Govt pushed to fund 'wi-fi gives you cancer' research - but Tuanz boss has alternative take

A lobby group called Safer Wireless Technology New Zealand (SWTNZ) scored Breakfast TV time this morning with its claim that new research proves a link between brain cancer and use of devices that emit low-frequency electromagnetic radiation - such as wi-fi devices and cellphones. 

It followed up with a press release this afternoon (see RAW DATA below), calling on the government to fund research in the area.

Telecommunications Users Association CEO and cancer survivor Paul Brislen has followed this issue closely over the years.

He has criticised previous studies - or at least attempts by some lobby groups to interpret their data.

This afternoon, presented with SWTNZ's statements, he was still not convinced.

"The biggest study of its kind into whether or not cellphones cause brain cancer is the Interphone study, which concluded that there was no risk of increased brain cancers or tumours from the use of mobile phones," he told NBR this afternoon.

The study looked at participants in 13 countries over a decade's use and concluded the results showed no increase in incidence of tumours, the Tuanz boss says.

"The study will continue to monitor for the next few years on the basis that mobile phone usage patters are changing - we're using them more - so we'll see more data come out in the next few years

"Ionizing radiation causes cancer by changing the DNA. Cellphones - and wi-fi and cordless phones and televisions and radios- use non-ionizing radiation, which does not change DNA," Mr Brislen says.

"The only noticeable effect created by these devices is a heating of the tissue.

"Researchers are now looking to see whether or not that has any impact on brains, salivary glands etc, but so far has found no link between brain cancers, tumours and the use of such devices.

"We've been using radios for over 100 years now, and if there was some problem we'd have seen the results trend upwards, more so in the past 20 years since the introduction of the mobile phone and the increase in both coverage and devices, not to mention usage."

Instead, the number of incidences of brain tumours and cancer remains steady throughout all that time, he says.

"New research is always important, and I hope science continues to study the effects, but so far I'm happy to continue using my mobile phone and have no problem with my kids using wifi on their tablets."

No support for concerns
Thomas Lumley, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Auckland comments, “The International Journal of Oncology paper is of higher quality than most research suggesting health risks of radio wave, but does not provide any real support for concerns about wifi.

“Firstly, the claims in the TVNZ story about “brain cancer” in general are entirely unsupported; the research was on one specific, rare, usually treatable type of benign brain tumour. There is fairly convincing evidence that brain cancer in general is not caused by cellphones. The US National Cancer Institute has a good summary of the evidence.

“Second, even if the associations reported in the paper are real and causal, they do not suggest a risk from wifi. The researchers report a higher risk of acoustic neuroma in the ear used for phone conversation than in the other ear, suggesting that proximity to the transmitter is important. People do not usually press their heads up against WiFi transmitters — even with cellphones, WiFi is more likely to be used when you are looking at the screen.”

(Read further commentary from Professor Lumley is published on StatsChat.)

A spokeswoman for SWTNZ told NBR the group is, "Totally self-funded, [with] no corporate support or any financial backers. This is a group essentially made up of residents in communities where cell towers have been built. There is a retired cardiologist on the board [Dr Stuart Reuben], a semi-retired accountant, a school teacher and a University researcher."

RAW DATA: SWTNZ press release


December 2, 2013

The latest research out of Sweden on the use of cellphones has found that people who use a wireless phone for more than a year are 70 per cent more likely to get brain cancer than those who used the devices for less than a year.

The research, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal International Journal of Oncology, is the third paper in a series on the use of wireless phones, including cellphones and cordless phones, and the risk of malignant and non-malignant brain tumours, carried out by Dr Lennart Hardell and his colleagues.

In the wake of the research Safer Wireless Technology New Zealand Incorporated (SWTNZ) is urging the Government to fund research on the health impacts of electromagnetic radiation here, as WiFi and related wireless devices, as well as cellular reception towers, become more ubiquitous.

Spokesperson for SWTNZ Dr Stuart Reuben – a retired cardiologist - said that New Zealand was lagging behind the rest of the world on research into the effects of electro-magnetic radiation, yet was supporting an aggressive effort to ensure WIFI is installed in all areas of the country, including schools.

“The Australian Government is contributing $5m over the next five years towards research into the health effects of electromagnetic radiation from cellphones, tablets, wireless routers and other wireless technology, while this Government continues to bury its head in the sand on the issue,” Dr Reuben said.

“Our Government is continuing to claim that there are no proven links between electromagnetic radiation and major health issues such as cancer, even as the overseas research piles up to show that the opposite is in fact true,” he said. “The World Health Organisation has now classed cellphone radiation as a 2B Carcinogen, which is the same classification that DDT holds,” he said. [See Paul Brislen's take on the WHO study, and the misleading-to-outsiders 2B Carcinogen label here - CK].

Dr Reuben said that New Zealand’s standard for the allowed maximum level of electromagnetic radiation is one of the highest in the world. “In New Zealand the maximum level is 450 microwatts per square centimetre, compared to Sweden  which has a maximum level of just 1 microwatt per square centimetre,” Dr Reuben said.  “And yet the Swedes still get by just fine using the latest wireless technology.

“The Swedish example begs the question of why we need such a high level here,” he said. “I’m sure the telecommunications companies in this country that are paying huge sums of money to the Government each year to install wireless transmitters in every possible nook and cranny amid our homes, schools, workplaces, recreational areas and shopping precincts would argue that they don’t actually hit anywhere near the peak levels allowed for electromagnetic radiation – but who would know, because the compliance and monitoring of the levels is so infrequent.”

“In many parts of India they have started dismantling cell towers around schools because of the research showing the health impacts on children – while our Government is insisting that Ipads (one of the higher emitters of electromagnetic radiation) are available in all schools,” Dr Reuben said.

“What the overseas research is all pointing to is that if we continue to allow our children to be exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation, many of them are very likely to be diagnosed with leukemia and brain tumours within a few years. Is this really something we are willing to err on the side of risk with, when our children put their lives in our hands?”

SWTNZ wants the Government to put funding into researching the health impacts of electromagnetic radiation from wireless technology, cellphone towers, cellphones and other related devices so that the allowed levels per square centimetre in New Zealand are lowered.

“Even if we halved the standard to 225 microwatts per square centimetre, we’d still have a level that’s 225 times higher than Sweden, and higher than many other countries in the world that enjoy the latest wireless technology,” Dr Reuben said.

A preliminary New Zealand study carried out by a PHD student from Victoria University  last year  on the behavioural effects  of wireless technology on adolescents which was published in Environmental Health this year found that sustained exposure to electromagnetic radiation caused irritability, disturbed sleep patterns, lack of concentration and lethargy. It is surely relevant that Victoria University resolved that emissions from transmitters on their property should not exceed 3 microwatts per square centimetre.

- Ends –

For more info on the Australian research funding visit:

To read the latest Swedish research on the links between the use of wireless devices and brain cancer in the International Journal of Oncology visit:

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