CONSUMER RIGHTS ACTIVISM
How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation
The disinformation campaign—and massive radiation increase—behind the 5G rollout.
By Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie
The very next day, a livid Tom Wheeler began publicly trashing Carlo to the media. In a letter he shared with the CEOs, Wheeler told Carlo that the CTIA was “certain that you have never provided CTIA with the studies you mention”—an apparent effort to shield the industry from liability in the lawsuits that had led to Carlo’s hiring in the first place. Wheeler charged further that the studies had not been published in peer-reviewed journals, casting doubt on their validity.
Wheeler’s tactics succeeded in dousing the controversy. Although Carlo had in fact repeatedly briefed Wheeler and other senior industry officials on the studies, which had indeed undergone peer review and would soon be published, reporters on the technology beat accepted Wheeler’s discrediting of Carlo and the WTR’s findings. (Wheeler would go on to chair the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the wireless industry. He agreed to an interview for this article but then put all of his remarks off the record, with one exception: his statement that he has always taken scientific guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration, which, he said, “has concluded, ‘the weight of scientific evidence had not linked cell phones with any health problems.’”)
In the years to come, the WTR’s cautionary findings would be replicated by numerous other scientists in the United States and around the world, leading the World Health Organization in 2011 to classify cell-phone radiation as a “possible” human carcinogen and the governments of Great Britain, France, and Israel to issue strong warnings on cell-phone use by children. But as the taxi carried Carlo to Louis Armstrong International Airport, the scientist wondered whether his relationship with the industry might have turned out differently if cell phones had been safety-tested before being allowed onto the consumer market, before profit took precedence over science. But it was too late: Wheeler and his fellow executives had made it clear, Carlo told The Nation, that “they would do what they had to do to protect their industry, but they were not of a mind to protect consumers or public health.”
This article does not argue that cell phones and other wireless technologies are necessarily dangerous; that is a matter for scientists to decide. Rather, the focus here is on the global industry behind cell phones—and the industry’s long campaign to make people believe that cell phones are safe.
As happened earlier with Big Tobacco and Big Oil, the wireless industry’s own scientists privately warned about the risks.
Two wireless trade associations contributed $4.7 million to the Interphone study launched by the WHO’s International Agency for Cancer Research in 2000. That $4.7 million represented 20 percent of the $24 million budget for the Interphone study, which convened 21 scientists from 13 countries to explore possible links between cell phones and two common types of brain tumor: glioma and meningioma. The money was channeled through a “firewall” mechanism intended to prevent corporate influence on the IACR’s findings, but whether such firewalls work is debatable. “Industry sponsors know [which scientists] receive funding; sponsored scientists know who provides funding,” Dariusz Leszczynski, an adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki, has explained.
The FCC grants the wireless industry’s wishes so often that it qualifies as a “captured agency.”
“Everyone knows that if your research results show that radiation has effects, the funding flow dries up.” —Dariusz Leszczynski, adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki