News blog

Italian court says mobile phones cause cancer

Posted on behalf of Nicola Nosengo.

In ruling on a workplace compensation case, Italy’s highest civil court has stated that mobile phones can cause brain tumours. The ruling is being criticized by medical experts in Italy and abroad, who note that no scientific study has yet proven a clear causal link between the use of mobile phones and health risks. In a 12 October decision that was made public this week, the Labour Law section of Italy’s High Court ruled in favour of Innocente Marcolini, a former commerce manager in Brescia. Marcolini had developed a tumour of the trigeminal ganglion, near his left ear, and claimed it was a consequence of speaking on a mobile phone up to 6 hours a day for 12 years because his job demanded it.  Although the tumour was successfully removed, Marcolini was left with severe problems (such as intense pain) and thus asked for compensation from INAIL, the Italian agency that insures work-related health risks. INAIL rejected his request, noting that there is not enough evidence linking mobile-phone use to brain tumours. In particular, it quoted conclusions from the World Health Organization (WHO), which in its literature states that “to date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use” (see ‘Mobile phones officially under suspicion’).

At first a civil court ruled against Marcolini, who appealed. The Appeal Court placed more weight on research done by Lennart Hardell’s group at the University of Örebro in Sweden, which years ago suggested that the use of mobile phones for more than ten years leads to increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma. The Appeal Court considered this work more “reliable” and more “independent” than large international studies such as the Interphone study (conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and funded jointly by the industry and the European Commission), as Hardell’s studies were not funded by mobile-phone manufacturers. The Interphone study, published in 2010, failed to provide solid evidence that mobile phones increased the risk of brain tumours, although it hinted at a slightly higher risk for ‘heavy’ users (see ‘No link found between mobile phones and cancer’).

A further appeal from INAIL brought the case in front of the High Court, which has confirmed the Appeal Court’s decision and ruled once again in favour of Marcolini. The sentence is now final. Italian consumer advocacy organizations, such as CODACONS, celebrated the ruling, which they say will create a precedent that allows consumers who use mobile phones for many hours a day to sue mobile-phone manufacturers if they develop a tumour.

But Michael Repacholi, former coordinator of the WHO’s Electromagnetic Fields Project, disagrees with the ruling and its motivations. “Funds [for the Interphone study] were provided to a committee of the International Union Against Cancer who acted as a firewall between the funders and sponsors so that the researchers had no contact with any of the sponsors,” he wrote in an e-mail to Nature. “Thus the industry contribution had absolutely no influence on the study outcome. It is unfortunate that the judge thought the Hardell study was the only independent one, when the WHO/IARC study was independent and was the largest study ever conducted on this topic”. Hardell could not be reached for comment.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Alexander Lerchl said:

    “The Appeal Court placed more weight on research done by Lennart Hardell’s group at the University of Örebro in Sweden, which years ago suggested that the use of mobile phones for more than ten years leads to increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma.”
    Lennart Hardell’s publications in this area are highly controversial, to say the very least. In a comprehensive meta-analysis of epidemiological and laboratory studies concerning wireless phone use and head and brain tumors, we could not find any convincing evidence for such an association (1). Very recently I was made aware of a document which sheds light on how Hardell has “worked” as an epidemiologist (2). Despite the clear evidence for scientific fraud (which was conceded by Hardell) there was never an officially verdict, probably because the University of Umea wanted to prevent a scandal. The classification of electromagnetic fields as “possible carcinogenic” by the IARC in May 2011 was done after a meeting of experts including Hardell.
    (1) Systematic review of wireless phone use and brain cancer and other head tumors. Repacholi MH, Lerchl A, Röösli M, Sienkiewicz Z, Auvinen A, Breckenkamp J, d’Inzeo G, Elliott P, Frei P, Heinrich S, Lagroye I, Lahkola A, McCormick DL, Thomas S, Vecchia P. Bioelectromagnetics (2012), 33: 187-206.
    (2) https://dl.dropbox.com/u/24910023/Lennart%20Hardell%20Report.pdf

  2. Report this comment

    Lennart Hardell said:

    The Hardell group is doing science and not science fiction. Lerchl should also stick to science and not propagate some fairy tale. There is no scientific fraud in the Hardell group studies, that assertion is nothing but slander. That would be a myth that Lerchl seems to be keen to twaddle about. Our studies are performed with scientific rigour and over time the findings are collaborated by other researchers. Our results were part of the IARC evaluation of 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin as a human carcinogen, Group I, in 1997, and now exposure to radiofrequency (RF)-EMF as Group 2B.
    Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences in USA concluded regarding the Hardell group studies that ‘the committee feels that there is insufficient justification to discount the consistent pattern of elevated risks, and the clearly described and sound methods employed.’ Health Effects of Herbicides Used in Vietnam (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1994
    I understand that Lerchl is upset about the Italian ruling being not within the frame of his concept of ‘no risk’. The ruling was based on sound epidemiological research. Lerchl should control facts before using the web and not adhere to a suspicious document with many false accusations not registered at the University and not found in archives.
    In spite of asking IARC at least twice to be part of the scientific evaluation of RF-EMF in May 2011 he was turned down for the following reasons: ..’your consultancy for the German Informationzentrum Mobilfounk (IZMF..).[and]…about half of your recent publications in radiofrequency radiation are not original research papers but criticisms of studies that suggest a harmful effect of exposure to radiation emitted by mobile telephones. In addition some of your statements on the web pages of the “IZgMF” and “Next-Up” follow a similarly strong stance. Taking the above points into account, we feel that your participation would not contribute to a balanced search for consensus in the forthcoming Working Group. Given this and the fact that we had many more qualified applicants than we can invite for the meeting, our final decision remains unchanged.’ (Letter IARC 26 October 2010).
    Currently Lerchl is involved in a trial in Germany for defamation and this should be considered in this context. We need to fight the dark forces not acting in the inerest of public health.

