Radiation literature survey
The radiation literature survey provides updates on published literature related to radiation (both ionising and non-ionising) and health.
Published literature includes articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, scientific-body reports, conference proceedings, etc.
The updates on new radiation literature that are of high quality and of public interest will be published as they arise. For each update, a short summary and a link to the abstract or to the full document (if freely available) are provided. The update may also include a commentary from ARPANSA and links to external websites for further information. The links may be considered useful at the time of preparation of the update however ARPANSA has no control over the content or currency of information on external links. Please see the ARPANSA website disclaimer.
Explanations of the more common terms used in the updates are found in the glossary.
The radiation literature that is listed in the updates is found by searching various databases and is not exhaustive.
The intention of the radiation literature survey is to provide an update on new literature related to radiation and health that may be of interest to the general public. ARPANSA does not take responsibility for any of the content in the scientific literature and is not able to provide copies of the papers that are listed.
Visit the National Library of Australia Australian Government Web Archive to access archived information no longer available on our website.
Risk of CNS cancers among survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts
Brenner et al
This cohort study investigated the risk of central nervous system (CNS) cancers among the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki based on their estimated radiation exposure. Between 1958 and 2009, there was 285 cases of CNS cancers out of a cohort of 105,444 atomic bomb survivors with radiation dose estimates. The study examined the risk of these cancers as excess relative risk (ERR) per gray (Gy) (ERR/Gy). The authors reported ERR/Gy for glioma as 1.67 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.12 to 5.26), for meningioma 1.82 (95% CI: 0.51 to 4.30), for schwannoma 1.45 (95% CI − 0.01 to 4.97), and for all CNS tumours combined 1.40 (95% CI: 0.61 to 2.57). Further, the authors reported a trend of increasing rates of CNS tumours with increased radiation exposure, with an apparent linear dose response. The authors concluded that the radiation exposure from the atomic bombs is associated with elevated risks of CNS tumours in general, and was significant for glioma and meningioma. There was a higher but non-significant association with schwannoma.
The study reported a significant association with CNS tumours. However, the results also highlight the difficulty of examining the risk of radiation exposure at low levels, especially when examining the occurrence of rare diseases such as CNS tumours. Interestingly, in this study the unexposed control group was reported to have a higher rate of CNS cancers overall than that of the exposed groups with assigned dose of less than 1 Gy. The study attempts to show that at low radiation doses there is still a linear dose response; however, the limitations and inconsistencies in this study prevent this conclusion. Overall, the results of this study are unclear at low levels. This is consistent with the position held by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) that states at low levels (less than 100 milligray) the possible increased risk of cancer from radiation exposure is uncertain (UNSCEAR, 2017).
The risk of childhood leukaemia in children whose parents are occupational exposure to ELF MF
Talibov et al
Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2019
This meta-analysis examined the possible link between parental occupational exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF MF) and the risk of childhood leukaemia in their children. The study considered 11 case-control studies, which when combined included 9723 cases of childhood leukaemia and 17099 controls. Parents had their occupational exposure to ELF MF estimated using a job-exposure matrix. The study found no increased risk of either acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or acute myeloid leukaemia at any exposure level of the parents. For maternal exposure during pregnancy of greater than 0.2 microtesla the odds ratios (OR) for their offspring developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia was OR 1.00 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89 to 1.12) and for acute myeloid leukaemia OR 0.85 (95% CI 0.61 to 1.16). The authors concluded that this study provided no evidence of an association between parental occupational exposure to ELF MF and childhood leukaemia.
The findings of this meta-analysis are consistent with a previous study by (Reid et al, 2011) who also found no increased risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia with parental occupational exposure to ELF MF. The international guidelines for exposure to ELF MF set by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection set exposure limits to protect the public from all known established risks of exposure to ELF MFs.
The US FDA recently reviewed the effect of radio waves on cancer
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2020
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a review examining the possible effect of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) on tumorigenesis. The review examined 37 in vivo and 69 epidemiological papers published between 2008 and 2018 and also reviewed the National Toxicology Program (NTP) 2018 reports on RF exposure to rats and mice. The review concluded that, based on the evidence from the in vivo studies, including the NTP study, that there is no clear evidence that RF EMF has any effect on tumorigenesis. The review also reported a number of limitations from the in vivo studies including lack of animal temperature assessment and issues with the methods, sample handling and sample evaluation. The review further states that due to the limitations of the in vivo studies they cannot be used to draw conclusions on the impact of low powered RF EMF on humans. Further, the review discussed some of the inherent limitations in epidemiological studies including accurate exposure assessment and recall bias. Based on the epidemiological evidence the FDA review concluded there was no causal association between RF EMF exposure and tumorigenesis.
