Do cellular phone base stations cause brain tumors?
Saturday May 13th 2006, 10:55 am

cellular telephone towerThere’s a widely circulated urban myth that mobile phones cause cancers. Reinforcing this myth is a recent news item being reported by the ABC, indicating seven RMIT staff members have been diagnosed with brain tumors in the last 7 years. So it happens, there is a cellular telephone base station in the RMIT building where these people worked.

Coincidentally, I got a particularly panicky email from a friend not long back on the topic, when she noticed a new mobile phone tower being erected in her neighbourhood. I told her not to worry.

Here’s why.

I worked as a radio broadcast engineer for quite some years and also have been a licensed Amateur (‘ham’) Radio operator since I was a youngster. Many of the transmitters I worked with were in the 50,000 watt class. If exposure to radio frequency (RF) energy is sure to cause cancerous tumors, I should be a walking lump of cancer cells- and I’m not.

The single term ‘radiation’ is used both to describe the emission of radio waves and also the emission of gamma rays from radioactive materials like uranium and plutonium, but these types of radiation are quite different. Most people don’t know the differences.

The main difference between radioactive emissions and radio signals is in the energy and frequency levels of the emissions. Cancer causing gamma rays (which are similar to x-rays) from radioactive substances, are high-energy, extremely high frequency emissions, with frequencies much, much higher than that of visible light. Gamma and x-rays can disrupt the DNA in living cells by ionisation, causing them to replicate improper copies, which are known as cancers. Radio waves as used for communications are much lower energy emissions and of relatively low frequency compared to gamma rays and x-rays.

The low frequency and energy levels of radio waves make them unable to damage DNA via ionisation. The human body is fully transparent to radio waves below about 1 GHz. Electromagnetic radiation which is lower in frequency than ultraviolet light is incapable of ionisation. The most RF energy can do is vibrate water molecules, causing those molecules and materials nearby or in contact with the water molecules to heat up.

Most people in developed nations are completely unaware that they constantly live immersed in very strong radio frequency energy fields, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Anyone born past about 1947 has lived their entire life in strong RF energy fields, usually without their knowledge.

TV stations emit multi-megawatt level (1,000,000+ watt) radio signals at frequencies up to around 900MHz.

Microwave ovens are actually small radio transmitters which operate at 2450MHz (or 2.45GHz; 1 Gigahertz = 1000MHz) and emit up to 1000 watts of power, though that energy is contained within a shield in the oven so that power may be used to vibrate water molecules in foods, causing them to heat up.

Cordless telephones for home use operate at several frequencies, but 1.8GHz and 2.4GHz are becoming popular. The higher frequencies are preferred as their usable range is shorter, meaning one cordless phone system is less likely to interfere with others in nearby homes. Cordless phones also emit very weak signals, on the order of 100 milliwatts (1/10 of 1 watt), also to minimise interference with cordless phones in neighbouring homes.

    By contrast, the latest miniature GSM cellular telephones can emit up to 600 milliwatts (6/10 of 1 watt), though some phones can emit up to 3 watts of RF energy. GSM phones in various parts of the world operate in 4 different frequency bands; 850MHz, 900Mhz, 1800MHz (1.8GHz) and 1900MHz (1.9GHz). The base stations which mobile phones use to connect to landline systems have varying RF output levels, but rarely exceed 50 watts.

    Unless you live at the base of a TV transmitting tower, microwave ovens are the most hazardous RF energy source in your community. Microwave ovens are only a hazard if their RF shielding should fail, allowing energy to leak into the areas around them. Due to failsafe designs, RF leakage from consumer type microwave ovens is exceedingly rare- to the point of non-existence. Unless the oven has been physically damaged or the failsafe has been intentionally defeated, microwave ovens are totally safe around humans.

