It an ugly, long standing story in Italy: Vatican radio has huge antennas, not subject to Italian law, and the people living in the surroundings lament severe ailments such as leukaemia.

The Santa Maria di Galeria transmitter site is the subject of a dispute between the station and some local residents who claim the non-ionising radiation from the site has affected their health. However these claims are not accepted by the station.


This situation causes much disturbance to the lives of the people living in this area: the most common complaints are that one can hear the transmissions breaking through on telephones, and many other electronic devices (due in many cases to the devices having poor electromagnetic immunity to the strong signals). The Region of Lazio has also found that the people in the area around the emitters are much more likely to have leukemia: the closer those in the examined sample lived to the radio station, the more likely they were to have leukemia, up to six times the Italian national average.


I am quite skeptical that this is possible because non-ionising radiation is not supposed to cause significant harm. On the other hand, the lawsuit is based on a state sponsored research.

Has this phenomenon been studied by a reliable third-party?

  • 2
    This is the same sort of thing that high power lines supposedly do/don't cause.
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 20:23
  • Related: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/795/549
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 5:28
  • 1
    @AndrejaKo: Power lines are designed to carry electricity while radio transmission towers are designed to distribute RF signals, which may speak volumes to the effectiveness of transmission between these two technologies, hence that question you referenced may not be as related as you suspect. Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 6:34
  • @Randolf Richardson It's related mostly to Chad's comment. I specifically excluded devices used for RF transmission in my question.
    – AndrejaKo
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 6:37
  • 2
    @RandolfRichardson - If you had an oscilloscope monitoring your power lines nearby you can also see an effect on it as well. I was simply stating that this sort of cause/effect that has also been attributed to high voltage power lines.
    – Chad
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


The answer is that, although there seems to be an association there is no clear scientific proof for it.

Source: Adult and childhood leukemia near a high-power radio station in Rome, Italy. - Michelozzi, Am J Epidemiol, 2002 (bold is mine)

In the 10-km area around the station, with 49,656 residents (in 1991), leukemia mortality among adults (aged >14 years; 40 cases) in 1987-1998 and childhood leukemia incidence (eight cases) in 1987-1999 were evaluated. The risk of childhood leukemia was higher than expected for the distance up to 6 km from the radio station (standardized incidence rate = 2.2, 95% confidence interval: 1.0, 4.1), and there was a significant decline in risk with increasing distance both for male mortality (p = 0.03) and for childhood leukemia (p = 0.036). The study has limitations because of the small number of cases and the lack of exposure data. Although the study adds evidence of an excess of leukemia in a population living near high-power radio transmitters, no causal implication can be drawn. There is still insufficient scientific knowledge, and new epidemiologic studies are needed to clarify a possible leukemogenic effect of residential exposure to radio frequency radiation.

Aside from the specific Radio Vaticana's case, there are other studies that analyze similar issues. The problems, however, are always the same: low power studies, with a huge amount of counfounding variables (problems that are generally noted in the studies themselves).

Investigation of increased incidence in childhood leukemia near radio towers in Hawaii: preliminary observations - Maskarinek et al., J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol, 1994

The clustering may have been a chance event, but because of its peculiar characteristics, we feel it should be noted.

Cancer incidence and mortality and proximity to TV towers. - Hocking et al, Med J Aust, 1996

The calculated levels of RFR in the areas with increased childhood leukaemia incidence and mortality are substantially below the current Australian public safety standard. More detailed studies (e.g., relating cases to power density contours) are required to replicate any association and to look for dose-response relationships before any conclusions can be drawn.

Cancer Incidence near Radio and Television Transmitters in Great Britain I. Sutton Coldfield Transmitter - Dolk et al., Am J Epidemiol, 1997

A small area study of cancer incidence in 1974-1986 was carried out to investigate an unconfirmed report of a "cluster" of leukemias and lymphomas near the Sutton Coldfield television (TV) and frequency modulation (FM) radio transmitter in the West Midlands, England

They conclude:

In conclusion, the results of this study confirm that there was an excess of adult leukemia within the vicinity of the Sutton Coldfield TV/FM transmitter in the period 1974-1986, accompanied by a decline in risk with distance from the transmitter. Further monitoring of cancer statistics in the area appears warranted. No causal implications regarding radio and TV transmitters can be drawn from this finding, based as it is on a single "cluster" investigation. Results of a study of cancer incidence around all other high power radio and TV transmitters in Great Britain are given in the accompanying paper in order to put the present results in wider context.

The accompanying paper is:

Cancer Incidence near Radio and Television Transmitters in Great Britain II. All High Power Transmitters - Dolk et al., Am J Epidemiol, 1997

We report here findings for adult leukemias, skin melanoma, and bladder cancer near the other 20 high power radio and TV transmitters in Great Britain. Eight of these transmit FM radio frequencies and three transmit TV frequencies at power equivalent to Sutton Coldfield but none transmit at exactly the same combination of frequencies and power as Sutton Coldfield

They conclude:

For childhood leukemia and brain cancer, and adult skin melanoma and bladder cancer, results were not indicative of a decline in risk with distance from transmitters. The magnitude and pattern of risk found in the Sutton Coldfield study did not appear to be replicated. The authors conclude that the results at most give no more than very weak support to the Sutton Coldfield findings.

  • From the Australian study why did you cite: > The clustering may have been a chance event, but because of its > peculiar characteristics, we feel it should be noted. While leaving out the important part, being the conclusion? > RESULTS: > > For all ages, the rate ratio for total leukaemia incidence was 1.24 > (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.09-1.40). Among children, the rate > ratio for leukaemia incidence was 1.58 (95% CI, 1.07-2.34) and for > mortality it was 2.32 (95% CI, 1.35-4.01). The rate ratio for > childhood lymphatic leukaemia (the most
    – user8369
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 6:26
  • @Alexander Higgins: I did put the conclusion of the Australian study. They conclude that: "No causal implications regarding radio and TV transmitters can be drawn from this finding, based as it is on a single cluster investigation". The other quote you are citing is from the Hawaian study where they find a correlation. Point is: all of these studies look at correlation and at very small samples, so no conclusions can be drawn.
    – nico
    Commented Aug 29, 2012 at 6:51
  • Could also be a problem with Selection Bias. There will always be 'pockets' of higher rates of xyz which are then associated with the abc nearby. While abc does not increase chance of xyz in other areas. (which are not studied)
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 13:39
  • @Stefan: 100% agree with you. They are all correlative studies and no causality has been ever established.
    – nico
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 13:45
  • @nico I just wanted to add to your excellent answer by providing a reason why there may be visible correlation but not necessarily causality.
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 30, 2012 at 13:54

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