Apple Air Pods and Other Bluetooth Headsets and Cancer. Does Using them cause cause Cancer? What Is The Truth?

Apple Air Pods and Other Bluetooth Headsets and Cancer.
Does Using them cause  cause Cancer?
What is the REAL story?

Introduction

There has been recent controvery and news stories connecting the prolonged use of Apple Air Pods and other bluetooth headsets and cancer. But the media loves to panic the public to sell their papers, so finding the truth can be challenging.

Is this a real health problem for us with these headsets?  Let's examine the positions and the known evidence, without hype or prejudice.  As always, EHSO will provide citations and links to the sources of any evidence provided, so you can verify it for yourself.  

Positions, pro and con:

Apple Air Pods and similar Bluetooth headsets are dangerous:

  • Studies show a connection between EMF and tumors in rats.
  • Bluetooth headsets emit microwaves.
  • You hold the source of the emission close to your brain.

Apple Air Pods and similar Bluetooth headsets are safe:

  • Cell phones use a very, very low level of radio frequency (rf) energy - too low to cause damage.
  • The type of energy emitted is non-ionizing - meaning it doesn't cause damage to chemical bonds or dna.
  • Hundreds of millions of people have been using cell phones and cordless phones for years. If there were a problem, we would have seen it by now.
  • The studies were done on rats and no such correlation has been show in humans.

The Facts to date:The studies (so far) have only been conducted on rats

This controversy appears to be started by a story on Medium that brought up older research from 2015 that suggest that Bluetooth headsets may pose a cancer risk. The research cited by Medium was a petition signed by more than 200 scientists from 40 countries that said wireless headsets and similar devices may be unsafe. The petition asked the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations create international guidelines concerningelectromagnetic fields (EMF) in consumer devices.

However, the signed petition only listed the following EMF-emitting devices: “cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infra-structures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF).”

The petition never named AirPods, Beats, headsets or any other wireless headphones.

Background

Bluetooth uses radio waves in the microwave frequency range of 2.4 GHz to 2.4835 GHz, like your router and also your microwave oven, although at a much lower power than either.

Bluetooth headsets are regulated by the FCC as Class 3 transmitters and operate in a range of fewer than 30 ft (about 10 meters) with a peak transmission power of 1 mW (milliwatt,one-thousandth of a watt).

Back in 2015, the US National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found “some evidence” that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. (Both are positive results; the NTP uses the labels “clear evidence,” “some evidence,” “equivocal evidence” and “no evidence” when making conclusions.)

In 2018, two US National Toxicology Program peer-reviewed studies were published that found that Cell phone and Bluetooth radiation could cause cancer in rats, saying  “there is clear evidence that male rats exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation (RFR) like that used in 2G and 3G cell phones developed cancerous heart tumors …There was also some evidence of tumors in the brain and adrenal gland of exposed male rats.”

Fox News reports "A recent Brazilian study found an increase in tinnitus (ringing in the ears) as a result of frequent and prolonged cell phone use. Research in the lab has also shown damage on the cellular level, including altered calcium transport and genetic expression, which could be indicative of pre-cancerous changes."

At the same time, it is good to remember that radiation of this type, as well as other parts of the spectrum, is all around us, evey minute of our lives. The sun emits radition across the entire spectrum, and much of it reaches us. There are chemical sources of radition in our food, rocks, water and plants. We are exposed to radiation in X-rays and other radition at the dentist's office, passing through security at the airport traveling on airplanes.  Radition is a part of our lives.  Understanding it and controlling exposure is the key.

Latest News:

  • March 2019 - A new controversy surface regarding bluetooth headsets like Apple's Airpods.  See that story here
  • May 2016 - A National Toxicology Program study conducted on rats found "low incidences" of two types of tumors in male rats that were exposed to the type of radio frequencies that are commonly emitted by cellphones. The tumors were gliomas, which are in the glial cells of the brain, and schwannomas of the heart.
  • April 2016 - Has the incidence of brain cancer risen in Australia since the introduction of mobile phones 29 years ago? - This study says there is no incease in cancers due to cell phone use. "
    "Mobile phone use in Australia began in 1987. Use is now over 90%.
    Brain cancer incidence between 1982 and 2013 has not increased in any age group except those aged 70 84; in the latter group the increase began in 1982, before mobile phones were introduced.
    We hypothesize the increases in incidence of brain cancer in the oldest age group are due to improved diagnostic detection.
    We found no increase in brain cancer incidence compatible with the steep increase in mobile phone use"

Studies, Facts and Evidence

What is the radiation produced by a bluetooth devices?

