Parazzini M, Sibella F, Lutman ME, Mishra S, Moulin A, Sliwinska-Kowalska M, Woznicka E, Politanski P, Zmyslony M, Thuroczy G, Molnár F, Kubinyi G, Tavartkiladze G, Bronyakin S, Uloziene I, Uloza V, Gradauskiene E, Ravazzani P. (2009). Effects of UMTS cellular phones on human hearing: Results of the European project “EMFnEAR”. Radiat Res. 172(2):244-251.
The results of the European Commission research project “Potential Adverse Effects of GSM Cellular Phones on Hearing” (GUARD project, 2002-2004) did not show any effect of GSM exposure on auditory system. Since the UMTS standard is replacing the GSM standard, there is a public concern regarding UMTS exposure. Therefore, the EMFnEAR project (“Exposure at UMTS Electromagnetic Fields: Study on Potential Adverse Effects on Hearing”) was established in 2004 to study possible effects of the UMTS-modulated electromagnetic fields on the auditory system of humans and animals.
In this paper, the authors describe the results of their analysis of data obtained within the EMFnEAR projects on human auditory function after a short-term exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation from UMTS mobile phones.
Participants were 134 healthy adults (73 women and 61 men; 18-30 years of age) with no hearing or ear disorders. Auditory function was assessed immediately before and immediately after the exposure to RF radiation using typical clinical tests for assessment of peripheral and central hearing function: hearing threshold level, distortion product otoacoustic emissions, contralateral suppression of transiently evoked otoacoustic emission and auditory evoked potential. The procedure was conducted twice: once with a real exposure and once with a sham exposure on separate days with the participant and the tester blind to the exposure condition. Auditory functions were measured only on the exposed ear. The exposure consisted of speech at a typical conversational level delivered through an earphone to one ear plus real or sham RF exposure produced by a mobile phone controlled by a computer. The maximum SAR in the cochlear region was 69 mW/kg.
There was a trend for an increase in hearing threshold level after a real 20-minute exposure compared to the sham exposure with two statistically significant differences: at 500 Hz and at the average of frequencies from 2 to 8 kHz. These differences became non-significant after correction for multiple comparisons. No significant differences were found for other audiological measures.
Interpretation and Conclusion
This is the first study on the possible effect of UMTS-modulated electromagnetic fields on the auditory system of humans. Although the presence of an effect of the short-term exposure on hearing threshold levels cannot be ruled out, the study does not provide sufficient evidence of adverse effects.