top of page

Study Links Cellphone Use to Lower Sperm Count, but Authors Downplay Findings

A Swiss study found high cellphone use was associated with reduced male fertility measures. But experts criticized the authors for speculating newer phones emit less radiation and for their ties to a group aligned with telecom industry interests.

Men who frequently use their cellphones may suffer from lower sperm counts than those who do not, according to a new Swiss study that adds to the mounting body of evidence showing a link between cellphone use and decreased male fertility.

The study found that men who used their phones more than 20 times a day had significantly lower sperm counts and decreased sperm concentrations — two critical measures of male fertility — than men who used their phones just once a week.

These men had roughly 21% higher risk of sperm counts and 30% higher risk of sperm concentrations falling below the World Health Organization’s reference values for fertile men.

The authors of the study — which tracked the health data and cellphone usage data of 2,886 young men from 2005 to 2018 — said the link between cellphone use and lower sperm counts was “more pronounced in the first period of the study (2005 and 2007) and decreased progressively over the subsequent time periods (2008–2011 and 2012–2018).”

They attributed the differences to newer wireless technologies, which they said emit less radiofrequency (RF) radiation.

Do newer technologies really emit less radiation?

Experts like Lennart Hardell, M.D., Ph.D., a world-leading scientist on cancer risks from radiation, took issue with the authors’ suggestion that newer wireless technologies emit less radiation.

“The authors gave an overgeneralized explanation that conveniently suited wireless companies’ interests,” Hardell told The Defender.

Hardell, an oncologist and epidemiologist with the Environment and Cancer Research Foundation who has authored more than 350 papers, almost 60 of which address the topic of RF radiation, said he disagreed with statements made by Martin Rӧӧsli, Ph.D., one of the study authors and an associate professor in epidemiology and public health at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

Rӧӧsli told Forbes the link between phone use and sperm counts lessened over time periods corresponding to the transition from 2G to 3G networks and from 3G to 4G networks because the newer networks “led to a reduction in the transmitting power of phones.”

If the amount of power — as in energy — is lower, that would mean people’s exposure to RF radiation would be lower.

Rajeev Singh, Ph.D., an environmental science professor at the University of Delhi who studies the impacts of RF radiation and electromagnetic fields (EMF) on male reproductive health, also disagreed with the study authors’ argument that newer phones emit less power.

In February, Singh and other researchers published a review of 168 studies, many recent, that found RF radiation had negative impacts on male reproductive health.

“It’s not accurate to make a blanket statement that 4G or 3G devices emit more power or energy in all cases,” Singh told The Defender.

“The specific power levels emitted by a mobile device can vary based on the device’s design, its antenna and how it’s used,” he said, adding:

“Some 3G devices may have higher power requirements than some 4G devices, and vice versa … the power or energy emitted by a 4G mobile device can vary depending on network conditions, the device’s power efficiency, and how it’s being used.”

W. Scott McCollough, chief litigator for CHD’s electromagnetic radiation (EMR) cases, agreed. “The claim that higher generations — such as 4G versus 3G — emit less power is an overgeneralization since there are several physical factors that determine the power output of wireless devices.”

“Plus, we are seeing multiple generations at the same site,” McCollough said. “Wireless companies commonly run both LTE, which is 4G, and 5G on the same cell tower, each with its own power output.”

With the greater numbers and concentrations of transmitting towers, “people may be exposed to more, not less, RF radiation,” McCollough said.

Wireless industry experts interviewed by the scientific research and education nonprofit Environmental Health Trust (EHT) said 5G antennas emit RF radiation as a concentrated rather than a diffused beam, with output power 20 to 35 times more than 4G.

Dr. Marc Arazi, founder and president of the France-based Phonegate Alert, told The Defender the study authors’ argument about the power of cellphones was “misleading.”

Arazi pointed out that just this fall, France temporarily banned Apple’s iPhone 12 for emitting RF radiation levels above the legal limit.

Hardell also said the study authors ignored other probable explanations for differences over time they saw in the sperm counts.

For instance, European men’s exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls — better known as PCBs — “has decreased over time due to regulations,” Hardell said.

PCBs have been shown to function as endocrine disruptors that negatively impact sperm counts.

“This fact might obscure a true impact from RF radiation,” Hardell added.

Röösli part of key ‘invite-only’ group with ‘longstanding industry ties’

According to Arazi and Hardell, the study authors’ argument that newer technologies emit less power paints a picture that is favorable to wireless companies that want to market their products as safe.

“One must remember,” Hardell said, “that Röösli is a long-time gatekeeper regarding health risks from RF radiation, which obviously is in accordance with his membership in ICNIRP [the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection].”

Founded by scientist and wireless industry consultant Michael Repacholi, who funneled industry money through a hospital to fund his EMF activities, ICNIRP is an “invite only” small group with “longstanding industry ties” that “is “accountable to no one,” according to EHT.

Rӧӧsli has been an ICNIRP member since 2016.

Mona Nilsson, managing director of the Swedish Radiation Protection Foundation and co-researcher with Hardell on the negative health impacts of 5G, told The Defender, “Martin Röösli’s suggestion that today’s phones would be less harmful is rather typical for a person with conflicts of interests, such as being a member of ICNIRP.”

ICNIRP and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the 1990s adopted RF exposure limits based on the assumption — sometimes called the “thermal-only paradigm” — that harm could only come at radiation levels high enough to heat tissues.

ICNIRP in 2020 reaffirmed its guidelines based on the same assumption, despite substantial scientific evidence showing biological effects at non-thermal levels.

Researchers in 2023 accused ICNIRP of basing its 2020 guidelines largely on studies done by its own members and ignoring scientific studies showing harm could occur at radiation levels below what’s needed to cause tissue heating.

The researchers said, “With its thermal-only view, ICNIRP contrasts with the majority of research findings.”

Hardell agreed. “ICNIRP is basically a product defense organization,” he said, meaning it acts like a scientific authority in order to protect telecommunication companies by ignoring and discrediting research that shows their products may be unsafe.

Additionally, Hardell and Michael Carlberg in a 2020 paper noted that many ICNIRP members — including Rӧӧsli — sit on other key international committees that make decisions on what science is regarded or ignored regarding RF radiation.

“There appears to be a cartel of individuals working on this issue,” they wrote, who “propagate” ICNIRP’s thermal-only paradigm on RF radiation.


bottom of page