    1. Report this comment

      Alexander Lerchl said:

      Hardell tries to suggest that the document describing his wrongdoings at the University of Umea is “not found in archives”. This is wrong. The document, together with a cover letter by his former boss, Lars-Gunnar Larsson, has been sent to and is registered by the Swedish Radiation Authority (August 2002).
      Hardell also gives a misleading view of the reasons why IARC finally decided against my participation. The letter can be accessed here: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/24910023/Letter_Dr_Lerchl_26Oct10.pdf
      Finally, I am not involved in any trial in Germany for defamation!

  3. Report this comment

    Alexander Lerchl said:

    Hardell’s et al. earlier publications (2002 – 2004) on mobile phone use and brain tumours contained statements that the Swedish network operator Telia supported their investigations, without a firewall. In later publications this support was no longer acknowlegded despite the fact that the data used came from the same source (the original study from 2002). Even the publication from 2011 contained to a large extent data from that old investigation (1). It is therefore simply wrong to put more weight on Hardell’s results “as Hardell’s studies were not funded by mobile-phone manufacturers”.
    (1) Hardell, L., Carlberg, M., Hansson Mild, K. 2011. Pooled analysis of case-control studies on malignant brain tumours and the use of mobile and cordless phones including living and deceased subjects. Int J Oncol 38: 1465-74

  4. Report this comment

    Franz Adlkofer said:

    The 2nd Monte Verita Workshop on bioelectromagnetics „Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Future“ in Switzerland in October this year was from the scientific point of view the best organized and most informative for many years. However, it clearly showed that progress in knowledge was rather slim in this area of research since the 1st Monte Verita Workshop 7 years ago. The reason for this is lack of funding combined with lack of ideas (1). On this uncertain ground the protection of people from electromagnetic fields remains based more on economic interests than on scientific data. This is the more worrying as from time to time studies are published that challenge the reliability of the public radiation protection as it is organized today. Such a study is the REFLEX project funded by the European Union and coordinated by the Verum Foundation in Munich, Germany, that shows negative effects of the radiofrequency radiation far below the safety limits on the genome stability in isolated human cells. Another study of this kind comes from Lennart Hardell’s group at the University of Orebro in Sweden that points at an increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma in long-term users of mobil and cordless phones. In 2011, these epidemiological findings contributed significantly to the decision of the IARC to classify radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as „possibly carcinogenic“. Now they created the basis for the heavily criticized judgment of Italy’s High Court, the topic of this newsblog.

    The opinion of scientists about a health risk due to the exposure to electromagnetic fields differs from zero to high. Alexander Lerchl, member of the governmental radiation protection committee in Germany, who is especially unhappy about the outcome of the trial at Italy’s High Court belongs to those who feel that the radiofrequency radiation is harmless to the human health. Unfortunately, in defending his position he does not hesitate to use actions that are in conflict with publication ethics. Thus, he invented the story that the data of the REFLEX study have been fabricated in order to get them out of the scientific literature. These findings have meanwhile been confirmed several times. Of course, he failed to reach his goal (2). Lerchl’s contribution to this newsblog shows, that he just has started a similar campaign against the work of Hardell’s group, since their findings contradict to his understanding, too. His accusation refers to a paper on dioxins published in 1990 in JNCI and is aimed at destroying the credibility and trustworthiness of Hardell in person. This criticism, too, is absolutely unfounded, full of suspicions and maybe even of illegal origin (3). Furthermore, it has been shown that Lerchl does neither shy away from modifying plan, execution and evaluation of his own research in order to confirm the harmlessness of the radiofrequency radiation (2). Not astonishing that the IARC abstained from inviting him when they confered in 2011 with 30 international scientists about the classification of radiofrequency radiation as a carcinogenic agent (4).

    Necessary criticism in science must not be replaced by defamation.

