The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the Australian Government’s radiation protection body, has restated its official view that there is no established scientific evidence that use of mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices cause any health effects following ABC TV’s Catalyst program this week called “Wi-Fried”.

Independent scientific experts have labelled the Catalyst program on 16 February as “scaremongering and pseudoscience” after it alleged that there was a growing fear that use of mobile telecommunications devices was linked to brain cancer.

The program featured Dr Devra Davis, a United States scientist in the fields of environmental health and disease prevention. She was part of a team that won the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007 for their work on climate change.

Leading scientists, who are experts in the field of radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME) emissions, rebuked Catalystclaiming it had promoted the “fringe” position of Dr Davis, whose views are not supported by a “very strong scientific consensus” and that there is no substantiated evidence that low levels of RF emissions “encountered by mobile telecommunications can cause any harm”.

Experts dismissed as “simply incorrect” Dr Davis’ claim that Australia’s incidence of brain cancer, which shows no increase over the past 30 years, cannot be relied on.

Reaction to Catalyst – what the experts say:

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)

“On Tuesday 16 February 2016, the ABC aired an episode of Catalyst titled Wi-Fried, focusing on the radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) from mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices and raising concerns about the potential health effects they present.

“It is the assessment of ARPANSA and other national and international health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO), that there is no established scientific evidence that the use of mobile phones or Wi-Fi devices cause any health effects. Some studies have reported a weak association between heavy mobile phone use against the head and brain cancer, but this is not substantiated by the bulk of scientific evidence from the many studies that have been performed.

“Although the current available scientific research does not indicate that using a mobile phone is associated with harmful health effects, ARPANSA does provide advice on precautionary approaches for reducing RF exposure for children and others, for people that are concerned”

Dr Rodney Croft,  Director Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research, Member of the main commission of the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)

“I was particularly disappointed to see “Wi-Fried” air yesterday in the guise of science journalism , and felt it important to reassure other viewers that the fringe position provided by Dr Davis and associates is merely that, a fringe position that is not supported by science. There is a very strong scientific consensus that, even after considering such personal views as Dr Davis, there is no substantiated evidence the low level radiofrequency emissions encountered by mobile telecommunications can cause harm.”

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“Instead of science journalism, Catalyst aired a misleading program, which followed the views of a few individuals in arguing that radiofrequency emissions from wireless devices were harmful. Although the program failed to disclose this, such views are not supported by science and should be taken merely as the personal views of some fringe scientists.”  

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Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman, School of Public Health, University of Sydney

“Dr Devra Davis, who featured extensively in the Catalyst program, asserted that it was too early to see any rise in brain cancer caused by mobile phones or Wi-Fi, and argued that brain cancers after the Japanese atomic bombs did not appear for 40 years. This is simply incorrect. We have had mobiles in Australia since 1988. Some 90 per cent of the population use them today and many of these have used for a lot longer than 13 years, but we are seeing no rise in the incidence (of brain cancer) against the background rate.” 

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Dr Darren Saunders, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Visiting Fellow at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre, Garvan Institute

“It’s really disappointing to see the bastion of TV science in Australia approach a story in this way. Scaremongering and pseudoscience have plenty of other outlets on TV, and there are so many amazing science stories to be told locally and internationally. There was a very selective reporting of existing data and sensationalist headlines.”

”The two main flaws in the argument that stand out scientifically are: the lack of any demonstrable increase in brain cancer incidence over time. We have been expose to eh same kind of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation long before mobiloes phones and Wi-Fi became commonplace; and the absence of a plausible biological mechanism for how this kind of radiation can cause cancer.

“There were very poor analogies made with microwave ovens and smoking, which are purely emotive and not based on actual science. Comparing a microwave to a mobile phone is like comparing a Saturn V rocket to your lawnmower.” 

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Dr Geza Benke, Senior Research Fellow, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

"During the program, Professor Davis claims that the Australian brain cancer incidence rates cannot be used as evidence of no problem because brain cancer latency is 40 years. This firstly contradicts her own argument then, because she spends a lot of time saying current studies are showing increased cancer risk! Secondly, Professor Davis claims are incorrect, since solid tumours have a much shorter minimum latency. This means we should be seeing increased rates now if there was an association. This reference also contradicts her claims that there are no environmental tumours that occur before 10 years.”

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Sarah Loughran, Research Fellow, Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research,  University of Wollongong

"Unfortunately, a very disappointing and inaccurate story was presented with the underlying suggestion throughout the episode that exposure to the radiofrequency field emitted by these devices is not safe. By not providing a balanced view of the science, Catalyst has left viewers with misleading messages related to the use of such devices, which may serve to perpetuate fear related to a health risk that currently does not exist."

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Professor Bernard Stewart, School of Women's and Children's Health, University of New South Wales

Tuesday’s Catalyst indicated that your mobile may also kill you from brain cancer. This latest alarm is yet another cancer scare. Most such reports are wrong. Fear of insidious cancer causation trumps scientific imperatives. We know how to prevent cancer and that doesn't involve Wi-Fi or mobile phones. Cancer prevention involves not smoking, less drinking, controlling weight, exercising and care in the sun. Few TV programs there; it's dull, dull, dull. But those measures can save your life.

“The possibility of some brain cancer arising after decades of heavy mobile usage cannot be definitively ruled out right now. However, current evidence doesn't justify the anxiety raised. The latest mobile phone scare may join the "one in a million" programs as contender for the most misleading information about cancer causation presented to the Australian community by reputable authority.”

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