Like televisions, alarm systems, computers, and all other electrical devices, Bluetooth headsets and Cell phones (also called mobile phones) are radio devices that use Radiofrequency (Rf) energy emit electromagnetic radiation

The damage to the dna molecules is thought to be the cause. The radiation that a cell phone uses is also part of the same electromagnetic spectrum, but is not ionizing. For this reason, the US FDA can regulate these devices to ensure that the radiation doesn't pose a health hazard to users, but only once the existence of a public health hazard has been established. (See "It's Not a Food or Medical Product, So Why FDA?") , RF energy was mistakenly thought to similarly cause cancer. 

radiation in perspective

Power

Bluetooth headsets that fit in or around the ear typically emit 0.23 watts per kilogram (W/Kg) in the microwave range. 
Bluetooth’s power diminishes according to the inverse square law, which means every time you double the distance from the headset to your body the strength of the radiation is 1/4. In other woords, it spreads out and weakens quickly with distance.

Frequency

In the United States, mobile phones operate in a frequency ranging from about 850 to 1900 megahertz (MHz). In that range, the radiation produced is in the form of non-ionizing radiofrequency (RF) energy. This RF energy is different than the ionizing radiation like that from a medical x-ray, which can present a health risk at certain doses.

Ionizing gamma rays and x-rays can cause cancer when their energy is absorbed by the tissue and chemical bonds are broken, damaging DNA. RF energy, on the other hand, produces heating of tissue. Although there is a small amount of experimental evidence that suggests RF energy can impact DNA in rats, this data has been contradicted by several other animal studies and is not well substantiated. Even if true, the doses administered in these animal studies were much larger than the exposure in humans and may have no relevance to cell phone use at all. So although the RF energy emitted by cell phones is in the electromagnetic spectrum, and other forms of electromagnetic radiation can cause cancer, RF energy is very different and has not been shown to cause cancer.

At high enough levels, RF energy, too, can be harmful, because of its ability to heat living tissue to the point of causing biological damage. In a microwave oven, it's RF energy that cooks the food, but the heat generated by cell phones is small in comparison.

A mobile phone's main source of RF energy is its antenna, so the closer the antenna is to a phone user's head, the greater the person's expected exposure to RF energy.

Because RF energy from a cell phone falls off quickly as distance increases between a person and the radiation source (actually, by the distance squared), the safety of mobile phones with an antenna mounted away from the user, like on the outside of a car, has been presumed to be safe. The distance and the effect of the car acting as a Gaussian cage would virtually eliminate the radiation inside the car. Also not presently in doubt is the safety of those so-called cordless phones that have a base unit attached to a home's telephone wiring and operate at much lower power levels than cell phones.

Many experts say that no matter how near the cell phone's antenna--even if it's right up against the skull--the six-tenths of a watt (typically) of power emitted couldn't possibly affect human health. 

Scientific Studies to Date

Finally, as the non-ionizing radiation does have a small heating effect, it is postulated that the effect would be greatest on the eyes and testes, due to the lower amount of blood vessels to help cool these areas.

Perceptions and Concerns

The latest studies may support the generally held position that cell phone radiation is not a substantial hazard, but they will never be able to prove cell phones to be absolutely safe. It is logically impossible to prove a negative, that cell phones can not cause cancer. 

Positions pro and con

Below are links to others taking one side or the other in this debate.  We've tried to filter out the truly crazy ones (on either side), but since there is little hard research yet

Bluetooth headsets are safe

  • Snopes. con - To be fair they don't do scientific research and do not say bluetooth headsets are safe, only that the recent reports that they are dangerous are false.

