Ina Fried

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World Health Organization Unit Warns Cellphones May Cause Cancer

A unit of the World Health Organization on Tuesday took the step of labeling the radiation emitted by cellphones as possibly cancer-causing, citing a new analysis of existing published studies.

The group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, has looked at more than 900 agents and classified more than 400 as carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, or possibly carcinogenic to humans. The IARC has added cellphones to that last group.

“The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer,” the WHO said in a statement. “This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.”

The organization said because there appears to be some risk, the issue needs further study.

“Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “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.”

Naturally, the cellphone industry trade group took issue with the finding.

“Today, an International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) working group in Lyon, France categorized radiofrequency fields from cellphones as ‘possibly’ carcinogenic based on ‘limited evidence,'” said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association. “IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee.”

Concern over health issues related to cellphones and the radiation they emit have lingered since the advent of such devices, with different regulations in different geographies requiring cellphone makers to measure and disclose the amount of radiation coming from their products.

Walls noted that the study didn’t definitively conclude that cellphones do cause cancer, and said that other organizations have examined the same data and come to different conclusions.

“Based on previous assessments of the scientific evidence, the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that ‘[t]here’s no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer,'” Walls said. “The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that ‘[t]he weight of scientific evidence has not linked cellphones with any health problems.’”

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— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google