Today I read that the World Health Organisation have classified use of a mobile phone in the same category as drinking coffee, eating pickled gherkins, or wandering through fern bracken: ‘possibly’ carcinogenic. While I don’t disagree technically with this categorisation, I think their decision is asinine and unhelpful.
- BBC Coverage is here and The Register’s is here.
- The press release is here – if you have read The Register’s article you will recognise the press release 🙂
- The list of assessed substances and their categorisation is here.
As we cover in detail in the Protons for Breakfast course, there is a potential hazard associated with use of a mobile phones. Exposure to high intensity microwave radiation is definitely hazardous – ask any microwave meal – but exposure from use of a mobile phone is calculated to be low enough that the risk of damage is small or zero. The WHO categorisation essentially says that it cannot be ascertained whether the risk is zero (category 3) or small (category 1). Since there is no strong evidence of harm (‘probably ‘ carcinogenic = category 2A) they called it category 2B – ‘possibly carcinogenic’. And there I predict, it will stay for ever. The perfect safety of something, like the absence of blue swans, can never be established.
Despite the absence of an increase likely candidate cancers – it is possible that use of mobile phones could conceivably cause cancer. The problem with the categorisation is that for most people it doesn’t help them to make significant decisions in their lives. It would, for example, be more helpful for all concerned if the naming of category 2B was changed from
- 2B = ‘possibly does cause cancer, but we don’t know for sure yet’
- 2B = ‘probably doesn’t cause cancer, but we don’t know for sure yet’.
And then, coffee in hand, we could walk with our pickled gherkins through the bracken and call our friends and tell them that they didn’t need to worry so much.