    Directed Energy WeaponHowever, intentionally ‘leaky’ microwave ovens have been ‘weaponised’ by the US military. These are known as ‘Directed Energy Weapons‘ or DEWs. The Pentagon says they intend to use DEWs to disperse crowds. DEWs may indeed presently be in use in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The effect of DEWs on a person they were pointed at would be to heat tissues in skin and muscle, causing an intense burning pain. While the Pentagon claims that DEWs don’t cause permanent physical damage, tissues in the eye and reproductive organs are very sensitive to heat and would be very quickly (if not instantaneously) destroyed, blinding and sterilising victims within scant seconds.

    Tissue damage caused by DEWs would be complete; cells would be destroyed by induced heat energy, precluding them from replicating at all- minimising if not completely eliminating any chance of cancers developing later on down the track.

    Incidentally, you can safely ignore claims by conspiracy theorists about ‘mind control’ from microwave weapons. Some nutjobs are claiming that DEWs can be used to transmit images or sounds into the human brain. This is simply impossible as the human brain cannot detect or decode audio or video which has been modulated upon an RF signal- unless you happen to have a TV or radio receiver implanted in your brain… in which case you should stop hitching rides with aliens on weekends. Just like microwave ovens, all DEWs can possibly accomplish is heating tissues- and nothing else. However, it would be possible to harass unknowing victims by inducing various low-level symptoms like non-specific burning sensations and headaches, which the victim would be unlikely to know were being caused by microwave weapons.

    I’ve written about DEWs in the past. I strongly believe that such devices should be classed with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons- and banned accordingly. However, considering that Shrubya and the Pentagon work with the general presumption that they are above the law, I wouldn’t sit around chugging whiskey whilst waiting for either to comply with any relevant laws or treaties.

    As long as you’re not standing in the beam of a DEW, you stand zero chance of harm from RF energies- particularly cancer.

    You can stop worrying about any risk of cancer from your mobile phone now!


17 Comments so far
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Weez — there’s a common symptom of prolonged mobile use where the user feels hot in the side of the head. I assume this is from the microwave effect on the body tissue’s water content. Is this correct? I’m also assuming that this heating could probably, in extreme and rare cases, cause damage to the brain, but not cancer. Do you know anything about this?

Comment by Ed 05.13.06 @ 5:03 pm

I wonder what sort of shielding would suffice against a DEW? Something stitched together from the mesh on the front of a microwave? Portable Faraday cage, earthed through one’s boots?

Alternately, one could throw cheap neodymium magnets at the emitter, possibly diminishing its focusing ability. Or, you could half-fill a balloon with water and attach magnets to the outside. The resulting package would be highly RF-absorbent.

Some sort of metallic slurry might be able to dissipate RF energy, like stealth-fighter paint. You could coat yourself in it, like Arnie in Predator.

Comment by Flashman 05.13.06 @ 5:59 pm

Ed, it could be so simple as the battery pack getting warm from being discharged rapidly or the chassis of the phone warming because of current drawn through the power amplifier. There simply is not enough power dissipated by the phone’s RF power amp for RF power to cause tissue warming, even if the phone operates in the 1.8 or 1.9GHz frequency neighbourhood.
Flash, I hate to suggest it, but how about a tin-foil hat? 😀 That’s the best solution for some specific sorts of microwave weapon assaults. 😉

Comment by weez 05.13.06 @ 7:23 pm

Hehehe… I thought about that, then remembered the time that I used the microwave to make baked potatoes in foil – not recommended practice, but highly delicious!

Comment by Flashman 05.13.06 @ 9:14 pm

We’re starting to look like an episode of Mythbusters here. I’m tempted to contact them to try out the household microwave into raygun trick.

In serious terms regarding how to protect one’s self from microwave weapons, all you need, as Flash noted, is a conductive suit. Chainmail would probably do. Tinfoil would work but you’d have a hard time making a good connection between pieces of it. Resistive points in your tinfoil suit would get warm enough to burn skin, particularly at the proposed ‘riot control’ levels proposed by the US military of 100kW at 95Ghz.

