Environmental Health Trust
NEWSLETTER: Allan Frey and the Inconvenient Truth About Radio Frequency Radiation
Can Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
"We've underplayed the possible threat from cell phones for too long...[Devra Davis] shows the way the industry has been able to twist science just enough to stave off the possibility of regulation."
In 1960, neuroscientist Allan Frey, then with Cornell University’s General Electric Advanced
Electronics Center,became curious about the impact on the nervous system of electromagnetic
fields moving at the speed of light. Long before cell phones were commercialized, his findings
would eventually prove that radio frequency radiation has a measurable effect on the brain—and
attempts were made by the powers-that-be to suppress his work in ways that uncannily echo the
ways such results are being marginalized today.
Among other key results, Frey determined that the carrier wave of 1,900 megahertz—precisely
the same wavelength used by many cell phones today—had significant biological effects.
Inject a mouse with a fluorescent dye into its blood and the entire body and all of the organs
fluoresce—except for the brain, which remains pink-gray. Research in the 1920s had shown
why: The brain is protected from taking in poisons or contaminants that get into
the bloodstream due to a barrier appropriately known as the “blood-brain barrier.”
But Frey found something interesting. He showed that weak radio frequency signals—just
like those from today’s cell phones—opened up this normally closed barrier. Frey first
injected the dye into the bloodstream of rats and then exposed them to very weak pulsed
microwave signals. Within a few minutes, the injected rats’ brains began to fluoresce,
signaling that the blood-brain barrier had been breached. Frey’s studies were reported
in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1975.
Soon after two other labs, using other blood-brain-barrier study techniques, showed similar
effects of radio frequency radiation.
But there were some in the military and industry who didn’t want to accept that such radiation
could have any biological impact. For example, several “critiques” of the effect that Frey had
discovered completely ignored relevant information. Frey himself recalls the falsity of some
critiques. One group claimed to have repeated his team’s rat studies and said they found nothing.
However, instead of injecting the dye into the femoral vein so it would go directly to the heart
and into the brain in seconds, as Frey had, they injected it into the abdomen. They sprayed it onto
the intestines. Within five minutes they killed the animals and looked at the brain. They reported
that they found no evidence that the dye had gone into the brain. Of course not! There have been many
studies confirming and extending Frey’s work since then.
In later years, Frey has noted the intensity of pressure during the Cold War to stay away
from studies that suggested that low-intensity radio frequency radiation had biological
impacts of any kind. More than three decades later, recalling attempts to discredit his work,
Frey has said, “What happened then was a naked use of power to try to discredit what had been basic
scientific work because it did not comport with what some people in the military and industry wanted
to hear.” Today’s researchers are still fighting the battle Frey waged in the 1970s.