BOX 11 Health Effects of Occupational Exposure to Microwave Radiation (RADAR)

Concerns about the cancer-causing effects of nonionizing electromagnetic radiation increased in the aftermath of newspaper stories linking cellular phone use to cancer risk. Because cellular telephones are a relatively recent invention, however, a long-term follow-up of cell phone users is obviously not yet possible. Nevertheless, it has been possible to study the long-term health effects following exposure to microwave radiation, nonionizing radiation that occupies a similar place in the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus the Medical Follow-up Agency was asked to bring up to date an earlier study on the long-term effects of exposure to microwave radiation. In 1980, the MFUA published the results of a mortality follow-up of 40,000 Navy servicemen, of whom half had maximum opportunity for exposure to microwave radiation and the other half had minimum opportunity. The study compared the health experiences of those who repaired radar equipment (maximum opportunity) with those who operated it (minimum opportunity); all subjects were graduates of Navy technical schools in 1950 to 1954. Although a direct measure of physical exposure could not be determined, relative exposure was scaled using occupation, length of time in occupation, and power of the RADAR units aboard the ship on which a subject served. The study found no adverse health effects as reflected in mortality, military hospitalization or VA hospitalization, or VA disability compensation rates. The study's results were published not long after those from a study of persons who were exposed to microwave radiation white serving in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which found no appreciable health differences in those exposed to what were thought to be low levels of microwave radiation. A further mortality follow-up, which is to gather an additional 20 years of data, is under way as the MFUA enters its sixth decade.

Selected Reference

Robinette, C.D., Silverman, C., Jablon, S. Effects upon health of occupational exposure to microwave radiation (RADAR). American Journal of Epidemiology112:39–53 1980.

charts or epidemiologic data from Army personnel records. The MFUA staff in St. Louis was forced to relocate during the laborious process of cleaning and restoring the building. In May 1974, Seymour Jablon surveyed the situation for the committee: 80 percent of the Army personnel and medical records from World War II and the Korean War were lost. Mortality follow-up studies were still possible with the continued existence of the Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) on magnetic tape. Studies that aimed at epidemiologic factors or required review of clinical records were largely no longer feasible.

The fire forced the MFUA to rely more heavily on Navy records and less on



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement