‘The largest biological experiment in history’ is how one researcher describes mobile phone use. And those who make numerous calls every day from their mobile phones are the guinea pigs.
I confess, I’m one of them. I like being connected from anywhere, and my mobile is in reach just about all the time. So I sat up and took notice when news of these concerns started leaking out.
Yet, I think it’s safe to say that most of the estimated 1.5 billion worldwide mobile phone users are not aware that the little device placed at the side of our heads might be a health hazard. And while so far there is no conclusive evidence about what the specific danger may be, it’s enough of a concern to prompt a large, multiyear US government study.
In the meantime, there’s a simple way to stay connected while protecting yourself from any potential dangers.
Young brain cells
In a previous e-Alert I told you about a study from Sweden that showed how exposure to the radio signals in mobile phones killed brain cells in rats. Of course, brain cell death is a far cry from brain cancer, but anyone who’s comfortable with losing brain cells is a braver mobile phone user than I am. Personally, I don’t feel I have a lot of brain cells to spare and would like to keep as many intact as possible.
But that Swedish research was just one of many mobile phone studies that, taken as a whole, have returned no clear consensus on mobile phone safety. What we do know is that mobiles emit low-level, non-ionising radiation on the same frequency as microwaves.
This radiation has been shown to enter the user’s head, but what happens when this is repeated over and over, every day, year after year, remains to be seen. Of even greater concern is what this may be doing to young people whose brains are still developing and who are using mobiles more and more every day.
First the cart, then the horse
In the US in 1993, a Florida man sued a mobile phone company after his wife died from complications with brain cancer, which her husband attributed to mobile phone use. At the time, there was little scientific evidence that mobiles created a health risk, so the court found in favour of the phone company, but the media coverage of the trial prompted a demand for mobile phone safety studies.
That same year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an advisory stating that the danger of mobile phone use was ‘probably small,’ but suggested the almost laughably feeble advice that people keep their calls short.
But one year ago, Microwave News obtained an internal FDA memo written in April 1993 that reviewed existing research on microwaves emitted from mobile phones and concluded that the database of studies ‘suggests that under at least some circumstances these exposures do indeed accelerate the development of cancer by some unknown mechanism.’
Apparently realising that damage control was necessary, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association in the US launched a $25 million mobile phone safety research programme in 1993. At the conclusion of the research in 1999, the programme director announced that two studies showed evidence of possible cancer risk, and called for further research.
That call has been answered, none too quickly, by the National Toxicology Programme (NTP; a division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health).
NTP researchers are developing an extensive study that may last as long as six years. But because the planning for such research is so involved (and because, after all, we’re talking about a huge bureaucracy here) the first phases of the study aren’t expected to begin until sometime next year. Obviously I’ll keep you updated on the findings as soon as they become available.
Exit the study
Leif Salford is the Swedish researcher who referred to mobile phones as the largest biological experiment in history. Salford feels that the results of existing studies are important enough to recommend using a hands-free device when taking calls on a mobile phone. It’s a simple, inexpensive and effective way to avoid participating in ‘the experiment.’
Last year I started using a hands-free unit to make all my cell calls. I’ll admit that sometimes it’s not as convenient as just grabbing the phone, but whenever I use it I feel comfortable knowing that it’s a small precaution that just might turn out to be an important prevention. And, after all, I’m not going to be anyone’s guinea pig unless the study includes at least a little bit of chocolate!
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