so far that children are more susceptible than adults to RF radiation, but few relevant studies have been conducted.”
ICNIRP’s full conclusions on epidemiology can be found in section III.8 of the review, here are some example extracts:
“Results of epidemiological studies to date give no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relation between RF exposure and any adverse health effect. On the other hand, these studies have too many deficiencies to rule out an association ...”
“Although the likelihood is low that fields emanating from base stations would create a health hazard, because of their weakness, this possibility is nevertheless a concern for many people ... On the one hand, results from valid studies would be of value in relation to a social concern; on the other hand, it would be difficult to design and conduct a valid study, and there is no scientific point in conducting an invalid one ...”
The Swedish radiation safety authority (SSM – formerly SSI)
In January 2011, the Swedish radiation safety authority published the seventh in a series of annual updates prepared by an independent expert group (IEG). With recent major scientific reviews as starting points, these annual reports consecutively discuss and assess relevant new data and put these in the context of already available information. The result will be a gradually developing health risk assessment of RF exposure. The group began its work in autumn 2002 and presented its first report in December 2003. The following extracts from the January 2011 report relate to RF fields:
“This year has seen the publication of the long awaited Interphone study looking at brain tumour risk in mobile phone users. However, the advent of these new data does not change the overall picture being that for up to about ten years of mobile phone use associations with brain tumour risk are unlikely. This conclusion is based on the collective of studies on mobile phone use and brain tumour risk as well as on overall trends (rather lack thereof) in brain tumour statistics. For longer duration of use, for specific subtypes of cancer, and for children and adolescents data are sparse or non-existing, and conclusions are less certain.”
“Available data do not indicate any risks related to exposure to RF from base stations or radio or TV antennas. Taking into account also the low levels of exposure that these sources give rise to, health effects from transmitters are unlikely.”
“While heating remains the only established biological effect from exposure to RF fields, the studies on human volunteers showing effects on EEG in the alpha band are rather interesting and certainly warrant further study. The effects are weak and not associated with any behavioural or health consequences. However, they appear to be mediated by a mechanism other than heating.”
See the full report Recent Research on EMF and Health Risks Seventh annual report from SSM’s Independent Expert Group on Electromagnetic Fields 2010 for more detailed analysis.
See Table of expert reviews for links to all seven of the annual reports.
European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)
SCENIHR published an updated opinion on the ‘possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on human health’ on 19 January 2009, following public consultation. Its opinion is that:
"It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans. However, as the widespread duration of exposure of humans to RF fields from mobile phones is shorter than the induction time of some cancers, further studies are required to identify whether considerably longer-term (well beyond ten years) human exposure to such phones might pose some cancer risk.
Regarding non-carcinogenic outcomes, several studies were performed on subjects reporting subjective symptoms. In the previous opinion, it was concluded that scientific studies had failed to provide support for a relationship between RF exposure and self-reported symptoms. Although an association between RF exposure and single symptoms was indicated in some new studies, taken together, there is a lack of consistency in the findings. Therefore, the conclusion that scientific studies have failed to provide support for an effect of RF fields on self-reported symptoms still holds. Scientific studies have indicated that a nocebo effect (an adverse non-specific effect that is caused by expectation or belief that something is harmful) may play a role in symptom formation. As in the previous opinion, there is no evidence supporting that individuals, including those attributing symptoms to RF exposure, are able to detect RF fields. There is some evidence that RF fields can influence EEG patterns and sleep in humans. However, the health relevance is uncertain and mechanistic explanation is lacking. Further investigation of these effects is needed. Other studies on functions/aspects of the nervous system, such as cognitive functions, sensory functions, structural stability, and cellular responses show no or no consistent effects.
Recent studies have not shown effects from RF fields on human or animal reproduction and development. No new data have appeared that indicate any other effects on human health.
From the risk assessment perspective it is important to recognise that information on possible effects caused by RF fields in children is limited. Furthermore, there is a lack of information on diseases other than those discussed in this report."
The Health Council of the Netherlands (HCN)
The HCN focused its 2008 update of EMF and health, published in March 2009, on the relationship between brain activity and health symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields. In his covering letter to the Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, the vice president of the HCN summarised the report as follows:
"The Committee elaborates in this Annual Update 2008 upon the methods and criteria used to thoroughly evaluate scientific information. The Committee further discusses the relationship between electromagnetic fields and brain activity and that between electromagnetic fields and health symptoms. In both cases the Committee concludes that there is no scientific evidence that exposure to environmental levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields causes health problems. Since the perceived symptoms that some people attribute to such exposures seem to be especially related to the presumed exposure the focus should be on communication."
The committee’s report (in Dutch and English) contains more detailed analysis and can be obtained from http://www.gr.nl.
The Irish Independent Expert Group
This report, published in March 2007, gives the conclusions and recommendations of an independent expert group appointed by the Irish Government. The expert group reviewed the scientific evidence for adverse health effects in the RF range 300 Hz to 300 GHz, as well as conducting a consultation with central and local government, concerned citizens and industry.
The report makes a number of scientific conclusions and recommendations. In relation to adverse health effects from mobile devices and base stations, the Irish Expert Group concludes:
“So far no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the RF signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. RF signals have not been found to cause cancer. However research is underway to investigate whether there are likely to be any subtle, non cancer effects on children and adolescents. The results of this research will need to be considered in due course.”
Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation
The Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR), reports to the UK government’s Health Protection Agency. Formed in 1990, the group’s remit is to ‘review work on the biological effects of non-ionising radiation relevant to human health’.