This review by the FDA contributes to our understanding of the evidence of RF EMF exposure and health. It demonstrates the importance of considering the totality of evidence and understanding that methodological limitations affect the outcomes of scientific reviews. The timing of this review is particular topical as there is currently some heightened public concern regarding RF EMF and health with a particular focus on the roll out of the 5G telecommunications network. Other health agencies such as the World Health Organisation and the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection have previously considered the possible health effects of RF EMF exposure and have reached conclusions similar to those in the FDA review. In Australia, the ARPANSA RF exposure standard sets limits to protect the public and workers from any harmful exposure to RF EMF. This standard is based on scientific research that shows the levels at which harmful effects occur and it sets limits, based on international guidelines, well below these harmful levels. The standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against all known adverse health effects from exposure to RF EMF.
An Australian study examined the effects of RF EMF on mice sperm
Houston et al
Scientific Reports. 2019
This study examined the effects radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) had on mice sperm. Mice received a whole-body RF exposure at 905 MHz with a specific absorption rate (SAR) of 2.2 W/Kg 12 hours a day for 1, 3 or 5 weeks. The study reported statistically significant decreases in sperm vitality and motility. Further, the study reported statistically significant increases in sperm mitochondrial reactive oxygen species and oxidative DNA damage. There were no changes reported in the fertility of the RF EMF treated mice. The authors concluded that sustained whole-body RF EMF is capable of inducing oxidative damage in sperm DNA.
This study exposed mice to very high levels of RF EMF. The public whole-body average SAR limit is 0.08 W/kg. This means the study exposed these mice to RF EMF that was over 27 times higher than the human public exposure limit. The study did not investigate the effect of heat stress or measure the temperature of the exposed mice. Another study investigating the effect of heat stress on fertility of mice reported similar results on sperm (Pérez‐Crespo et al, 2008). This indicates that the reported results likely occurred as a result of heating rather than being a sub-thermal effect. The ARPANSA radiofrequency exposure standard RPS3 gives limits for exposure that protect against any known biological effects. The only established effect of exposure is heating of biological tissue. The limits set for both public and occupational exposure are many times below the level where any measurable heating occurs, ensuring a large degree of conservatism within the standard.
Study reports a possible association between mobile phone use and thyroid cancer for specific gene types
Lou et al.
Annals of Epidemiology, December 2019
This population-based case-control study compared mobile phone use with the incidence of thyroid cancer diagnosed between 2010 and 2011 in Connecticut. The study included 440 cases of histologically confirmed incident thyroid cancers and 460 controls, with genotyping information for 823 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 176 DNA genes. All participants, including cases and controls, were interviewed using a standardized questionnaire to collect information on mobile phone use and the responses were used to classify cases and controls as users or non-users. Blood samples were provided for DNA analysis. The authors reported that the study found a statistically significant association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer for certain SNPs, implying a genetic susceptibility to thyroid cancer due to mobile phone use.
This study built upon a previous study by the same authors (Lou et al, 2019) that found no association between mobile phone use and thyroid cancer in the same study group. One of the advantages of using a study group within the period 2010-2011 was that it is much easier to separate mobile phone users from non-mobile phone users. A disadvantage of using this study group was that the exposure data had to be gathered through surveying the participants. The information required was from a point in the distant past where recall bias may effect some of the results. The control group consisted of a higher proportion of males to females than the case group. This may have significant implications on the reliability of the results due to the higher occurrence of thyroid cancer in of woman. Further, mobile phones were not the only exposures to radio waves during the time of exposure assessment. A good example of this was the widespread use of cordless phones which are used in the same manner (held to the head) and have a similar level of exposure.
ANSES opinion on the potential risk of LEDs on the health of humans and fauna and flora
ANSES, April 2019
The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) produced a report assessing the risks associated with the use of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). The report also provided recommendations aimed at better protection of human health and the environment. LED lighting can be found in all aspects of modern society including personal devices with visual displays (e.g. phones and tablets), toys, car lights and outdoor and house lighting systems. The ANSES assessed evidence of whether the blue light content and temporal light modulation (flickering) properties of LEDs could increase the risk of potential health effects of this lighting source. The opinion focused on the major risks to human health and biodiversity of fauna and flora.
