NEWS
20/06/2020

Estimated Whole-Brain and Lobe-Specific Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields Doses and Brain Volumes in Preadolescents

Alba Cabré-Riera, Hanan El Marroun, Ryan Muetzel, Luuk van Wel, Ilaria Liorni, Arno Thielens, Laura Ellen Birks, Livia Pierotti, Anke Huss, Wout Joseph, Joe Wiart, Myles Capstick, Manon Hillegers, Roel Vermeulen, Elisabeth Cardis, Martine Vrijheid, Tonya White, Martin Röösli, Henning Tiemeier, and Mònica Guxens, Environment International 2020, Volume 142, 2020, online 15 June 2020; doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2020.105808

We assessed the association between estimated whole-brain and lobe-specific radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) doses, using an improved integrated RF-EMF exposure model, and brain volumes in preadolescents at 9-12 years old. A cross-sectional analysis was performed in preadolescents aged 9-12 years from the Generation R Study, a population-based birth cohort set up in Rotterdam, The Netherlands (n = 2592). An integrated exposure model was used to estimate whole-brain and lobe-specific RF-EMF doses (mJ/kg/day) from different RF-EMF sources including mobile and Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT) phone calls, other mobile phone uses than calling, tablet use, laptop use, and far-field sources. Whole-brain and lobe-specific RF-EMF doses were estimated for all RF-EMF sources together (i.e., overall) and for three groups of RF-EMF sources that lead to a different pattern of RF-EMF exposure. Information on brain volumes was extracted from magnetic resonance imaging scans. The results revealed that the estimated overall whole-brain RF-EMF dose was 84.3 mJ/kg/day. The highest overall lobe-specific dose was estimated in the temporal lobe (307.1 mJ/kg/day). Whole-brain and lobe-specific RF-EMF doses from all RF-EMF sources together, from mobile and DECT phone calls, and from far-field sources were not associated with global, cortical, or subcortical brain volumes. However, a higher whole-brain RF-EMF dose from mobile phone use for internet browsing, e-mailing, and text messaging, tablet use, and laptop use while wirelessly connected to the internet was associated with a smaller caudate volume. Our results suggest that estimated whole-brain and lobe-specific RF-EMF doses were not related to brain volumes in preadolescents at 9-12 years old. Screen activities with mobile communication devices while wirelessly connected to the internet lead to low RF-EMF dose to the brain and our observed association may thus rather reflect effects of social or individual factors related to these specific uses of mobile communication devices. However, we cannot discard residual confounding, chance finding, or reverse causality. Further studies on mobile communication devices and their potential negative associations with brain development are warranted, regardless whether associations are due to RF-EMF exposure or to other factors related to their use.

The scientific and technical impact of the study can be summarized as:

  • An improved integrated RF-EMF exposure model has been implemented to estimate whole-brain and lobe-specific RF-EMF doses in preadolescents
  • Overall whole-brain or lobe-specific RF-EMF doses are not related to brain volume while internet-based screen activities with wirelessly connected mobile communication devices is associated with smaller caudate volume
  • However, this may reflect effects of social or individual factors related to these specific uses of mobile communication devices rather than exposure to RF-EMF