Bluetooth headsets are dangerous

No position

  • Consumer Reports - Do I Need to Worry About Radiation From WiFi and Bluetooth Devices?  What’s known about the potential risk from routers and wireless headphones By Catherine Roberts March 01, 2018

Conclusions

EHSO has seen no credible evidence to date that cell phones cause cancer or brain tumors in humans. 

However, Bluetooth headsets and cell phones are still relatively new, and while science does not support that the radiation may not be likely to cause cancer in humans, time may prove differently!  And in any case, it may cause some other type of damage.

So, common sense suggests that we each take some prudent precautions; see below.


Precautionary Steps To Take

There are some simple steps that cell phone users can take to reduce any remaining risk:

  • First, use a wired headset or speakerphone mode.  That moves the phone (and it's antenna) away from your head.
  • Second, consider reserving the use of mobile phones for shorter conversations or when a conventional phone is not available. 
  • Third, the effects of cellular damage are greatest on growing, developing organisms (i.e., the young), so limit children's use of cell phones!
  • Finally, in a car, use an external antenna mounted outside the vehicle to move the source of the radiation farther from you!

And don't believe the claims of conmen preying on people's fear of radiation, selling fraudulent devices that they say protect against radiation. These useless items are mostly sold as "shields" on the Internet.  Experts says none of these devices work.

To reduce the risk of an accident while driving, here's a simple tip:  enter the several numbers you call the most often in a way that brings them to the top of the list, so you can use fewer keystrokes to dial them.  For example, the Motorola V60 starts with an alphabetized list when you press the multi-function button; so start your most commonly called number with "AAA",  Like "aaaParents" and the next number with "AAB", like "aabHusband", then they will always appear at the top of the list, which should take fewer keystrokes and less time to dial!

Below are a variety of headsets that will allow you to use your cellphone without the potential risks of having the transmitter close to your ear. The blooth versions work with any mobile phone that is bluetooth enabled, which includes Apple iPhones and most Android and smartphones. If your phone does not have blooth, one of the wrired versions will work justthe same.  If you play music from your phone, there are steroe headset versions that work both as a headset for talking on the phone and for playing music. These below have the highest customer satistfaction for both safety, reliability and voice / sound quality:

Studies

Epidemiological and animal studies undertaken by the U.S. cell phone industry and others have yielded mixed results.

  • National Cancer Institute Statement: International Study Shows No Increased Risk of Brain Tumors from Cell Phone Use - May 17, 2010 - Interphone, an international collaboration, and the largest study of its kind to date, reported that overall, cell phone users have no increased risk of two of the most common forms of brain cancer -- glioma and meningioma. Furthermore, there was no evidence of risk with progressively increasing number of calls, longer call time, or time since the start of the use of cell phones. However, for the small proportion of study participants who used cell phones the most " measured as cumulative call time over their lifetime " there was a suggestion of increased risk of glioma, though the authors call this finding inconclusive. The study was published online May 17, 2010, in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

More Information

Follow-up with:

Agencies

Additional resources

 


FCC and FDA Background Information

FCC Policy on Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields

The FCC is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to evaluate the effect of emissions from FCC-regulated transmitters on the quality of the human environment. At the present time there is no federally-mandated radio frequency (RF) exposure standard. However, several non-government organizations, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) have issued recommendations for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields. The potential hazards associated with RF electromagnetic fields are discussed in OET Bulletin No. 56, "Questions and Answers About the Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields."

More Info....


The US FCC's Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

FCC's Radiofrequency Energy FAQs (Updated)
This section contains answers to the most frequently asked questions received by the Federal Communications Commission concerning RF fields and its application. Also, see FCC OET Bulletin No. 56: .

 
OET RF Safety Bulletins, Fact Sheets, Guides and Reports

OET Bulletin No. 56: Questions and Answers About Biological Effects Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (Fourth Edition, August 1999)

This is an informative bulletin written as a result of increasing interest and concern of the public with respect to this issue. The expanding use of radio frequency technology has resulted in speculation concerning the alleged "electromagnetic pollution" of the environment and the potential dangers of exposure to non-ionizing radiation. This publication is designed to provide factual information to the public by answering some of the most commonly asked questions.

