Röösli M, Frei P, Mohler E & Hug K. Systematic review on the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phone base stations. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. October 5th, 2010. Ahead of print. BLT.09.071852
Widespread use of mobile phones and a substantial increase in the number of mobile phone base stations have raised public concern about potential health effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMFs). Exposure to RF EMFs from mobile phone base stations is a relatively homogenous whole-body exposure at levels considerably lower than the local maximum levels produced by mobile phone handsets. In 2005, the World Health Organization summarized information on health consequences of exposure to RF EMFs from mobile phone base stations. Studies available at that time were scarce and of low quality. Research efforts in this area have increased in the last four years.
The objective of the paper was “to review and evaluate the recent literature on the health effects of exposure to mobile phone base station radiation.”
This systematic review included human laboratory trials and epidemiological studies of all potential health effects (non-specific symptoms, physiological measures, cognitive functions, genotoxicity, cancer, and chronic diseases) as well as randomized double-blind trials evaluating the ability of study participants to perceive RF EMFs. To be included in the review, studies had to meet certain quality criteria.
Of 134 potentially relevant studies, 17 (5 randomized trials and 12 epidemiological or field intervention studies) met the inclusion criteria. Fourteen studies (4 randomized laboratory trials and 10 epidemiological studies) investigated the effects of mobile phone base stations on acute self-reported symptoms such as headache, sleep disturbances, concentration difficulties, and dizziness. No symptom was consistently associated with exposure when data from randomized trials and epidemiological studies were evaluated together. While epidemiological studies with crude exposure assessment (based on distance) showed some associations with symptoms, studies with more sophisticated exposure assessment generally did not. None of four randomized double-blind trials evaluating the ability to perceive RF EMF revealed a field detection rate greater than that expected by chance. Of three trials and two epidemiological studies examining exposure effects on cognitive functions, one epidemiological study produced inconsistent results and all other studies showed no effect. Physiological measures (e.g. heart rate, skin conductance, skin surface temperature, electroencephalography recordings) were studied in three laboratory studies and two field intervention studies; none of them revealed any exposure-effect associations. One observational study investigating genotoxic effects of mobile phone base stations radiation and one ecological study investigating cancer incidence did not detect significant associations of these effects with the exposure. No studies examining other chronic diseases were identified.
Interpretation and Conclusion
The authors have concluded that their review “does not indicate an association between any health outcomes and radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure from mobile phone base stations at levels typically encountered in people’s everyday environment.” The evidence for the absence of an effect of mobile phone base stations exposure on acute symptom development is strong and, because of scarce data, the evidence for the absence of long-term effects is limited.