5G and its related cell towers are still causing controversy around the U.S. Earlier this month, residents in Indiana and Nevada were against 5G cell towers being placed in their neighborhoods. In Charlotte County, Florida, one resident against the towers was concerned about his neighborhood being the guinea pigs of possible health implications caused by 5G. Before these complaints surfaced, 107 former students and staff from Colonia High School in Woodbridge, New Jersey, were diagnosed with rare brain tumors like glioblastoma (GBM). As people speculated, cellphone towers were mentioned as the possible cause.
GBMs are the most advanced brain tumor — given a Stage 4 designation. While it is the most common primary brain tumor in adults, it is still extremely rare, with only about 3 cases diagnosed per 100,000 people each year, or a rate of 0.00003 percent.
Unfortunately, these types of tumors carry a very poor prognosis — even with full treatment, including brain surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and wearing a skull cap for the rest of their lives — survival is about 18 months.
Al Lupiano, an environmental scientist who is one of the 107 individuals from Woodbridge diagnosed with a brain tumor, was quoted saying, “What I find alarming is there’s truly only one environmental link to primary brain tumors, and that’s ionizing radiation.”
While this statement is correct, it doesn’t give the full story. Ionizing radiation is a form of energy that uses charged particles to remove electrons from other atoms that could then go on to break DNA bonds and possibly cause cancer. Examples of ionizing radiation include X-rays and gamma rays. Non-ionizing radiation has much lower energy and includes things like radio waves, microwaves, and infrared light.
The electromagnetic waves or radiation that come from cell phones and 4G/5G mobile signals are forms of non-ionizing radiation and are not powerful enough to break DNA strands — which is what leads to the formation of GBMs and other types of cancer.
There have been many misleading studies published about the association of cell phones and cancer. However, the studies completely ignore the radiobiologic factors associated with non-ionizing radiation. These studies are often theoretical in nature, using animal models, published in journals that are outside of the scope of medical physics, and don’t have adequate patient populations to be able to draw any real conclusions.
One of the largest studies to date published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute followed the cell phone use of 1.3 million women over a 14-year time span and found no association with brain tumors — only reinforcing the fact that cell phones don’t cause cancer.
While the New Jersey Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection continues to investigate what could be going on, some are questioning the town’s proximity to the Middlesex Nuclear Sampling Plant that was used to stockpile radioactive uranium ore for the Manhattan Project.
All radioactive elements will break down or decay at different speeds until they become a more stable element. This is something called a “half-life.” Some elements have half-lives of mere seconds.
The half-life of uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years before it will eventually lose its radioactivity. Even more, uranium is a type of element with no stable form, making it always radioactive.
In 1948, the sampling plant had disposed of its radioactive waste in a nearby landfill that could have contaminated the groundwater and possibly exposed the residents of Woodbridge, New Jersey, to radioactive materials.
With an incidence almost 330 times greater than the average population of developing a brain tumor — these numbers are of concern, and it seems to be more than chance alone. Part of the solution would include a formal review of the sampling plant to examine just how much of a devastating impact this facility has had on neighboring communities and the region.
People in New Jersey and around the country can be exposed to some type of radiation that causes tumors, but rest assured that it isn’t the radiation from their cell phones.
Kevin Charles King is a radiation oncology resident.
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