Troublesome Mix, Two New Health Reports Say
December 03, 2001
Research to be published in a the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry early
next year will report heavy mobile-phone use can cause brain cancer and
other diseases by interfering with DNA repair, a finding with magnified
implications for youth-targeted marketing when combined with another new
study showing that children absorb twice as much mobile-phone radiation as
"These findings have important implications with regards to potential health
effects from prolonged or repeated exposure to mobile-phone radiation," said
Dr. Theodore Litovitz, a biophysicist and professor emeritus of physics at
Catholic University who worked with a team of scientists on the phone-health
The article, "Chronic electromagnetic field exposure decreases Hsp70 levels
and lowers cytoprotection," will be published in February.
"Because stress proteins are involved in the progression of a number of
diseases, heavy daily cell-phone usage could lead to great incidence of
disorders such as Alzheimer's and cancer," said Litovitz.
Industry and various scientists for years have insisted that mobile phones
pose no health threat because there is insufficient energy to either cause
heating of human tissue or the breaking of chemical bonds, theories that
courts and government regulators have largely accepted to date. That could
Litovitz and other scientists here and overseas are increasingly challenging
scientific orthodoxy, arguing mobile-phone radiation can have a range of
adverse health effects without breaking DNA, although research by Dr. Henry
Lai of the University of Washington concluded it did break DNA.
Other scientists argue that while mobile phones may not cause brain cancer
and other maladies as a result of DNA damage, the radiation they emit could
give rise to diseases by wreaking havoc with normal biological cell
functions. Indeed, researchers have identified phone-radiation effects such
as blood brain barrier leakage, decrease in melatonin and interference with
DNA repair mechanisms generally.
"The RF [radio frequency] alters tissue physiology," said Dr. George Carlo,
an epidemiologist who found genetic damage in overseeing a $28 million
research program funded by wireless carriers and manufacturers. Carlo
recently won court permission to establish a registry that will collect data
on mobile-phone subscribers who report illnesses they suspect may be caused
There is considerable controversy over whether the existing radiation safety
standard governing phones and base stations considers nonthermal bioeffects
from mobile-phone radiation.
Some critics argue the RF standard, adopted by the Federal Communications
Commission and upheld by the courts, is designed only to protect against
The EMR Network, an advocacy group seeking stricter radiation guidelines,
has petitioned the FCC to re-examine RF guidelines. The organization claims
the current standard is based on research no more recent than 1985 and does
not take into account more recent peer-reviewed and published research that
found brain cancer, memory impairment, DNA breaks and various neurological
problems from phone radiation.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which is in the
process of relaxing the current RF standard, is one of the defendants in a
$1.5 billion lawsuit filed by a former Motorola Inc. employee who alleges
mobile-phone use caused his brain cancer.
The Litovitz study, coupled with a new study by University of Utah
researcher Om Gandhi, could have major economic and legal implications for
the wireless industry.
Gandhi's research found the younger the child, the more radiation is
absorbed in brain tissue, according to sources who have spoken with him. His
new data is consistent with earlier work on radiation absorption. Some fear
children may be more susceptible to mobile-phone radiation than adults
because their nervous systems are still developing.
Gandhi, whose latest study apparently has not yet been published, did not
respond to requests for comment. Gandhi, while highly respected, has
detractors. One is Dr. Neils Kuster, a world-renowned expert on RF
measurement from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Kuster believes
there is no difference between radiation absorption in the brains of
children and adults.
Mobile-phone use by children and teenagers is on the rise, and wireless
firms see huge growth potential in the youth market.
"We're pretty bullish on increased usage by teenagers. ... Usage penetration
is exploding," said Adam Guy, a senior analyst at the Strategist Group.
Wireless operators are pushing family plans, offering phones in ranges of
colors and designs.
One year ago, the Walt Disney Co. discontinued licensing some of its cartoon
characters for display on mobile-phone faceplates because of health
The British government and others in Europe have advised consumers to take a
precautionary approach by discouraging cell-phone use by youngsters.
The Food and Dug Administration, which oversees radiation-emitting devices,
takes a more relaxed approach.
FDA states:"The scientific evidence does not show a danger to users of
wireless phones, including children and teenagers." But the agency adds
"reducing the time of wireless-phone use and increasing the distance between
the user and the RF source will reduce RF exposure."
Lawyers in Maryland and Michigan say they plan to file a public-interest
lawsuit against the FDA and other federal regulators for failing to protect
the health of the nation's 123 million mobile-phone subscribers.
The wireless industry said there are benefits to supplying youth with mobile
"Many parents choose to give their teenagers a wireless phone for safety and
the security of knowing they can reach them at any time," said Travis
Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet
Association. "Parents also make decisions daily for their children on a
variety of issues. There is, however, no scientific basis to restrict the
use of wireless phones by children, but parents must make their own choice
in this matter."
There are indications adults see more safety benefits than health risks from
cell phones. Sales picked up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against
the nation, and some counties are rethinking the ban on cell-phone use by
students on school grounds.