The report concluded that there was some evidence that LEDs, particularly types rich in blue light, may affect both circadian rhythm and diseases of the eye. However, this evidence is not strong enough to calculate the level of risk. Little research has been done on the effects of modulation and there is limited evidence of symptoms such as migraines and epileptic attacks. The research on biodiversity was limited and relied on studies of all artificial lighting, not specifically LEDs. There was some evidence that lighting could affect biodiversity, however, it was not clear to what extent lighting is associated with any reported effects, with other important confounding factors such as pollution, habitat reduction, climate change and environmental overexploitation needing to be considered.
While there is research showing potential health effects of exposure to LED lighting, it is not clear if the impacts are from the effect of exposure to the light or other factors. This is particularly evident with the potential impact of blue light on the circadian rhythm. Research indicates that blue light exposure from phones and tablets in the evening can affect sleep quality; however, it is not clear if this is a result of the activity being carried out or the blue light exposure. The Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER, 2018) had recently reviewed the evidence on the effects of LEDs on human health. ARAPNSA also reviewed the SCHEER opinion as part of our radiation literature survey in 2018. SCHEER concluded that the available scientific research does not support an association between LEDs and a health risk to the eye or skin. However, in common with the ANSES report, disruption to circadian rhythm was identified as a potential effect. Distraction and other optical phenomena (e.g. phantom array effect) from LEDs incorporating temporal light modulation was also identified as an indirect risk factor for harm in both the ANSES and SCHEER reports.
US study adds weight to increased risk of basal cell skin cancer from exposure to solar UV radiation.
Little et al.
Environmental Health, December 2019
This was a retrospective cohort study that examined the association between ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) The study followed 63,912 white cancer-free US radiologic technologists with known ultraviolet exposure (irradiance at up to 5 residential locations) for 5–22 years. 2151 technologists reported incident primary BCC within the study period. The authors reported that the absolute risk of BCC increased with increased cumulative UVR exposure. The authors also reported that the relative risk showed substantial variation with time after exposure and age at exposure, so that risk is highest for the period 10–14 years after UVR exposure and for those exposed under the age of 25. Some limitations described by the authors in the study included that the BCC incidence was self-reported, however, a large number of these were verified through medical records. Also, residency used for exposure assessment was self-reported. Assumptions were made that this cohort of workers spent a large proportion of their time indoors due to their profession and could not take into account individual behaviour such as excessive outdoor activity and UVR exposure received on holidays.
Despite some of the limitations described by the authors, this study added to the body of evidence that UVR exposure is a causal factor in the development of BCC. Evidence for the association between UVR exposure and the development of other skin cancer types such as squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma has been clearer in the body of scientific evidence. This large study strengthens the evidence of an increase in BBC with increasing cumulative UVR exposure. The results support the advice from both ARPANSA and Cancer Council Australia about limiting UV exposure and applying sun protection measures.
American study examines how the quality of a radio wave research effects results
Vijayalaxmi and Prihoda TJ
Radiation Research, January 2019
This meta-analysis examined 225 studies consisting of human, cellular and animal experiments specifically focussing on genetic damage from exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy. The meta-analysis assessed the quality of the studies by the presence or absence of four different parameters; blinding, adequately described dosimetry, positive controls and sham-exposed controls. The authors compared the reported results of each study against the assessed level of quality of these factors within the study. It was reported that studies with a high degree of quality in these parameters reported fewer, if any, effects from exposure to radio waves. Further, the authors observed that studies that reported no significant change in genetic damage of cells exposed to RF incorporated more quality control parameters into their experiments. Conversely, studies that reported increased damage in cells exposed to RF used fewer quality control parameters. The authors concluded that the use of quality control measures within experimental design are extremely important in order to provide a meaningful evaluation of any potential health risk from RF exposure.
This meta-analysis demonstrates the importance of evaluating evidence based on the quality of the methods used in studies while considering the reported biological and health effects. This underlying principle of evidence evaluation to assess its strength is particularly topical with the current roll-out of the next generation of mobile telecommunications technology, 5G. Exposure to RF remains one of the most high profile public health concerns and also one of the most highly researched environmental agents in biomedical research. ARPANSA’s RF exposure standard sets limits based on the body of scientific evidence available and is designed to protect against the known harmful effects of RF exposure. The study by Vijayalaxmi and Prihoda TJ demonstrates the considerations the scientific community make when assessing the evidence for harm from exposure to RF. ARPANSA and other bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the International Commission on Non-ionzing Radiation Protection consider all studies in the assessment of their health advice concerning RF exposure. There is also an ARPANSA factsheet about how we assess scientific evidence (link). Based on evaluations for these organisations, and consistent with the conclusions of Vijayalaxmi et al, there is no established evidence of harmful effects from exposure to low-level RF exposure below the limits in the ARPANSA standard.
