"The extent to which particular scientific results constitute progress in knowledge or contribute to societal well-being is often contested. This is especially the case when scientific findings are uncertain or controversial and when they can be interpreted to support controversial policy choices....Assessing science, no matter how rigorous the methods that may be used, is ultimately a matter of interpretation. The possibility of competing interpretations of evidence is ever-present when using science indicators or applying any other analytic method for measuring the progress and impact of science." (4)
(2) National Toxicology Program. Handbook for Conducting a Literature-Based Health Assessment Using OHAT Approach for Systematic Review and Evidence Integration (March 4, 2019): https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/
(3) National Toxicology Program. 2019 OHAT Handbook Update and Clarification Summary Document (March 4, 2019). https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/
Research Protocols for Radiofrequency EHC Reviews
Susanna Lagorio, Maria Blettner, Dan Baaken, Maria Feychting, Ken Karipidis, Tom Loney, Nicola Orsini, Martin Röösli, Marilia Silva Paulo, Mark Elwood. The effect of exposure to radiofrequency fields on cancer risk in the general and working population: A protocol for a systematic review of human observational studies. Environ Int. 2021 Aug 22;157:106828. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106828.
• A systematic review of all subject-relevant epidemiological studies is now needed.
• A detailed protocol ensures the review's transparency, utility and credibility.
• Original study validity will be evaluated with a customized OHAT risk of bias tool.
• Internal coherence and external plausibility will inform conclusions.
Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) has an ongoing project to assess potential health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) in the general and working population. Here we present the protocol for a systematic review of the scientific literature on cancer hazards from exposure to RF-EMF in humans, commissioned by the WHO as part of that project.
Objective: To assess the quality and strength of the evidence provided by human observational studies for a causal association between exposure to RF-EMF and risk of neoplastic diseases.
Eligibility criteria: We will include cohort and case-control studies investigating neoplasia risks in relation to three types of exposure to RF-EMF: near-field, head-localized, exposure from wireless phone use (SR-A); far-field, whole body, environmental exposure from fixed-site transmitters (SR-B); near/far-field occupational exposures from use of handheld transceivers or RF-emitting equipment in the workplace (SR-C). While no restriction on tumour type will be applied, we will focus on selected neoplasms of the central nervous system (brain, meninges, pituitary gland, acoustic nerve) and salivary gland tumours (SR-A); brain tumours and leukaemias (SR-B, SR-C).
Information sources: Eligible studies will be identified through Medline, Embase, and EMF-Portal.
Risk-of-bias assessment: We will use a tailored version of the OHAT's tool to evaluate the study's internal validity.
Data synthesis: We will consider separately studies on different tumours, neoplasm-specific risks from different exposure sources, and a given exposure-outcome pair in adults and children. When a quantitative synthesis of findings can be envisaged, the main aims of the meta-analysis will be to assess the strength of association and the shape of the exposure-response relationship; to quantify the degree of heterogeneity across studies; and explore the sources of inconsistency (if any). When a meta-analysis is judged inappropriate, we will perform a narrative synthesis, complemented by a structured tabulation of results and appropriate visual displays.
Evidence assessment: Confidence in evidence will be assessed in line with the GRADE approach.
Funding: This project is supported by the World Health Organization. Co-financing was provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Health; the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in its capacity as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Radiation and Health; ARPANSA as a WHO Collaborating Centre for Radiation Protection.
Registration: PROSPERO CRD42021236798.
• Male infertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes are relevant human health problems.
• Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields are widespread in the human environment.
• A link between radiofrequency and adverse reproductive outcomes is controversial.
• This is the protocol of WHO-funded systematic review and meta-analysis on this issue.
Background Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (RF-EMF) at environmental level have been reported to induce adverse effects on the male reproductive system and developing embryos. However, despite the number of experiments conducted since the 1970s, the diversity of testing approaches and exposure conditions, inconsistencies among results, and dosimetric flaws have not yet permitted a solid assessment of the relationship between RF-EMF exposure and such effects, warranting a more systematic and methodologically rigorous approach to the evaluation of available data.
Objectives This study aims at evaluating the effects of RF-EMF exposure on male fertility and pregnancy outcomes by a systematic review (SR) of experimental studies, conducted in compliance with international guidelines. The evidence will be organized into three streams: 1) Studies evaluating the impact of RF-EMF on the male reproductive system of experimental mammals; 2) studies evaluating the impact of RF-EMF on human sperm exposed in vitro; 3) studies evaluating the impact of RF-EMF on adverse pregnancy, birth outcomes and delayed effects in experimental mammals exposed in utero.
