Cellphones and cancer? There’s no definitive answer

Back to the main story: More smoke, less signal

When AT&T proposed erecting new cell towers in the county back in 2011, some opponents raised concerns about how the structures could affect the health of people living near them and the students at Rappahannock High School. It’s not that the supervisors could have used that as a reason for rejecting the plan, for The Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits local governments from blocking cell towers solely for health reasons.

But what does science say? Can extended exposure to radio signals increase a person’s risk of developing cancer, infertility or other health problems?

There’s no definitive answer. Few studies have specifically addressed cellphone towers and health risks to humans; more of the research has focused on the risk of holding cell phones up to your head. Reputable organizations — the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the World Health Organization, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society — say scientific evidence does not link cell towers to health issues. At the same time, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency waves as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The overall consensus is that more research is needed.

The American Cancer Society notes that human exposure to radio waves from cell phone tower antennas is limited for several reasons. First, the energy level of those waves is relatively low, compared with the type of radiation known to increase cancer risk. Plus, the antennas are mounted high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently, rather than constantly.

A recent study on rats by the federal government’s National Toxicology Program, however, provided some evidence of a cancer risk, albeit it is more relevant to cell phone use than cell tower exposure. The research found that rats exposed to radio frequency (RF) radiation for a total of nine hours a day over two years were more likely to develop a specific type of brain or heart cancer than those that weren’t. Also, the more exposure they received, the greater the chance of developing a tumor.

The study also produced some odd results. The cancer risk increased only in male rats, and not female rats. And, the male rats exposed to the cell phone signals actually lived longer than the rats that weren’t exposed.

There are links to more research and information on the health effects of cell tower radiation here.

— Randy Rieland

About Randy Rieland 27 Articles
Randy Rieland was a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 20 years, including 12 years as senior editor for The Washingtonian magazine. He also has more than 20 years of experience in digital media, including serving as SVP of Digital Media for the Discovery Channel. He and his wife, Carol, have owned a home off Tiger Valley Road for more than 10 years.

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