The stealth fighter paint job wouldn’t be recommended. Anti-radar coatings are deliberately resistive so as to absorb radar energy, preventing or minimising a radar echo. This energy is dissipated via eddy currents as heat, though the amount of energy a typical radar transmitter could impart would be without any functional warming effect. On the other hand, a DEW would cause large amounts of heat to be induced in a moderately resistive yet conductive surface. Your suit could cook onto your skin if sufficient energy was coupled into the coating. Ouchie.

Comment by weez 05.13.06 @ 9:52 pm

Hi Weez, this is way off topic, but I couldn’t find your email add on the blog so here tis. It’s a diff view to Fox on polls & I thought you might be interested due to you previous posts.

Comment by ab 05.14.06 @ 9:18 pm

ab, your comment may be off topic for this particular entry- but you’ve accurately predicted what I was going to write about next! Americans are REALLY pissed off about warrantless surveillance.

King George and a few large telcos are going to pay through the nose for this. Criminal prosecution will be harder to accomplish than a civil suit. A class action lawsuit has already been filed against AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.

Stay tuned…

Comment by weez 05.15.06 @ 8:05 am

Might be instrading to note that scype, (allegedly) has a type of encryption which makes intercepts difficult. It might also be notable that a lot of telco’s were trying to stop scype from being used by their (isp) subscribers.

Comment by ab 05.15.06 @ 6:10 pm

To further the off-topicness, Skype’s encryption is risky because the mechanism hasn’t been published and tested.

A good security system should be impervious even when its mechanism is totally public. “Security by obscurity” is an epithet within cryptology.

Comment by Flashman 05.15.06 @ 8:49 pm

I won’t say that all illnesses supposedly caused by cellular telephone transmitters are imaginary; hypochondriasis is very real.

One thing for sure- cellular phones have saved a whole lot more lives than they have ever harmed… of course, discounting those who have received exorbitant mobile bills and subsequently experienced a heart attack.

Radio frequency signals are incapable of ionisation and thus can not cause cancers. You have a much better chance of being injured by a microwave oven than a mobile phone or associated tower- and the chance of injury from a microwave oven which is in proper repair is just about nil.

When I was stringing antennas in my teens as a ham radio operator, I usually left my new skyhooks unconnected for about a week after putting them up. That was usually long enough for some neighbour to knock on the door to complain about television interference from the new antenna which had sprung up at my place, despite the antenna being connected to nothing.

On that basis alone, I believe health symptoms could be induced in a community fearful of what they don’t understand with a cardboard cellular antenna.

Comment by weez 05.30.06 @ 11:56 pm

From South Africa: Braelynn acts against proposed cell tower


CONCERNED Braelynn residents have issued a call to arms against the construction of a cell tower in their suburb.

They have also drawn up petitions protesting against the erection of the MTN tower and are collecting signatures from community members to present at a Community Policing Forum meeting, where the issue will be discussed at 6pm tomorrow.

The meeting will be held in the community hall, a few metres from the site where foundations have been dug for the proposed 25-metre high tower.

The hall houses a clinic during the week and is used for weddings and other events at weekends.

Around the corner, not more than 150m away, a preschool educates 40 local children each morning.

Preschool owner, Bonnita Reddy, is one of the concerned residents.

‘Everyone must sign this petition, we want to motivate the people of our community so that this thing does not go up,’ she said.

No work has been done on the site for two weeks .

That week SABC’s Special Assignment profiled South Africans who have experienced medical problems, including respiratory illnesses, from living near cellphone towers. In some cases the symptoms stopped when the people moved away from cellphone towers. The petition includes information from that SABC show.

‘Everyone has been saying that it is a good thing that someone is standing up but it is no use talking, we must stand together,’ said Reddy.

Another resident, who is anxious to stop the construction on the site, is Norma Willemse.

‘We need people to turn out in force and stand up for their rights,’ she said.

More than a week after receiving questions from the Daily Dispatch, MTN spokesperson Razin Maharaj could not respond to them yesterday.

Buffalo City’s development planning director Craig Sam, confirmed that in Buffalo City there were no special regulation governing the construction of cellphone towers.