Study eligibility and criteria Eligible studies will include peer-reviewed articles reporting of original results about effects of controlled exposures to RF-EMF in the frequency range 100 kHz–300 GHz on the selected outcomes without any language or year-of-publication restrictions. Eligible studies will be retrieved by calibrated search strings applied to three electronic databases, PubMed, Scopus and EMF Portal and by manual search of the list of references of included papers and published reviews.
Study appraisal and synthesis method The internal validity of the studies will be evaluated using the Risk of Bias (RoB) Rating Tool developed by National Toxicology Program/Office of Health Assessment and Translation (NTP/OHAT) integrated with input from the SYRCLE RoB tool. Given sufficient commensurate data, meta-analyses will be performed, otherwise narrative syntheses will be produced. Finally, the certainty of the effects of RF-EMF exposure on male fertility and pregnancy and birth outcomes will be established following GRADE.
Funding The study is financially supported by the World Health Organization.
Registration OSF Registration DOI https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.
This project is partially funded by the World Health Organization (contract 2020/1026306-0). Additional in-kind funds are provided by ENEA, Health Canada and Swinburne University of Technology.
Blanka Pophof, Jacob Burns, Heidi Danker-Hopfe, Hans Dorn, Cornelia Egblomassé-Roidl, Torsten Eggert, Kateryna Fuks, Bernd Henschenmacher, Jens Kuhne, Cornelia Sauter, Gernot Schmid. The effect of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields on cognitive performance in human experimental studies: A protocol for a systematic review. Environ Int. 2021 Jul 29;157:106783. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106783.
Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently assessing the potential health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) in the general and working population. Related to one such health effect, there is a concern that RF-EMFs may affect cognitive performance in humans. The systematic review (SR) aims to identify, summarize and synthesize the evidence base related to this question. Here, we present the protocol for the planned SR.
Objectives: The main objective is to present a protocol for a SR which will evaluate the associations between short-term exposure to RF-EMFs and cognitive performance in human experimental studies.
Data sources: We will search the following databases: PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus, and the EMF-Portal. The reference lists of included studies and retrieved review articles will be manually searched.
Study eligibility and criteria: We will include randomized human experimental studies that assess the effects of RF-EMFs on cognitive performance compared to no exposure or lower exposure. We will include peer-reviewed articles of any publication date in any language that report primary data.
Data extraction and analysis: Data will be extracted according to a pre-defined set of forms developed and piloted by the review author team. To assess the risk of bias, we will apply the Rating Tool for Human and Animal Studies developed by NTP/OHAT, supplemented with additional questions relevant for cross-over studies. Where sufficiently similar studies are identified (e.g. the heterogeneity concerning population, exposure and outcome is low and the studies can be combined), we will conduct random-effects meta-analysis; otherwise, we will conduct a narrative synthesis.
Assessment of certainty of evidence: The certainty of evidence for each identified outcome will be assessed according to Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE). Performing the review according to this protocol will allow the identification of possible effects of RF-EMFs on cognitive performance in humans. The protocol has been registered in PROSPERO, an open-source protocol registration system, to foster transparency.
This project is funded by the World Health Organization.
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.Open access paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/
• No up to date comprehensive systematic review is available.
• Priority outcomes for head exposure are tinnitus, migraine, and headaches.
• Further priority outcomes are sleep disturbances and composite symptom scores.
Background Applications emitting radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF; 100 kHz to 300 GHz) are widely used for communication (e.g. mobile phones), in medicine (diathermy) and in industry (RF heaters). Concern has been raised that RF-EMF exposure affects health related quality of life, because a part of the population reports to experience a variety of symptoms related to low exposure levels below regulatory limits.
Objectives To systematically review the effects of longer-term or repeated local and whole human body RF-EMF exposure on the occurrence of symptoms evaluating migraine, tinnitus, headaches, sleep disturbances and composite symptom scores as primary outcomes.
Methods We will follow the WHO handbook for guideline development. For the development of the systematic review protocol we considered handbook for conducting systematic reviews for health effects evaluations from the National Toxicology Program-Office of Health Assessment and Translation (NTP-OHAT) and COSTER (Recommendations for the conduct of systematic reviews in toxicology and environmental health research).
Eligibility criteria Peer-reviewed epidemiological studies in the general population or workers aiming to investigate the association between local or whole-body RF-EMF exposure for at least one week and symptoms are eligible for inclusion. Only cohort, case-control and panel studies will be included.