OET Bulletin No. 65: Evaluating Compliance With FCC Guidelines for Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields

This technical bulletin was issued to provide guidance in the implementation of the Commission's new exposure limits and policies. The bulletin provides acceptable methods of determining compliance Commission limits through the use of mathematical and empirical models.

  • Supplement A: Additional Information for Radio and Television Broadcast Stations
  • Supplement B: Additional Information for Amateur Radio Stations
  • Supplement C: Additional Information for Evaluating Compliance of Mobile and Portable Devices with FCC Limits for Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Emissions

Information on Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields from Cellular and PCS Radio Transmitters
This page explains technical information on cellular and PCS base stations, mobile, and portable telephones. (Adobe PDF | WordPerfect 5.1)

A Local Government Official's Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety: Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance. The LSGAC and the FCC have developed this guide to aid local governmental officials and citizens in understanding safety issues related to radiofrequency emissions from telecommunications towers. [Word97 | Acrobat | News Release]


OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES 

That have responsibilities related to potential RF Health effects

Certain agencies in the Federal Government have been involved in monitoring, researching or regulating issues related to human exposure to RF radiation. These agencies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD).

By authority of the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) of the FDA develops performance standards for the emission of radiation from electronic products including X-ray equipment, other medical devices, television sets, microwave ovens, laser products and sunlamps. The CDRH established a product performance standard for microwave ovens in 1971 limiting the amount of RF leakage from ovens. However, the CDRH has not adopted performance standards for other RF-emitting products. The FDA is, however, the lead federal health agency in monitoring the latest research developments and advising other agencies with respect to the safety of RF-emitting products used by the public, such as cellular and PCS phones.

The FDA's microwave oven standard is an emission standard (as opposed to an exposure standard) that allows specific levels of microwave leakage (measured at five centimeters from the oven surface). The standard also requires ovens to have two independent interlock systems that prevent the oven from generating microwaves the moment that the latch is released or the door of the oven is opened. The FDA has stated that ovens that meet its standards and are used according to the manufacturer's recommendations are safe for consumer and industrial use. More information is available from: www.fda.gov/cdrh.

  • The EPA has, in the past, considered developing federal guidelines for public exposure to RF radiation. However, EPA activities related to RF safety and health are presently limited to advisory functions. For example, the EPA now chairs an Inter-agency Radiofrequency Working Group, which coordinates RF health-related activities among the various federal agencies with health or regulatory responsibilities in this area.
  •   OSHA is responsible for protecting workers from exposure to hazardous chemical and physical agents. In 1971, OSHA issued a protection guide for exposure of workers to RF radiation [29 CFR 1910.97]. However, this guide was later ruled to be only advisory and not mandatory. Moreover, it was based on an earlier RF exposure standard that has now been revised. At the present time, OSHA uses the IEEE and/or FCC exposure guidelines for enforcement purposes under OSHA's "general duty clause" (for more information see: www.osha- slc.gov/SLTC/radiofrequencyradiation/index.html ).
  • NIOSH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It conducts research and investigations into issues related to occupational exposure to chemical and physical agents. NIOSH has, in the past, undertaken to develop RF exposure guidelines for workers, but final guidelines were never adopted by the agency. NIOSH conducts safety-related RF studies through its Physical Agents Effects Branch in Cincinnati,Ohio.
  • The NTIA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for authorizing Federal Government use of the RF electromagnetic spectrum. Like the FCC, the NTIA also has NEPA responsibilities and has considered adopting guidelines for evaluating RF exposure from U.S. Government transmitters such as radar and military facilities.
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) has conducted research on the biological effects of RF energy for a number of years. This research is now conducted primarily at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory located at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. (Back to Index)

For more information on this topic please note:

OET Bulletin No. 56: Questions and Answers About the Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Radiation.

 

Any questions regarding this subject matter should be addressed to: The RF Safety Program

Information on Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields from Cellular and PCS Radio Transmitters
This page explains technical information on cellular and PCS base stations, mobile, and portable telephones. (Adobe PDF | WordPerfect 5.1)

A Local Government Official's Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety: Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance. The LSGAC and the FCC have developed this guide to aid local governmental officials and citizens in understanding safety issues related to radiofrequency emissions from telecommunications towers. [Word97 | Acrobat | News Release]

Other Issues