In April 2012, AGNIR published a report on the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, providing an update to their previous review of research in 2003.
Following a review of hundreds of scientific research studies, AGNIR concluded that:
More information about AGNIR and their research is available here.
UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme
The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR), published in September 2007, was conducted under the direction of an independent scientific management committee established by the UK Government. It formed the first part of a larger UK research programme.
The report concludes "none of the research supported by the programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones". The report also notes that measurements of radio signals from base stations show that exposures are well below international guidelines, as well as recognising that no further research is required in certain areas. The MTHR website provides information on the proposed areas for the next phase of research and the full MTHR report.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
The WHO has published a number of factsheets on electromagnetic fields (EMF) and public health, including those on:
The most recent WHO factsheet published in June 2011 concludes that:
"Research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.”
“Eidemiological research examining potential long-term risks from radiofrequency exposure has mostly looked for an association between brain tumours and mobile phone use.”
"To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
"While an increased risk of brain tumors is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk."
The factsheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that:
“Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer
An expert group from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), has announced its cancer hazard assessment for radiofrequency signals (RF), including those from broadcast, mobile communications, microwaves and radar.
IARC has classified RF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use”. The full findings are expected in 2012.
In an article published in The Lancet Oncology Volume 12, Issue 7, the IARC Working Group stated that:
“The Working Group concluded that there is “limited evidence in humans” for the carcinogenicity of RF-EMF, based on positive associations between glioma and acoustic neuroma and exposure to RF-EMF from wireless phones. A few members of the Working Group considered the current evidence in humans “inadequate”. In their opinion there was inconsistency between the two case-control studies and a lack of an exposure-response relationship in the INTERPHONE study results; no increase in rates of glioma or acoustic neuroma was seen in the Danish cohort study, and up to now, reported time trends in incidence rates of glioma have not shown a parallel to temporal trends in mobile phone use.
“In view of the limited evidence in humans and in experimental animals, the Working Group classified RF-EMF as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B)”.
The IARC classification only considers whether there is a possible link between long-term heavy mobile device use and cancer, it does not assess the likelihood of this link arising. To understand the likelihood and therefore the potential risk posed, the WHO will carry out a wider health risk assessment, expected in 2013. This assessment will take into account all the available science relating to RF and health, including the IARC classification and work done by ICNIRP. Based on this assessment the WHO, governments and public health authorities will decide what further advice, if any, is needed.
The latest WHO fact sheet published in June 2011, concluded that to date, no adverse health effects had been established as being caused by mobile phone use.
For further information on IARC classification please visit:
 Schüz J, Jacobsen R, Olsen JH, Boice JD Jr, McLaughlin JK, Johansen C. Cellular telephone use and cancer risk: update of a nationwide Danish cohort. J Natl Cancer Inst 2006; 98: 1707–13.
International response to IARC classification
Health authorities around the world have responded to the IARC classification. Here is a summary of some of their comments.
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
"The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) notes the publication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of radiofrequency fields (RF) as Group 2B on the IARC scale of carcinogenic risk to humans. ICNIRP awaits with interest the full Monograph that explains the justification and arguments put forward by IARC in arriving at this conclusion. ICNIRP has been conducting a review of the potential health effects of RF including carcinogenicity as well as other aspects. The Commission will be publishing a revision of the ICNIRP guidelines on limiting RF exposure for the general public and occupational groups. It will take into account all aspects of the literature including the material put forward in the IARC Monograph."
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)
“…ARPANSA welcomes the report and considers that the classification by IARC corresponds to the current ARPANSA advice, including its advice on practical ways in which people can reduce their exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by wireless telephones. These include: limiting call time, preferring use of land-line phones, using hands-free or speaker options and texting instead of making voice calls. Use of the phone in good signal areas will also usually let the phone communicate with lower power levels and further reduce exposures. ARPANSA has also recommended parents encourage their children to use these methods of reducing exposure. ARPANSA does not consider that the new classification should give rise to any alarm.”
Irish Department of Health and Children
“In the light of these findings, the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Children strongly advises that children and young people who do use mobile phones, should be encouraged to use mobile phones for “essential purposes only”. All calls should be kept short as talking for long periods prolongs exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. All mobile phone users can reduce their exposure to radiofrequency energy by making fewer calls, reducing the length of calls, sending text messages instead of calling, using cell phones only when landline phones are unavailable, using a wired “hands free” device so that the phone need not be held against the head and refraining from keeping an active phone clipped to the belt or in the pocket. Given the scientific uncertainty regarding mobile phone related cancer risks, many countries including Germany, France, Austria, United Kingdom and Russia have taken a precautionary stance regarding cell phone use, particularly by children.”
UK Health Protection Agency (HPA)
“The HPA notes the conclusion that there could be some risk and that a close watch should be kept for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk. HPA supports the call for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. The HPA carries out research and continually reviews research on the health effects of radio waves. The IARC classification is consistent with previous reviews of the science and advice from HPA regarding the use of mobile phones. HPA advice is that there is no clear scientific evidence of a cancer risk from exposure to radiofrequencies at levels below international guidelines but the possibility remains. The HPA has always advocated some precaution in the use of mobile phones in case there are long term effects which are presently unknown. Given the possibility of long term cancer effects, excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged. HPA advice on the use of wireless networks in schools and elsewhere is also consistent with this classification. Exposures from Wi-Fi equipment are much less than from mobile phones, and are well within international guidelines, so there is no reason why schools and others should not continue to use the technology.”