and non-thermal health effects of low intensity non-ionizing radiation: 
international perspective
Belpomme D,
Hardell, L, Belyaev I, Burgio E, Carpenter DO. Thermal and non-thermal health
effects of low intensity non-ionizing radiation: An international perspective.
Environ Pollut. 2018 Jul 6; 242(Pt A):643-658. doi:


• Exposure to electromagnetic fields has increased dramatically.
• Electromagnetic fields at low and non-thermal intensities increase risk of
cancer in animals and humans.
• Some individuals are particularly sensitive and develop a syndrome of
• There is an urgent need to recognize hazards associated with excessive
exposure to non-thermal levels of electromagnetic fields.


Exposure to low frequency and radiofrequency electromagnetic fields at low
intensities poses a significant health hazard that has not been adequately
addressed by national and international organizations such as the World Health
Organization. There is strong evidence that excessive exposure to mobile
phone-frequencies over long periods of time increases the risk of brain cancer
both in humans and animals. The mechanism(s) responsible include induction of
reactive oxygen species, gene expression alteration and DNA damage through both
epigenetic and genetic processes. In vivo and in vitro studies demonstrate
adverse effects on male and female reproduction, almost certainly due to
generation of reactive oxygen species. There is increasing evidence the
exposures can result in neurobehavioral decrements and that some individuals
develop a syndrome of “electro-hypersensitivity” or “microwave
illness”, which is one of several syndromes commonly categorized as “idiopathic environmental intolerance”. While the symptoms are non-specific,
new biochemical indicators and imaging techniques allow diagnosis that excludes
the symptoms as being only psychosomatic. Unfortunately standards set by most
national and international bodies are not protective of human health. This is a
particular concern in children, given the rapid expansion of use of wireless
technologies, the greater susceptibility of the developing nervous system, the
hyperconductivity of their brain tissue, the greater penetration of
radiofrequency radiation relative to head size and their potential for a longer
lifetime exposure.

