James C Lin is an ex member of ICNIRP

Front. Public Health, 31 October 2022 Sec. Radiation and Health

This article is part of the Research Topic    James C. Lin*

  • Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering, and Physiology and Biophysics, University of Illinois Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States

The past two decades have seen exponential growth in demand for wireless access that has been projected to continue for years to come. Meeting the demand would necessarily bring about greater human exposure to microwave and radiofrequency (RF) radiation. Our knowledge regarding its health effects has increased. Nevertheless, they have become a focal point of current interest and concern. The cellphone and allied wireless communication technologies have demonstrated their direct benefit to people in modern society. However, as for their impact on the radiation health and safety of humans who are unnecessarily subjected to various levels of RF exposure over prolonged durations or even over their lifetime, the jury is still out. Furthermore, there are consistent indications from epidemiological studies and animal investigations that RF exposure is probably carcinogenic to humans. The principle of ALARA—as low as reasonably achievable—ought to be adopted as a strategy for RF health and safety protection.


Microwave and radiofrequency (RF) radiations power all over-the-air wireless channels, communication links, and network systems through which text, files, images, and videos are transferred by mobile devices and related platforms. The recent decades have seen exponential expansion in popularity for mobile access that has been forecasted to persist in the foreseeable future. Satisfying the demand would necessarily bring about greater human exposure to microwave and RF radiation.

Asides from primary intended roles as a carrier or infrastructure that enables the communication technology, microwave and RF radiation may induce additional effects that could influence the vital functions of living organisms. The biological changes caused would manifest in multiple physical and biological spheres. They may or may not be grossly apparent or observable soon after exposure of the living organisms. In some cases, they may only manifest until years later—they may develop years to decades after repeated low-level exposures.

The health impact of RF and microwave radiations has been a subject of scientific investigation shortly after demonstration of their production in scientific laboratories, over a century ago (1, 2). Without any doubt, their use especially in cellular mobile communication and associated wireless technologies have enriched human lives. Our knowledge regarding its health effects has increased gradually. Nonetheless, RF radiation has come to be a focal point of interest as a result of accelerated use of RF and microwave radiation in wireless mobile communications.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized exposure to RF and microwaves as a possible carcinogen to humans in 2011. The IARC had evaluated existing scientific studies and came to the conclusion that while data was imperfect and restricted, particularly regarding reports from animal experiments, epidemiological investigations concerning elevated risks for gliomas (a type of malignant brain cancer) and acoustic neuromas (a non-malignant tumor of the acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerves) among heavy users or long-term customers of cellphones, are satisfactorily robust to warrant a classification of possibly carcinogenic in humans for exposure to RF and microwave radiation (3, 4).

Recently, two commonly distributed RF health protection recommendations revised their guidelines and standards. The updated International Commission on Nonionizing Radiation Protection guidelines (5) and Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety standards (6) are strongly connected to acute temperature rises induced by RF heating inside the human body. The updated safety guidelines and standards showed without any question the groups’ staunch convictions of nothing but heat to worry about with microwave and RF radiation.

A persistent and vexing question lingers concerning these guidelines and standards for safe long-term exposure to RF radiation (in contrast to exposures shorter than 6 or 30 min). A general sense on the absence of appreciation of scientific evidence regarding long-term exposure below the basic restrictions continues with these safety guidelines and standards.

There is also the question of how there can be such divergent evaluations and inferences of the identical scientific findings by WHO’s IARC, ICES, and ICNIRP. To be fair, scientists are not impervious to conflicts of interest such as conflicting financial interests or personal relations which could affect the deliberations and reporting through such experiences as groupthink. Also, in some ways, it may parallel the compulsion by big business to choose profit over societal concerns—big businesses often use a range of organized and refined tactics to enhance and protect their commercial interests, and regrettably in some cases these tactics come at the expense of public health.

Human beings repeatedly render decisions and select choices that challenge principled logic. Indeed, science has not been devoid of politics—weird as that may sound. Various biases can impair sensible reasoning and result in bad judgments. Groupthink can mislead human beings and inhibit scientists from making understandable inferences. Regrettably, groupthink or herd mentality is as rampant today as ever. Has science become partisan? And if science becomes partisan, is it science or politics, or would it be political science? At times, science gets wrapped up in politics and politics intervenes with science. It may simply turn out to be a matter of guilelessly being politically correct of the willing. Less than rigorous enforcement of policies in research conduct or full disclosure of financial conflicts can lead to failures in guiding and informing the development of transparent and trustworthy evaluations of scientific evidence for safety protection. Scientists may not always be consistent, coherent, or as transparent as promoted…..


PDF  Carcinogenesis from chronic exposure to radio-frequency radiation-10-1042478

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