The Mercury

When A+B = C

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CELLPHONE users have every right to be befuddled. Just last year, a major study in 13 countries found no clear evidence that exposure to the radiation from cellphones caused brain cancer. Yet, last week, a panel convened by the same agency, the Internatio­nal Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), declared that the radiation was “possibly carcinogen­ic” to humans.

It made this pronouncem­ent by press release before publishing a monograph that will lay out the basis for its concerns – and will give independen­t scientists their first chance to evaluate this new judgement.

The agency, a unit of the World Health Organisati­on, based its determinat­ion on what it called “limited evidence” that heavy users of cellphones had an increased risk of developing a rare brain tumour known as a glioma. Cellphones were placed in a “possibly carcinogen­ic” category that also included pesticides, dry-cleaning chemicals, engine exhaust fumes, lead, pickled vegetables and coffee.

The IARC is a respected organisati­on whose judgements influence regulatory policies in many nations. Still, many experts remain dubious. Despite a huge upsurge in cellphone use over the past two decades, brain cancer rates in the US have been declining. Scientists are mostly stumped as to how the radio frequency waves emitted by cellphones might cause cancer. – The New York Times

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