Information sources We will search the scientific literature databases Medline, Web of Science, PsycInfo, Cochrane Library, Epistemonikos and Embase, using a predefined search strategy. This search will be supplemented by a search in the EMF-Portal and checks of reference lists of relevant papers and reviews.
Study appraisal and synthesis method Data from included papers will be extracted according to predefined forms. Findings will be summarized in tables, graphical displays and in a narrative synthesis of the available evidence, complemented with meta-analyses. We will separately review effects of local, far field and occupational exposure.
Risk of bias The internal validity of included studies will be assessed using the NTP-OHAT Risk of Bias Rating Tool for Human and Animal Studies, elaborated to observational RF-EMF studies.
Evidence appraisal To rate certainty of the evidence, we will use the OHAT GRADE-based approach for epidemiological studies.
Framework and funding This protocol concerns one of the ten different systematic reviews considered in a larger systematic review of the World Health Organization to assess potential health effects of exposure to RF-EMF in the general and working population.
Registration PROSPERO CRD42021239432.
Open access paper: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412021004773?via%3Dihub
Jos Verbeek, Gunnhild Oftedal, Maria Feychting, Eric van Rongen, Maria Rosaria Scarfì, Simon Mann, Rachel Wong, Emilie van Deventer. Prioritizing health outcomes when assessing the effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: A survey among experts. Environment International. Volume 146, 2021. 106300. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2020.106300.
• RF EMF may lead to other than heat-related health effects by yet unknown mechanisms
• Prioritizing health effects is needed for review utility and resource efficiency.
• RF EMF experts prioritized all peer-reviewed published biological and health outcomes.
• Cancer, heat-related effects, and adverse birth outcomes were rated most critical.
• WHO commissioned ten systematic reviews of the most critical health outcomes.
Exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) (frequencies of 100 kHz to 300 GHz) has been steadily increasing. In addition to heat-related effects of RF EMF, other yet-unspecified biological effects, might exist which could possibly lead to health effects. Given the large number of health endpoints that have been studied, we wanted to prioritize those that would merit systematic reviews.
We developed a survey listing of all health endpoints reported in the literature and we asked 300 RF EMF experts and researchers to prioritize these health effects for systematic review as critical, important or unimportant. We also asked the experts to provide the rationale for their prioritization.
Of the 300 RF EMF experts queried, 164 (54%) responded. They rated cancer, heat-related effects, adverse birth outcomes, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, cognitive impairment, adverse pregnancy outcomes and oxidative stress as outcomes most critical regarding RF EMF exposure. For these outcomes, systematic reviews are needed. For heat-related outcomes, the experts based their ranking of the critical outcomes on what is known from human or animal studies, and for cancer and other outcomes, they based their rating also on public concern.
Stephanie M. Eick, Dana E. Goin, Nicholas Chartres, Juleen Lam, Tracey J. Woodruff. Assessing risk of bias in human environmental epidemiology studies using three tools: different conclusions from different tools. Syst Rev 9, 249 (2020). doi: 10.1186/
Background Systematic reviews are increasingly prevalent in environmental health due to their ability to synthesize evidence while reducing bias. Different systematic review methods have been developed by the US National Toxicology Program’s Office of Health Assessment and Translation (OHAT), the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS), and by the US EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), including the approach to assess risk of bias (ROB), one of the most vital steps which is used to evaluate internal validity of the studies. Our objective was to compare the performance of three tools (OHAT, IRIS, TSCA) in assessing ROB.
Methods We selected a systematic review on polybrominated diphenyl ethers and intelligence quotient and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder because it had been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. Two reviewers followed verbatim instructions from the tools and independently applied each tool to assess ROB in 15 studies previously identified. We documented the time to apply each tool and the impact the ROB ratings for each tool had on the final rating of the quality of the overall body of evidence.
Results The time to complete the ROB assessments varied widely (mean = 20, 32, and 40 min per study for the OHAT, IRIS, and TSCA tools, respectively). All studies were rated overall “low” or “uninformative” using IRIS, due to “deficient” or “critically deficient” ratings in one or two domains. Similarly, all studies were rated “unacceptable” using the TSCA tool because of one “unacceptable” rating in a metric related to statistical power. Approximately half of the studies had “low” or “probably low ROB” ratings across all domains with the OHAT and Navigation Guide tools.
Conclusions Tools that use overall ROB or study quality ratings, such as IRIS and TSCA, may reduce the available evidence to assess the harms of environmental exposures by erroneously excluding studies, which leads to inaccurate conclusions about the quality of the body of evidence. We recommend using ROB tools that circumvent these issues, such as OHAT and Navigation Guide.