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CHD Files FOIA Requests: Why Did Government Shut Down Studies on Cellphone Radiation and Cancer?

https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/chd-foia-requests-nih-studies-cellphone-radiation-cancer/?


The requests are for key communications and research documents related to studies that were underway and the factors that led the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences to discontinue the studies, despite previous research finding evidence of cancer and DNA damage related to cellphone use.


By Suzanne Burdick, Ph.D.



Children’s Health Defense (CHD) today filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for documents and communications related to the agency’s decision to discontinue studies on the potential health effects of cellphone radiofrequency radiation (RFR) — even after a 10-year, $30-million study, completed in 2018, found evidence of cancer and DNA damage.


“We think it is important to understand what led to this decision, because we know too often big industry interests play a significant role” in shutting down this type of research, said Miriam Eckenfels-Garcia, director of CHD’s Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) & Wireless program.


Eckenfels-Garcia told The Defender it’s “truly astonishing that the government has decided to stop research into the health effects of wireless radiation instead of deepening it, in light of ever-growing evidence of harm.”


CHD sent two requests to the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS), a subagency of NIH, whose scientists had been studying wireless radiation.


The requests are for key communications and study documents that could shed light on the research government scientists were conducting when before it was shut down, and what factors led to the shut-down.


“By working together at the outset,” CHD staff attorney Risa Evans wrote in the FOIA letters, “we can decrease the likelihood of costly and time-consuming litigation in the future.”


Why stop studying wireless radiation now?


As The Defender reported, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in January announced via an updated fact sheet that it has no plans to further study the effects of cellphone RFR on human health.


This was after the program’s 10-year study, published in 2018, found “clear evidence” that RFR exposure was linked to malignant heart tumors, “some evidence” linking it to malignant brain tumors, and “some evidence” linking it to both malignant and benign adrenal gland tumors and DNA damage in rats.


NTP is an “interagency partnership” of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the NIEHS.


After publishing the study, government scientists conducted follow-up studies on the impact of RFR exposure on behavior and stress — especially stress on the heart, according to the NTP’s cellphone RFR website.


The follow-up studies also sought to “evaluate further” the 2018 study finding that RFR exposure caused DNA damage.


The research was “technically challenging and more resource intensive than expected” and “no further work” is planned, according to NTP’s RFR website.


According to the NTP website, the program “strives to remain at the cutting edge of scientific research and the development and application of new technologies for modern toxicology and molecular biology” and “provides the scientific basis for programs, activities, and policies that promote health or lead to the prevention of disease.”


“So why would its scientists stop studying wireless radiation?” asked Eckenfels-Garcia. “We want to know.”


‘I thought that was the right next step’


Brian Berridge, DVM, Ph.D., NTP’s scientific director until January 2023, confirmed that the follow-up studies were underway during his tenure and that the decision to no longer study RFR happened after he stepped down.


“The work was being done while I was there — with my blessing,” he told The Defender. “I thought that was the right next step.”


Large studies like the one the NTP did in 2018, Berridge said, raise questions that “ultimately take additional studies” to understand better.


For example, the follow-up studies were looking at whether the negative health outcomes the 2018 study saw in rats — cancerous tumors and DNA damage — could rightly be attributed to RFR or to some other aspect of the experimental conditions, such as living 24/7 in a small metal chamber.


CHD’s first FOIA request seeks more details about what the follow-up studies entailed.


The request asked agency officials to hand over “all protocols, standard operating procedures, and other records describing the methods, procedures, and/or study goals of every study planned or conducted by DTT [Division of Translational Toxicology] to follow up on the rodent studies previously conducted by the National Toxicology Program.”


Four government employees named in FOIA request


CHD’s second FOIA request asked for all communications between key researchers and officials from Feb. 1, 2023, to Feb. 1, 2024 — when NTP appeared to be conducting follow-up studies and when it decided to discontinue them.


The FOIA request names four government employees:


  • Robert C. Sills, DVM, Ph.D., who at the time was the acting scientific director of NIEHS’ DTT. Scientists with DTT — who commonly work on NTP’s projects — were the ones conducting the follow-up studies, according to the NTP website.

  • Stephanie Smith-Roe, Ph.D., the DTT scientist supervising the follow-up studies, according to a former government scientist who chose to remain anonymous.

  • Nigel J. Walker, Ph.D., acting chief of DTT’s Systems Toxicology Branch, who was responsible for managing the follow-up studies, according to another former government scientist who chose to remain anonymous.

  • Rick Woychik, Ph.D., director of NIEHS, who sets the budget for NIEHS, including DTT, according to Devra Davis, Ph.D., MPH, a toxicologist and epidemiologist who served on the NTP’s board of scientific counselors in the 1980s when it launched.


The request seeks communications related to the funding and termination of the studies.

It’s unclear whether some of the follow-up studies were prematurely terminated or whether they had simply completed their research goals, with no further studies planned.


For instance, the NTP cellphone RFR website states that the researchers had completed “feasibility testing” of a small-scale RFR exposure system for doing the research.


It appears they planned to use the small-scale RFR exposure system to “determine the impact of RFR exposure on behavior and stress, conduct real-time physiological monitoring, including evaluation of heart rate, investigate whether RFR exposure induces heating, and evaluate further whether RFR exposure causes DNA damage.”


But the NTP website does not say whether researchers had achieved these research goals or, if they hadn’t yet, at what point in the research process the decision was made to no longer study wireless radiation. It only states:


“The research using this small-scale RFR exposure system was technically challenging and more resource intensive than expected.


“In addition, this exposure system was designed to study the frequencies and modulations used in 2G and 3G devices, but is not representative of newer technologies such as 4G/4G-LTE, or 5G (which is still not fully defined).


“Taking these factors into consideration, no further work with this RFR exposure system will be conducted and NIEHS has no further plans to conduct additional RFR exposure studies at this time.”


The FOIA request also targets communications related to the overall execution and management of the follow-up studies, and it seeks emails or other communications containing any follow-up study data for interpretation, evaluation or review.


NIEHS deflects questions about the studies


Before CHD filed the FOIA requests, The Defender reached out repeatedly to various NIEHS staff for information about the follow-up studies and the decision to end RFR research.


Some of the questions The Defender asked included:


  • Where can the public find the follow-up studies’ standard operating procedures and protocols?

  • What is the status of the data gathered in the follow-up studies? Was it ever reviewed, and if so, by whom? If not, why not?

  • The NTP cellphone RFR website states, “NIEHS has completed the feasibility testing of this small-scale RFR exposure system, and the results will be made publicly available and posted on this webpage when internal reviews are finished.” What sort of “internal reviews” are being conducted? By whom? What is the anticipated completion date of the reviews and when will the results be published?

  • An earlier version of NTP’s cellphone RF radiation webpage (updated Nov. 30, 2023) stated that these studies were expected to be published in 2023-2024. Why haven’t the studies been published?

  • Why would U.S. civilian governmental efforts to study the potential impacts of wireless radiation stop as the U.S. Department of Defense continues to study the problem and as the European Union has provided multi-million dollar grants for multidisciplinary studies?


The NIEHS Office of Communications consistently told The Defender that NTP’s cellphone RFR website “has all the information we have to share at this time. We will update the webpage when we have more information.”

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