The Health Protection Agency (HPA) response

2 June 2011

The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) notes the recent IARC classification of radio waves in Group 2B "possibly carcinogenic".

Radio waves are very common in the environment and are used in radio and television broadcasts, wireless computer networks, pagers, radar, and cordless and mobile phones. This last use leads to a higher exposure than other uses and is the reason for the IARC review.

Other agents classified by IARC in Group 2B "possibly carcinogenic" are magnetic fields from electricity, coffee, petrol exhaust fumes and being a print worker.

The HPA notes the conclusion that there could be some risk and that a close watch should be kept for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk. HPA supports the call for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones.

The HPA carries out research and continually reviews research on the health effects of radio waves. The IARC classification is consistent with previous reviews of the science and advice from HPA regarding the use of mobile phones.

HPA advice is that there is no clear scientific evidence of a cancer risk from exposure to radiofrequencies at levels below international guidelines but the possibility remains.

The HPA has always advocated some precaution in the use of mobile phones in case there are long term effects which are presently unknown. Given the possibility of long term cancer effects, excessive use of mobile phones by children should be discouraged.

HPA advice on the use of wireless networks in schools and elsewhere is alsoconsistent with this classification. Exposures from Wi-Fi equipment are much less than from mobile phones, and are well within international guidelines, so there is no reason why schools and others should not continue to use the technology.

An independent advisory group to HPA is reviewing all the evidence for possible health effects from radio waves published since 2003. It is due to publish its findings in 2012.

HPA's advice is consistent with published scientific evidence and with recommendations from bodies such as the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the World Health Organization.