    Franz Adlkofer

    (1) http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/impressions-from-monte-verita/
    (2) http://www.pandora-foundation.eu/downloads/pandora_docu_harvard-lecture-extended-2012.pdf
    (3) http://www.pandora-foundation.eu/downloads/hardell_news_answer-to-lerchl-2012.pdf
    (4) http://www.diagnose-funk.org/downloads/df_bp_who-lerchl_iarc-26oct10.pd

  5. Report this comment

    Franz Adlkofer said:

    In his article “Handy am Hirn” (cell phone at the brain) in the prestigious German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung from Nov. 11, 2012, Christoph Schrader describes the dispute between Alexander Lerchl and Lennart Hardell as follows, and I translate: It would just be a bickering between researchers were not a huge amount of money involved. Mobile telecommunication is a multi-billion industry, which spreads the unapologetic message that their technology does not constitute a hazard. If there is a lawsuit, especially in the U.S., both sides engage researchers as paid witnesses. From one of them, Hans-Olov Adami, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard University, it is said that he presented an invoice for 80,000 U.S. dollars to lawyers in 2002. And further down Schrader writes that the current allegations against Hardell solely rest upon the Larsson report, the validity of which still has to be assessed.
    Mona Nilsson, Swedish journalist and author, reveals in her book Mobiltelefonins hälsorisker that Adami played a decisive role in launching the Larsson report. She states that Adami is a notable collaborator with the [U.S.] consulting firm Exponent, the most well-known product of which is the defense of firms; that Exponent has not only the chemical industry as clients but also the mobile phone industry; that Adami has written dozens of articles with Exponent consultants claiming no cancer risks from various chemicals, among them the chemicals that Hardell had shown to have been raising cancer numbers among exposed workers. In 2002, Adami then was the one who started the campaign against Hardell by distributing a slanderous letter, which he allegedly had received anonymously. Among others he sent this letter to the head of Orebro University, where Hardell was working. The whole story including the illegal upgrade of the private Larsson letter to an official document is described in Mobiltelefonins hälsorisker.
    No surprise that Lerchl very recently was – of course, anonymously – made aware of the Larsson report with which he intended to ruin Hardell as a scientist. He did what he always does when the interests of the telecommunication industry are at stake. In contrast to the REFLEX study where he himself had to invent a story with some credibility, this time the backbiting was an easy task for him since he could rely on the groundwork of Adami and others.

  6. Report this comment

    Franz Adlkofer said:

    The correct quotation of the Schrader report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung is November 24, not 11. Sorry for this misinformation! —-
    In his article “Handy am Hirn” (cell phone at the brain) in the prestigious German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung from Nov. 24, 2012, Christoph Schrader describes the dispute between Alexander Lerchl and Lennart Hardell as follows, and I translate: It would just be a bickering between researchers were not a huge amount of money involved. Mobile telecommunication is a multi-billion industry, which spreads the unapologetic message that their technology does not constitute a hazard. If there is a lawsuit, especially in the U.S., both sides engage researchers as paid witnesses. From one of them, Hans-Olov Adami, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard University, it is said that he presented an invoice for 80,000 U.S. dollars to lawyers in 2002. And further down Schrader writes that the current allegations against Hardell solely rest upon the Larsson report, the validity of which still has to be assessed.
    Mona Nilsson, Swedish journalist and author, reveals in her book Mobiltelefonins hälsorisker that Adami played a decisive role in launching the Larsson report. She states that Adami is a notable collaborator with the [U.S.] consulting firm Exponent, the most well-known product of which is the defense of firms; that Exponent has not only the chemical industry as clients but also the mobile phone industry; that Adami has written dozens of articles with Exponent consultants claiming no cancer risks from various chemicals, among them the chemicals that Hardell had shown to have been raising cancer numbers among exposed workers. In 2002, Adami then was the one who started the campaign against Hardell by distributing a slanderous letter, which he allegedly had received anonymously. Among others he sent this letter to the head of Orebro University, where Hardell was working. The whole story including the illegal upgrade of the private Larsson letter to an official document is described in Mobiltelefonins hälsorisker.
    No surprise that Lerchl very recently was – of course, anonymously – made aware of the Larsson report with which he intended to ruin Hardell as a scientist. He did what he always does when the interests of the telecommunication industry are at stake. In contrast to the REFLEX study where he himself had to invent a story with some credibility, this time the backbiting was an easy task for him since he could rely on the groundwork of Adami and others.

  7. Report this comment

    Franz Adlkofer said:

    I was just informed that Christoph Schrader, author oft he article „Handy am Hirn“ in Süddeutsche Zeitung, has meanwhile corrected the statement, that Hans-Olov Adami, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard University, may have presented an invoice for 80,000 U.S. dollars to lawyers for his consulting services. Now he declares that this payment request is said to have come from Meir Stampfer, Adami’s predecessor at Harvard. True is, however, that Adami was the one, who started the smearing campaign against Hardell’s work. This was during the spring 2002, when he was said to be, according to Schrader, involved in a US lawsuit. Adami was engaged by the lawyers representing Motorola, while Hardell acted for the plaintiff who suffered from a brain tumour. Obviously in this context Adami has sent a slanderous letter, which he allegedly had received anonymously, not only to the head of Orebro University, but also to Lars-Erik Holm, the head oft he Swedish Radiation Protection Agency. Encouraged by this message Holm up-graded the surreptitious, but neverthless private Larsson letter to an official document.obviously in order to strengthen its impact on the public discussion.

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