Workers Health & Safety Centre

Cell tower radiation linked with cancer in new study

Cell tower in Ontario
Is your workplace or home located near a cell tower? There may be reason for concern.

A new study, billed as the largest of its kind, has shown that radiofrequency radiation (RFR) emitted from cell towers increases cancer rates in rats.

The finding has the potential to shatter Health Canada’s radiofrequency exposure guidelines outlined in Safety Code 6.

“…a person can legally be exposed to this level of radiation,” says Ronald Melnick, senior science advisor with the Environmental Health Trust. “Yet cancers occurred in these animals at these legally permitted levels.

“Governments need to strengthen regulations to protect the public from these harmful non-thermal exposures,” adds Melnick.
The Ramazzini Institute study found a significant increase in the incidence of Schwannoma, a rare and highly malignant form of cancer, in the hearts of male rats exposed to the highest level of RFR. It also found increases in malignant brain tumors in female rats and precancerous conditions in both male and female rats.

In the landmark study, rats were exposed to “environmental” cell tower radiation for 19 hours per day, from prenatal life until natural death, reproducing the exposure generated by a 1.8 GHz cellphone radio base station antenna at a strength of 50 volts per metre.

This is significantly lower than what’s currently considered safe in Canada.

Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 currently allows for exposure in the frequency range of 3 kHz to 300 GHz. At 1.8 GHz, the code allows for 137 volts per metre in workplaces – significantly higher than the electric field strength in the study.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour uses this same guideline.

Recent studies on cell phone radiation by the U.S. National Toxicology Program came to similar findings: male rats treated at the highest dose of RFR developed the same unusual cancer.

On the basis of these studies and now reinforced by the Ramazzini Institute study, researchers are also calling for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to reclassify RFR. In 2011, IARC classified it as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

The strength of radiofrequency fields is greatest at its source, and diminishes quickly with distance, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In other words, the closer you are to an antenna, the more radiofrequency radiation you are exposed to.

“Typical values inside of buildings at distances up to 200 metres from base station sites are in the range of 0.1 - 1 (volts per metre),” according to a WHO report on base station exposure.

WHSC offers a wide range of training programs, including EMF’s and Dirty Electricity, as well as resources to help workplace parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities related to workplace hazards. Many of these resources also offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental carcinogens.