Comment by Vandie Baai 05.30.06 @ 11:27 pm

[…] I’ve written about DEWs a couple of times in the past, but this is the first time any US official has suggested using them on their own citizens. […]

Pingback by mgk: Machine Gun Keyboard 09.17.06 @ 11:42 am

Please see microwave hearing for people hearing radar on the internet. Also Joe Elder and motorola on why it happens. So people can hear the signals. Ultrasound which mostly teenagers hear is being used to keep them away from shopping centres schools ect. SOLD OPENLY IN THE UK.

Comment by cath 09.29.06 @ 6:41 pm

Cath, there’s a big difference between radar (radio) waves and sound waves.

It is not possible for the human ear (or any other part of the body) to perceive radio waves of any frequency, inclusive of radio signals in the microwave region (300MHz-3GHz), which includes radar.

Radio waves are electromagnetic waves, not pressure disturbances in the air. Radio waves are not capable of inducing vibration in the human ear’s tympani (eardrums) and thus produce no perceivable sound.

The human ear is generally capable of hearing sound waves in the 20Hz-20kHz (20,000Hz) range. As we age, we lose our hearing in the very highest frequency range, 14kHz-20kHz. Only young people, in their 20s or younger, can normally hear in this band.

The “teenager repellers” you speak of generate sound waves in the “high audible” (14kHz-20kHz) but not quite “ultrasonic” range. “Ultrasonic” waves, as the term specifies, are sound pressure waves travelling in air which are above the range of human hearing. This is generally considered to be 20kHz and up, though rare cases are reported where people have been able to hear as high as 25kHz.

Sorry, but if anyone tells you that they can ‘hear’ microwaves or radar, they’ve obviously forgotten to put on their tinfoil hat. 😉

Comment by weez 09.29.06 @ 8:12 pm

Here’s Elders’ treatise on ‘RF hearing.’

Elders claims to have been able to induce hiss, click or ‘knock’ sounds with high energy pulses of RF from 2.4-10GHz. He postulates that the ‘sound’ is produced by very small thermal effects (5 x 10(-6) or .0000005 degrees C) induced on inner ear tissues by RF fields.


The fundamental frequency of RF induced sounds is independent of the frequency of the radiowaves but dependent upon head dimensions. The auditory response has been shown to be dependent upon the energy in a single pulse and not on average power density.

This part is important for folks who think the government is transmitting voices into their heads.

The frequency of perceived auditory sensations induced by RF fields is dependent upon dimensions of each person’s head. Unless the government is changing the size of your head, you’ll hear the same hiss or click every time, dependent upon the resonant frequency of your bone structure.

Very strange stuff. Regardless, Elders did not show that actual audio could be induced, only hiss & clicks and even those were on the extreme limits of perception. There’s no possibility of transmitting voices into someone’s head, full stop.

Comment by weez 09.29.06 @ 8:54 pm

2006 reports of a ‘cancer cluster’ among workers in a building at RMIT prompted the university to close the top two floors of the building and conduct extensive testing in search of carcinogens. The paper discussing the results is here.

Comment by weez 11.05.09 @ 7:05 am

No tumour link to mobile phones, says study
December 4, 2009

A very large, 30-year study of just about everyone in Scandinavia shows no link between mobile phone use and brain tumours, researchers reported on Thursday.

Even though mobile telephone use soared in the 1990s and afterward, brain tumours did not become any more common during this time, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Some activist groups and a few researchers have raised concerns about a link between mobile phones and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumours, although years of research have failed to establish a connection.

“We did not detect any clear change in the long-term time trends in the incidence of brain tumours from 1998 to 2003 in any subgroup,” Isabelle Deltour of the Danish Cancer Society and colleagues wrote.

Deltour’s team analysed annual incidence rates of two types of brain tumour — glioma and meningioma — among adults aged 20 to 79 from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden from 1974 to 2003. These countries all have good cancer registries that keep a tally of known cancer cases.

This represented virtually the entire adult population of 16 million people, they said.

Comment by weez 12.05.09 @ 10:17 am

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