cross posing from bionet.emf-bio re: microwaves and cancer

Chuck Miller rellim at MAILHOST.TCS.TULANE.EDU
Fri Jul 7 09:00:59 EST 1995

I have taken the liberty of cross-posting this message from bionet.emf-bio
to the tox group since it may be of general interest.

An earlier post asked:

>I've heard a rumor (twice, now) that the radar gun used for catching
>speeders is causing cancer in cops. Has anyone heard anything more

Senator Lieberman of Connecticut held a hearing on this issue in 1992, and
later asked NIOSH to look into the matter.    As indicated in a reply by
another reader earlier to this question, testicular cancer is a concern, as
are melanoma and a few other cancers which were not mentioned by the earlier
reply.    Cataracts have not been a recent subject of the radar gun debate.
 The concern is based, in part, on anecdotal data gathered by Gary Poynter,
Research Officer for the National Fraternal Order of Police, of well over
200 cases of cancer in radar users.  NIOSH has recently published a report
on the matter titled "Occupational Exposure of Police Officers to Microwave
Radiation from Traffic Radar Devices," by W. G. Lotz, R.A. Rinsky, and R.D.
Edwards.   It will later be available from NTIS, but for now, can be
obtained upon request from the authors, or by calling the NIOSH technical
information line at 800-356-4674.

If you choose to reply directly to me,  be sure to indicate your name,
affiliation, and address in the message, since our system usually drops the
ID of the sender.
The Executive Summary of the report follows:

Greg Lotz
Chief, Physical Agents Effects Branch
4676 Columbia Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45226
wgl0 at

     Executive Summary

In  August 1992, a Congressional hearing was convened by Senator Joseph
Lieberman of Connecticut, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Consumer
and Environmental Affairs of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs,
on the safety of police traffic radar devices.  Congress subsequently
directed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
to study the cancer incidence among law enforcement officers who had used
traffic radar devices.  In response, NIOSH conducted a feasibility
assessment to determine whether an epidemiologic study was possible and
would provide meaningful information about potential risks.  This report
describes our findings.  Included is an exposure assessment, an analysis of
existing record sources, and a summary of our recommendations, including
five specific recommendations to reduce or prevent exposure to microwave
radiation from traffic radar devices.

Exposure Assessment:

Extensive assessments of exposure to microwave radiation emitted from
traffic radar devices were conducted under a variety of conditions.  These
assessments indicated that present day exposures of law enforcement officers
were consistent with published studies reporting low exposures.  (Exposures
to the police officers operating radar guns are, in most cases less than 20

In addition to evaluating current exposure, we also sought to determine
whether past radar exposure could be assessed among police officers.
 Because law enforcement agencies do not systematically record traffic radar
use, surrogates for exposure, such as citation records, were sought to
reconstruct past radar use.  Unfortunately, no suitable records were found.

Feasibility of Epidemiologic Study of Cancer and Use of Radar Guns:

The purpose of an epidemiologic study would be to determine whether police
officers who use radar guns are at an increased risk of disease,
specifically, testicular cancer.  Several types of epidemiologic study
designs, including cohort mortality, incidence, and case-control, were
considered.  Each of these study designs has advantages and limitations.
 NIOSH investigators contacted police officers from several states, as well
as officials of other federal agencies and selected state health
departments, to assess whether existing data sources (such as historical
police records and cancer incidence registries) would support an
epidemiologic study.

We determined that there were several problems in conducting an
epidemiologic study of testicular cancer and radar exposure.  First, the low
incidence rate of the disease would necessitate the pooling of data from
many state police departments to detect an association between testicular
cancer and radar use.  Second, there is no national tumor registry from
which cases can be identified.  Finally, no record system exists that
specifically identifies officers exposed to traffic radar, the specific
types of radar used, and the amount of radar exposure.

In summary, these problems limit the ability to conduct a successful and
scientifically valid epidemiologic study of radar gun use and risk of

Recommendations to Reduce Exposure:

Although conducting a definitive epidemiologic study of health risks
associated with traffic radar devices does not seem feasible at this time,
we are able to make concrete recommendations to reduce exposure.  Following
these recommendations should virtually eliminate exposure to microwave
radiation while still permitting the use of radar guns.  Several
recommendations, specified in the technical report, pertain to the type,
operation, placement, maintenance, and proper usage of traffic radar

The following procedures are recommended to reduce or prevent exposure to
microwave radiation emitted from traffic radar devices:

1.  Hand-held devices should be equipped with a switch requiring active
contact to emit radiation.  Such a switch, referred to as a "dead-man
switch," must be held down for the device to emit radiation, even though the
electrical power to the device is on.  Adherence to this recommendation
should permit the continued use of one-piece, or hand-held radar units.

2.  Older hand-held devices that do not have a "dead-man switch" should not
be placed with the radiating antenna pointed toward the body, whether it is
held in the hand or placed near the officer.  A holster or other similar
device should be used as a temporary holder for the radar when not in use.

3.  When using two-piece radar units, the antenna should be mounted so that
the radar beam is not directed toward the vehicle occupants.  The preferred
mounting location would be outside the vehicle altogether, although this may
not be practical with older units that cannot withstand adverse weather
conditions.   Other options, e.g., mounting on the dashboard of the vehicle,
are acceptable if the antenna is at all times directed away from the
operator or other vehicle occupants.  Mounting the antenna on the inside of
a side window is not recommended.

4.  Radar antennas should be tested periodically, e.g. annually, or after
exceptional mechanical trauma to the device, for radiation leakage or back
scatter in a direction other than that intended by the antenna beam pattern.

5.  Each operator should receive training in the proper use of traffic radar
before operating the device.  This training should include a discussion of
the health risks of exposure to microwave radiation and information on how
to minimize operator exposure.

These exposure control recommendations can be implemented without delay, and
are not contingent upon further epidemiologic studies.

Recommendations for Future Work:

In conducting this feasibility assessment, several papers were identified
suggesting that police are at greater risk than the general population for a
number of adverse health outcomes.  Excess risks have been observed for
premature death, specifically from cardiovascular disease, homicide,
suicide, and certain cancers.  The results of these studies and the large
population of municipal, state, and federal police officers demonstrate the
public health importance of better understanding the relationship between
the many occupational exposures and health problems experienced by police.
To learn more about the risks of job-related injury and disease for police
officers, data concerning exposures and health outcomes should be collected
for a large number of officers representing a variety of state and local law
enforcement departments.  Then, if disorders for which police appear to be
at higher risk (e.g., testicular cancer) are identified, specific
epidemiologic analyses could be completed more quickly and economically.

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