Group 2B carcinogen

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields have been labelled as a Group 2b possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization. This comes up a lot from anti-wifi advocates, usually accompanied by other cherry-picked and awfully scary sounding possible class 2b carcinogens like arsenic and lead. So, let’s cherry pick a couple of other items on the class 2b list, like coffee, pickled vegetables, coconut oil, talcum powder, and nickle. When you say WiFi is as dangerous as coffee or pickles, the comparison seems a lot less ominous.

So, should we be concerned? What does that group 2b possible carcinogen label mean?

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Island Health Authority notes that this classification has nothing to do with WiFi and was based on heavy, long term cell phone and a possible increase in a rare type of brain tumour. According to the BC Ministry of Health, the type 2b classification was based on studies of extremely heavy cell phone use; 1640 hours or more per year, which is equal to holding a cell phone to the side of your head for 4 hours a day every day of an entire year. Again this is cell phone use, not WiFi. As Dr. Stanwick points out, WiFi emits 1% of the levels of EMF radiation as cell phones do.

Using the group 2b classification of the entire spectrum of radiofrequencies as an indication that WiFi is harmful when the classification came about due to extremely heavy cell phone use and not WiFi misrepresents the intention of the classification.

What “possible carcinogen” means is also easy to misinterpret.

The Category 2B “possible carcinogen” classification does not mean that an agent is carcinogenic. As Ken Foster of the University of Pennsylvania pointed out to me. “Their conclusion is easy to misinterpret.” “Saying that something is a “possible carcinogen” is a bit like saying that someone is a “possible shoplifter” because he was in the store when the watch was stolen. The real question is what is the evidence that cell phones actually cause cancer, and the answer is — none that would persuade a health agency.”

This page was update on May 23, 2013 to add link to BC Ministry of Health site.

9 comments on “Group 2B carcinogen
  1. dyr2 says:

    more wrongheaded thought expressed here, and lack of awareness of history — read eg how it should have been 2A back in the early 80s,

    some braver scholars at iarc thought it should have been 2A in 2011 as well – if there is suspicion of danger like that among conservative-minded scholars, now what do you sAY?

    • Scott Leslie says:

      I say you should bring this up to Health Canada and other bodies who ultimately bear responsibility for setting regulatory levels for lots of things. So far they don’t seem to be convinced. You claim this is out of collusion or some other form of control. Then go to your local university and talk to a number of actual scientists. Look them in the eyes, listen closely. They may well use cautious phrases to describe things. Since at least Hume we’ve given up on saying anything could be 100% certain, and they are trained to be skeptical. I sincerely doubt you will find a majority of them with backgrounds in say radiology, or nuclear medicine to agree with you. Maybe more in biology, though I doubt it. If you do, you should ask them to challenge existing studies with their own. If they are not willing to, ask them why not. This is the way our understanding and rules change. This is the way we’ve democratically decided to agrees to rules to govern these kinds of things. I know all of that is not perfect, but scaring parents with “facts” that just haven’t convinced the majority of people who’ve studied the issue, simply by repeating them over and over until they start to sound true, isn’t the way to do this.

      • dyr2 says:


        The faith shown in our “democratic” process seems naive. There are good and bad aspects. Open discussion that your site is fostering here is good. Reliance on a Humean dissection of causality requires a good culture of respect for the range of perceptions, not just the simplistic “presentational immediacy” (see eg AN Whitehead, who claimed to be rescuing his patrimony incl. Hume) at the basis of anglo-style empiricism. What we have esp. in Canada is in the main re public policy maintenance of a corporate-financial playground. The fed. dept of “health”, in guidelines of which all prov. health depts reflexively acquiesce (voluntarily), just as HC acquiesces in icnirp’s (thus that hierarchy where private unaccountable interests need only capture one node – not a big conspiracy at all needed in context); HC effectively has it that public health is preceded by & depends on corporate and financial health. That is a perverted worldview. Read eg a recent insider whistleblower acct by veteran HC employee, Shiv Chopra, Corrupt to the Core (but not on wireless, although from a comparable Aussie perspective a fine recent book on generation of corrupt wireless standards, see online, The Procrustean Approach – what does that title tell you?).

        I’m not out to scare anyone. I doubt that wireless opponents where you are are either. It cannot be a matter of faith in authority, when corruption by culture or more grossly is at issue. One has to examine for oneself, beyond the regnant authorities – your democracy depends on vigouous ongoing dissent.

  2. Shan says:

    Absolutely correct – after all lead and DDT are in that category also, but of coarse they are certainly not carcinogenic………….oh dear, am I confused? maybe wireless if carcinogenic? …………

    • Scott Leslie says:

      Apparently you take this example to mean “because it is classified with other known carcinogens, it MUST be carcinogenic.” I believe the example we are bringing up here is to the effect that “because it is classed with other things we regularly use and ingest without carcinogenic effects, this classification has ceased to be meaningful.”

  3. NK says:

    According to the WHO report, coffee has been linked to bladder cancer. I don’t think that it would affect every coffee lover out there (after all you cannot live your life in constant fear of cancer), but if someone will make it mandatory in school for four year olds to drink a coffee and eat a pickles on a regular basis – I would definitely disagree with it. 🙂

  4. Seekinghokmah says:

    it is often said that installing WIFI in schools is forcing children to be exposed against their wishes, but this is fallacious. We are all exposed to far stronger EMF sources everyday and adding WIFI is a drop in the ocean, the exposure levels are so low it is absurd.

  5. wimvanaelst says:

    What’s the use of a forum if it’s totally biased ? My reply of 26 july 2013 (!) has still not been moderated.

    • I think if you look at the replies that I allowed through that this website is far from biased. Most of the comments I receive now are simply a rehash of the same information over and over and over again. There is no dialogue happening here. Only opinion shouting and anonymous threats. I’ve turned off comments. I have met my objective, which was to provide a balanced voice to what our local parents and school district officials have been hearing for the past 3 years. The decision to reinstate WiFi in schools signals the end of this for me. Objective met. The site will remain up, but I am turning off comments.