Canadian survey of eye injuries from handheld lasers
Qutob et al
Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology, October 2019
This survey that examined the occurrence of eye injuries caused by hand held lasers in Canada. Questionnaires developed by Health Canada were sent to optometrists and ophthalmologists surveying the cases of eye injuries from hand held lasers. Responses from the survey indicated that there were 318 eye injuries caused by hand held lasers between 2014 and 2017. Of these injuries, 77 were minor to severe cases of vision loss and 59 were classified as retinal damage. There was a higher prevalence of eye injuries for males (82.5%) than females (14.0%). Injuries were also reported to occur more often due to the actions of another person (67.6%) rather than self-exposure (26.1%). The authors concluded that the results provided insights into the potential prevalence of injuries from exposures to handheld laser devices in Canada. However, these results were not nationally representative due to the low survey response rate (23.1% and 12.7% for optometrists and ophthalmologists, respectively) and other unknown factors. These included potential over-reporting by duplication from the two responding professional groups, eye injuries from other causes and reported exposures not leading to injuries.
In Australia, all hand held laser pointers available to the public are restricted to an accessible emission limit (AEL) of a Class 2 laser. This means they must have a power output of less than 1 milliwatt (mW). Lasers with an output below this limit are considered a low hazard. Unfortunately, Australian studies have shown that handheld laser pointers available to the public are not always labelled correctly and may emit energy at harmful levels. In one study, the majority of laser pointers tested failed to meet the output restriction with outputs well above 1 mW. (Wheatley, 2013). ARPANSA provides advice on laser safety on its website to promote risk awareness and assist in responsible use of handheld laser products (link).
The NTP publishes results on DNA damage
Smith-Roe et al.
National Center for Biotechnology Information 2019
This study, by Smith-Roe et al, is part of the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) investigation of the effects radio waves, also called radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, have on rats and mice. This study examined possible genotoxic effects on a separate sample of rats and mice that were exposed for a shorter time period as part of the NTP study. The animals were exposed to radio waves at certain frequencies used by mobile phone networks (CDMA or GSM) for 9 hours a day at levels of up to 10 watts per kilogram (W/kg) over a period of up to 19 weeks. The study specifically reported on DNA damage within the tissues of the animals examined. The authors reported a statistically significant increase in levels of DNA damage in the frontal cortex of male rats and mice and in the hippocampus of male rats. Only the CDMA-modulated exposed rats had statistically significant levels of DNA damage for both tissue regions. Further, the study concluded there was variable levels of DNA damage observed. Overall, for female rats and mice, the study did not report any consistent statistically significant results.
In 2018, the NTP released their final reports, which investigated whether exposure to radio waves causes any health effects, including cancer, in rats and mice. An assessment of the results from the NTP study reports in their entirety have previously been provided by ARPANSA and the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
The study by Smith-Roe et al reports certain genotoxic effects related to radio waves at very high exposure levels, however the effects were inconsistent across rats and mice, males and females, and type of radio wave exposure (GSM or CDMA). There is no explanation for these variations in the results across species, gender and type of radio waves.
It is possible that that the reported effects occurred due to the high exposure levels. It is known that exposure to sufficiently high level radio waves can heat biological tissue and potentially cause tissue damage. It is also possible that the reported effects occurred due to chance. This is because the study conducted a number of different tests and, statistically, a positive result is always possible with multiple tests. This is often called the multiple comparisons or multiple testing problem.
In Australia, the safety standard for radio waves developed by ARPANSA sets mobile phone limits at 0.08W/kg for whole body and 2 W/kg for localised exposure. Most mobile phones produce exposures well below the limit. This makes it difficult to relate the high radio wave exposures of the animals in this study to the much lower exposure when people are using mobile phones. There have been many proposals for how radio waves, below the current exposure limits, could induce DNA damage in cells, however, there remains no proven mechanism for this effect or consistent results to confirm that it occurs. Overall, the study by Smith-Roe et al does not demonstrate consistent DNA damage across species, genders, or for types of radio waves and this could indicate that there is no common mechanism causing DNA damage (Fedak, 2015).
ARPANSA‘s safety standard is based on scientific research that shows the levels at which harmful effects occur and it sets limits, based on international guidelines, well below these harmful levels to provide a high level of protection to the public. Overall, the limitations in the results by Smith-Roe et al do not provide sufficient evidence to justify a change in the current safety limits for radio wave exposures set within the standard.