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Radiofrequencies and mobile telephones: reaction to the decision by the IARC

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News of 31/05/2011

31 May 2011

The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recently classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields related to the use of mobile telephones as possibly carcinogenic to humans. This corresponds to Group 2B in a classification system ranging from 1 (carcinogenic to humans) to 4 (probably not carcinogenic to humans), with Group 2 being divided into 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) and 2B (possibly carcinogenic to humans).

This decision is the result of discussions by a Working Group of international experts meeting at Lyon from 24 to 31 May. It is primarily based on data from epidemiological studies suggesting excess risk of cerebral tumours (glioma and acoustic neuroma) in “intensive” users of mobile telephones (at least 30 minutes per day over a period of 10 years).
As a result of the Group's conclusions the Director of the IARC, Christopher Wild, stated the importance of carrying out long-term research into the risks of the intensive use of mobile phones so as to verify the potential existence of such risks, and meanwhile of taking pragmatic measures to reduce exposure of the head by the use of hands-free devices or texting.
The conclusions and recommendations issued by the IARC converge with the opinions and recommendations already published by the Agency, particularly in its report of 2009.
To address the questions raised by the use of radiofrequencies, ANSES has conducted frequent expert appraisals(1) of their potential effects on health and has consequently issued several recommendations for reducing exposure of the public and developing research.
These recommendations were mostly incorporated in the “Grenelle 2” regulations, such as labels mentioning the specific absorption rate (SAR) of mobile telephones, the obligation to provide an accessory reducing exposure of the head (such as a hands-free kit, when selling a mobile phone), or measures concerning the most susceptible population groups, such as children.
In 2011, the Agency is pursuing its scientific intelligence monitoring on the subject. With so much research work constantly being published in this field, and following on from the transfer of responsibilities to ANSES from the French Health and Radiofrequencies Foundation, the Agency is setting up a system allowing all aspects of the issues raised by radiofrequencies to be taken into account.

It is therefore setting up a permanent “Radiofrequencies and health” Working Group comprising a dozen independent expert scientists whose mission will be to monitor scientific publications in real time and, if necessary, to update the Agency's collective assessment concerning the health effects of radiofrequencies (2009), to provide rapid scientific or technical support for specific needs and to recommend new lines of research. At the same time, ANSES has set up a research programme entitled "Radiofrequencies and Health" with an annual budget of €2M and its own dedicated Scientific Board. It will issue annual calls for research projects in parallel with the “Environmental and Occupational Health” programme. Lastly, ANSES will also create a dialogue committee, to act as a forum for all stakeholders and ensure that the Agency is kept aware of the public's concerns on this issue. It will be chaired by Georges Mercadal and its first meeting will be held on 15 June.

(1) The Agency has published three opinions and reports on this subject, in 2003, 2005 and 2009, together with a report and opinion on the specific issue of radiofrequency identification (RFID) systems, in 2009.

Find out more

> Consult the Agency's Report (in french)
> Our news update of 17 May 2011: "Establishment of a 'Radio frequencies and health' dialogue committee"