Monday, May 15, 2006

Mobile Phone Towers Cause Cancer

The media in Australia is currently promoting a scare story about mobile phone towers and tumours. Seven people at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have been diagnosed with brain tumours in the last seven years. Coincidentally, they are all reported to work on the top two floors of a building that also has "telecommunication" towers on its roof. The relevant union is demanding health audits, and implying a link:
Mr McGowan said that while it was as yet unknown whether there is a common link between the different cases, the floors’ proximity to the building roof, where telecommunications towers are erected, is a serious concern.

While no one is actually stating outright that the cause of the cancer is the phone towers, these stories play on the unproven assertion that such a causal link exists. Indeed, in this report various factors for and against such a hypothesis are raised, all in the context of a presumed phone tower induced epidemic.
Most of the affected staff have worked on the top two floors for at least 4 years, and some as long as 10.

So, that means they've worked on the top two floors for different periods? Where else have they worked? And what is "most" in a sample size consisting of only seven people? Or is it only seven?
Some are saying that there could be more and so we're ready for that, but we're keen to hear.

Which is a meaningless statement. "Some are saying". Who? On what basis? With what authority? Yes, there could be more. There could also not be.

At one point, the reporter makes a direct connection:
It's what's on the roof that's causing some concern. Tests are being done on Telstra mobile phone equipment.

As a radiation and occupational health expert points out though:
In most cases, cluster investigations don't produce a nice clear cut answer as to what was the cause of this going on. Occasionally useful information is produced.

EoR is not saying that the brain tumours are not a result of proximity to phone towers, only that there is no evidence for this, and that sloppy reporting is reinforcing the general view of the public that such a link has already been proven. It's the same sort of news reporting crying wolf that now has the general population convinced that vaccinations cause autism.

The original hypothesis about the mobile phone and brain tumour nexus was that the radiation from the phone caused localised tumours in the brain since the phone was applied directly to the head. Indeed, the argument for this was that the tumours were supposedly all formed in areas against which the phone was held. This has not been conclusively proven. Nonetheless, were this hypothesis true, two things should logically follow. The high power transmissions from phone towers should not only cause brain tumours, since the whole body is being irradiated. Secondly, anyone, anywhere, in proximity to phone towers should be showing high rates of tumours (brain or otherwise) if the effect is this strong. This presumably includes humans and animals. This, however, seems to be the only example so far.

EoR also wonders whether, in an Institute of Technology, that phone towers are the only technology these workers have been exposed to.

Finally, EoR is also intrigued that, while studies have found no reproducible link between electromagnetic radiation and tumours, the Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research is based at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), with the following amongst its aims:
Increase knowledge by conducting research on possible health effects associated with electromagnetic energy emissions from radiocommunication devices, such as mobile phones and mobile phone towers, and to facilitate translation of
research findings into policy and practice.

Promote and enhance radiofrequency EME research and research outcomes, through broad and impartial collaboration and interaction with other researchers and other organisations.

Coincidence? EoR thinks not, since coincidence has not been mentioned as a possible factor in the brain tumour occurrences.

Ben Goldacre at Bad Science has also recently addressed a similar issue.


  1. Coincidence? But there's no such thing as coincidence.

  2. I worked for 8 years (from the mid-90s) on the 17th floor of RMIT Building 108 - see my comments at:

  3. Funnelweb -
    Before you rush out and take every test under the sun, consider the relative risks. A CT/CAT scan may radiate your brain more than you'd been receiving at work. Unless you are experiencing neurological symptoms (and I don't mean panic-induced ones) you should have plenty of time to research the topic, and your options, carefully.

  4. its november and ive read all these articles all about this cancer doing something about it for school but i was woundering what has happened did they find out the cause?

  5. anonymous: you can find an update at

    Unfortunately, the press are much more willing to publish scare stories than rather boring follow-ups.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.