Mobile Phones - Are
There Health Risks?
April 03, 2000
Mobile Phones in Cancer
Link" - was the disturbing headline in a Sunday paper last week, and with 24
million people in the UK using mobiles, it’s a cause for concern,
particularly for younger people.
The percentage of under 18’s using mobiles, has risen from 15% in 1998 to
35% in September 1999. That figure is expected to reach 70% by 2002.
The newspaper article said
a 20 year study of servicemen has established the strongest link yet,
between mobile phones and cancer. The research is being carried out by
military scientists in Warsaw, looking at a high cancer death rate among
soldiers exposed to microwave radiation, the same as that emitted by mobile
Although mobile phones have previously been linked by studies to a number of
illnesses including cancer, the majority of the research has involved
exposing rats or mice - not humans. Health risks linked to mobile phones
include memory loss, high blood pressure, heart disease, dizziness and
The Polish research team is looking at the medical records of servicemen who
were exposed to the radiation between 1970 and 1990, and are comparing their
medical histories and death rates to a group of soldiers who were not. The
newspaper article claimed "the strongest link between mobile phones and
Dr Michael Clark, scientific spokesman for the National
Radiological Protection Board says the results of the study aren’t due
to be published for another five years. "So to say it proves something, is
somewhat premature. Proof is a very strong claim, and I don’t think they
have it yet. A newspaper article, like this, is a good demonstration of the
subject where there’s a strong element of scaremongering," he says.
How do headlines like these affect the public?
"People don’t have time to read all the scientific studies and
epidemiological literature that’s available. That’s the job of scientists,
and bodies such as the NRPB," Dr Clarke believes.
"There are other studies that show no effect, " he says. "And that says to
us, as scientists that, there very probably is no effect. We need to look at
the whole picture."
But we’re not
scientists! So who do we believe?
Dr Clarke says, "Science
has always been an argument, that’s how you find the truth! You only find
the truth by arguing. Even Newton’s law of gravitation wasn’t accepted on
the continent for 100 years. This is an argument in public and that’s the
So is there research to
show that they are completely safe or that they’re dangerous?
The short answer is NO but
Dr Clarke and the NRPB do support the need for research in this area to
ensure that there is no damage to health. There’s no evidence of a real
risk, but he says, "I can’t tell you what we may learn tomorrow." He thinks
the risk is very small, but he says no-one can give you an absolute
guarantee. But he thinks the risk is minimal.
Other scientists don’t
agree. Dr Gerard Hyland is a physicist with the University of Warwick
and a member of the International Institute of Bio Physics in Germany. He
says microwave radiation is dangerous because we have a particular
pre-condition to radiation in the microwave band.
Unlike radio transmission, mobile telephony involves pulses of radiation.
This means there are flashes of radiation, like a lighthouse, but invisible.
So is there scientific research to prove this?
Dr Hyland says a lot of research is motivated and financed by the mobile
phone companies themselves. "Often if they are presented with results they
don’t like, the research never sees the light of day" he told me. Long
before the advent of mobile telephones he says there was research done into
the same type of radiation in the context of military radar. This indicates,
he says that the human organism can react adversely, to very, very low
intensity microwave radiation, of the kind used now in mobile telephony.
Dr Hyland says a total
mindset change is needed.
Many users get a burning
sensation in the side of the face or ear, depending on the brand of phone
they are using, according to Dr Hyland. He says the heating effect of
microwaves is an important element, but it is only one side of the coin.
More important is the effect of the non thermal side. "An example of a non
thermal effect, is a flashing light 15-20 times per second, which may induce
epileptic seizures in certain kinds of photo sensitive epileptics. The brain
recognises a pattern in the flashing which triggers the epileptic seizure,
but It’s the pattern of the flashing, not the heating, causing the seizure."
This is similar to the microwave radiation used in the mobile phone
according to Dr Hyland. He says the microwave radiation similarly flashes
and there are patterns in the flashing, 8 - 10 times per second . In this
way the radiation can access and affect the human organism."
"We’re told when we go into a hospital or on a plane, not to use our mobile
phones, because they interfere with electronic equipment. The human body is
a piece of electronic equipment, par excellence. We have to re educate
ourselves that we can similarly be interfered with. We are like miniature
radio receivers which happen to be tuned to the microwave part of the
spectrum. So our reception can be similarly interfered with, as in the case
So has he advice for
mobile phone uses?
Dr Hyland says -
Keep the use to an
Use it for emergencies
and keep your conversation short.
Ear pieces are not as
good as you might think. Dr Hyland says the radiation can be propagated up
the wire and accessing the brain through the aural canal, so they are not
the panacea we might think , he says.
Dr Clarke on the other hand
uses a mobile phone, so do his children. He uses an ear piece in the car,
for safety reasons.
Top of Page