“In spite of a
large body of evidence for human health hazards from non-ionizing EMFs at
intensities that do not cause measureable tissue heating, summarized in an
encyclopedic fashion in the Bioinitiative Report (, the
World Health Organization (WHO) and governmental agencies in many countries
have not taken steps to warn of the health hazards resulting from exposures to
EMFs at low, non-thermal intensities, nor have they set exposure standards that
are adequately health protective. In 2001 the International Agency for Research
on Cancer (IARC, 2002), part of the WHO, declared ELF-EMFs to be “possibly
carcinogenic to humans”, and in 2011 they made a similar declaration for
RF-EMFs (Baan et al., 2011; IARC, 2013). The classification of RF-EMFs as a
“possible” human carcinogen was based primarily on evidence that long-term
users of mobile phones held to the head resulted in an elevated risk of
developing brain cancer. One major reason that the rating was not at “probable”
or “known” was the lack of clear evidence from animal studies for exposure
leading to cancer. The US National Toxicology Program has released preliminary
results of a study of long term exposure of rats to cell phone radiation which
resulted in a statistically significant increase in brain gliomas, the same
cancer found in people after long-term cell phone use, and schwannomas, a tumor
similar to the acoustic neuroma also seen after intensive mobile phone use
(Wyde et al., 2016). Similar results in rats have been reported in an
independent study at the Ramazzini Institute with exposures similar to those
from a mobile phone base station (Falcioni et al., 2018). This evidence, in
conjunction with the human studies, demonstrates conclusively that excessive
exposure to RF-EMF results in an increased risk of cancer. In light of this new
evidence for cancer in rodents in response to prolonged exposure to mobile
phone frequencies, the IARC rating should be raised at least to “probable”
(Group 2A) if not “known” (Group 1).
the International EMF Project of the WHO, which is part of the Department of
Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health in Geneva, has
consistently minimized health concerns from non-ionizing EMFs at intensities
that do not cause tissue heating (WHO, 2014). In this regard WHO has failed to
provide an accurate and human health-protective analysis of the dangers posed
to health, especially to the health of children, resulting from exposure to
non-thermal levels of electromagnetic fields. The Department of Public Health,
Environment and Social Determinants of Disease takes its advice on the issues
related to human health effects of non-ionizing EMFs from the International
Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Almost all members of
the core group preparing the new Environmental Health Criteria (EHC) document
for the WHO are members of ICNIRP (Starkey, 2016; Hardell, 2017), a
non-government organization (NGO) whose members are appointed by other members.
In spite of recent efforts to control for conflicts of interest, ICNIRP has a
long record of close associations with industry (Maisch, 2006). When queried as
to why the WHO would take recommendations from such a group, WHO staff replied
that ICNIRP is an official NGO which works closely with the WHO. Why this
should exclude other scientific research groups and public health professionals
is unclear, particularly since most members of ICNIRP are not active
researchers in this field. We are particularly concerned that a new WHO EHC
document on RF-EMFs is scheduled to be released soon, and that the members of
the EHC Core Group and the individuals whose assistance has been acknowledged
are known to be in denial of serious non-thermal effects of RF-EMFs in spite of
overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary (Starkey, 2016; Hardell,
Others have
dismissed the strong evidence for harm from ELF- and RF-EMFs by arguing that we
do not know the mechanism whereby such low energetic EMFs might cause cancer
and other diseases. We have definitive evidence that use of a mobile phone
results in changes in brain metabolism (Volkow et al., 2011). We know that
low-intensity ELF- and RF-EMFs generate reactive oxygen species (ROS), alter
calcium metabolism and change gene expression through epigenetic mechanisms,
any of which may result in development of cancer and/or other diseases or
physiological changes (see for many references). We do not know
the mechanisms behind many known human carcinogens, dioxins and arsenic being
two examples. Given the strength of the evidence for harm to humans it is
imperative to reduce human exposure to EMFs. This is the essence of the
“precautionary principle”.”
“Based on
case-control studies there was a consistent finding of increased risk for
glioma and acoustic neuroma associated with use of mobile phones. Similar
results were found for cordless phones in the Hardell group studies, although
such use was not reported by the other study groups. The findings are less
consistent for meningioma although somewhat increased risk was seen in the
meta-analysis of ipsilateral mobile phone use. A longer follow-up time is
necessary for this type of slow growing tumor.”
“There are
other significant human health hazards of concern. There is strong animal and
human evidence that exposure to RF-EMFs as well as ELF-EMFs reduces fertility
in both males (reviewed by McGill and Agarwal, 2014) and females (Roshangar et
al., 2014) … There is evidence that isolated human sperm exposed to RF-EMFs are
damaged by generation of reactive oxygen species (Agarwal et al., 2009).”
“Exposure to
RF-EMFs has been reported to increase neuropsychiatric and behavioural
disorders (Johansson et al., 2010; Divan et al., 2012), trigger cardiac rhythm
alteration and peripheral arterial pressure instability (Havas, 2013; Saili et
al., 2015), induce changes in immune system function (Lyle et al., 1983;
Grigoriev et al., 2010; Sannino et al., 2011, 2014) and alter salivary (Augner
et al., 2010) and thyroid (Koyu et al., 2005; Mortavazi et al., 2009; Pawlak et
al., 2014) function.”
“Children, and
especially fetuses, are more vulnerable than adults for most environmental exposures
(Sly and Carpenter, 2012) ….
Divan et al.
(2008) reported that prenatal and to a lesser degree postnatal exposure to cell
phones is associated with emotional and hyperactivity problems in 7-year old
children. This finding was confirmed in a second replicative study involving
different participants (Divan et al., 2012). Birks et al. (2017) used data from
studies in five cohorts from five different countries (83,884 children) and
concluded that maternal mobile phone use during pregnancy increased the risk
that the child will show hyperactivity and inattention problems. A
meta-analysis involving 125,198 children (mean age 14.5 years) reported statistically
significant associations between access to and use of portable screen-based
media devices (e.g. mobile phones and tablets) and inadequate sleep quality and
quantity and excessive daytime sleepiness (Carter et al., 2016)….”
“The specific
absorption rate (SAR)-based ICNIRP safety limits were established on the basis
of simulation of EMF energy absorption using standardized adult male phantoms,
and designed to protect people only from the thermal effects of EMFs. These
assumptions are not valid for two reasons. Not only do they fail to consider
the specific morphological and bioclinical vulnerabilities of children, but
also they ignore the effects known to occur at non-thermal intensities….”
“There is a
segment of the human population that is unusually intolerant to EMFs. The term
“electromagnetic hypersensitivity” or “electrohypersensitivity (EHS)” to
describe the clinical conditions in these patients was first used in a report
prepared by a European group of experts for the European Commission (Bergqvist et
al., 1997). Santini et al. (2001, 2003) reported similar symptoms occurring in
users of digital cellular phones and among people living near mobile phone base
stations ….
In summary it
is the strong opinion of the authors that there is presently sufficient
clinical, biological and radiological data emanating from different independent
international scientific research groups for EHS, whatever its causal origin,
to be acknowledged as a well-defined, objectively characterized pathological
used in the past to attempt to discount the evidence showing deleterious health
effects of ELF-EMFs and RF-EMF exposure at non-thermal SAR levels were based on
the difficulties encountered in understanding the underlying biological effects
and the lack of recognized basic molecular mechanisms accounting for these
effects. This is no longer the case. There are a number of well-documented
effects of low intensity EMFs that are the mechanistic basis behind the
biological effects documented above ( These include induction
of oxidative stress, DNA damage, epigenetic changes, altered gene expression
and induction including inhibition of DNA repair and changes in intracelluar
calcium metabolism ….”

“EMFs at
non-thermal intensities may interfere with other environmental stressors,
showing an interplay of molecular pathways and resulting in either beneficial
or detrimental health effects, depending on the nature and conditions of
co-exposures (Novoselova et al., 2017; Ji et al., 2016). One example is the
demonstration that RF-EMF exposure modulates the DNA damage and repair induced
by ionizing radiation (Belyaev et al., 1993). Another example is the
synergistic of exposure to lead and EMFs on cognitive function in children
described above (Choi et al., 2017; Byun et al., 2017). These co-exposure
factors should be considered when assessment of detrimental effects, including
carcinogenicity, is performed.”
“Public Health
Implications of Human Exposure to EMFs

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The incidence of brain cancer in children and adolescents has increased between
2000 and 2010 (Ostrom et al., 2015). Gliomas are increasing in the Netherlands
(Ho et al., 2014), glioblastomas are increasing in Australia (Dobes et al.,
2011) and England (Philips et al., 2018) and all brain cancers are increasing
in Spain (Etxeberrua et al., 2015) and Sweden (Hardell and Carlberg, 2017). The
latency period between initial exposure and clinical occurrence of brain cancer
is not known but is estimated to be long. While not all reports of brain cancer
rates show an increase, some do. The continually increasing exposure to EMFs
from all sources may contribute to these increases. The prevalence of EHS is
unknown, but various reports suggest that it is between 1 and 10% of the
population (Hallberg and Oberfeld, 2006; Huang et al., 2018). Male fertility
has been declining (Geoffroy-Siraudin et al., 2012; Levine et al., 2017). EMFs
increase the risk of each of these diseases and others. Alzheimer’s disease is
increasing in many countries worldwide and its association with ELF-EMF
occupational exposure has been clearly demonstrated through several independent
epidemiological studies (Davanipour and Sobel, 2009; Sobel et al., 1996; Qiu et
al., 2004) and a meta-analysis of these studies (García et al., 2008). A recent
meta-analysis (Huss et al., 2018) has reported an increased risk of amyotrophic
lateral sclerosis in workers occupationally exposure to ELF-EMFs.

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Safety limits for RF exposure have been based (until today) on the thermal
effects of EMFs. But these standards do not protect people, particularly
children, from the deleterious health effects of non-thermal EMFs (Nazıroğlu et
al., 2013; Mahmoudabadi et al., 2015). Each of these diseases is associated
with decrements in health and quality of life. Brain cancer patients often die
is spite of some improvement in treatment, while EHS patients present with
increased levels of distress, inability to work, and progressive social
withdrawal. The ability for humans to reproduce is fundamental for the
maintenance of our species.

The scientific evidence for harm from EMFs is increasingly strong. We do not
advocate going back to the age before electricity or wireless communication,
but we deplore the present failure of public health international bodies to
recognize the scientific data showing the adverse effects of EMFs on human
health. It is encouraging that some governments are taking action. France has
removed WiFi from pre-schools and ordered Wi-Fi to be shut off in elementary
schools when not in use (

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of Public Health has issued a warning on use of mobile phones and offered
advice on how to reduce exposure (State of California, 2017). There are many
steps that are neither difficult nor expensive that can be taken to use modern
technology but in a manner that significantly reduces threats to human health.

It is urgent that national and international bodies, particularly the WHO, take
this significant public health hazard seriously and make appropriate
recommendations for protective measures to reduce exposures. This is especially
urgently needed for children and adolescents. It is also important that all
parts of society, especially the medical community, educators, and the general
public, become informed about the hazards associated with exposure to EMFs and
of the steps that can be easily taken to reduce exposure and risk of associated