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Danger: Mobile Phones Can 'Cook' Your Brain
Blackice (Prague)
October 1, 1998

Heavy users of mobile phones may be damaging more than just their image. Research reveals that as much as 70% of the microwave radiation they emit is absorbed by the head, prompting fears that the phones may be a health risk.

The findings come as the European commission prepares to publish the first recommended "safe" levels for radiation emitted by mobile phones and other telecommunications devices. Nearly all phones on the market exceed these limits.

Three unpublished studies by leading academics, one British and two American, appear to confirm safety concerns. According to the findings, energy absorbed by the head when using a phone creates ''hot spots" in the brain.

The first scientific evidence to link mobile phone emissions with potential health risks is likely to provoke renewed and intense debate. Britain alone has more than 5m mobile phone users. While the industry insists that emissions are too low to be hazardous, tomorrow sees the launch of a new nickel and steel fibre phone cover, which the makers claim blocks up to 90% of emissions that would otherwise enter the user's body.

Mobile phones, both analogue and digital, use microwaves of a similar type to those found in microwave ovens, although at a slightly different frequency and at a much lower power. The concerns come from their proximity to heads when calls are made or received.

Scientists had previously assumed that energy absorbed by the head was evenly distributed , but the latest research suggests that the waves can concentrate in the skull, creating "hot spots".

Dr Camelia Gabriel, an expert in microwave radiation who sits on Cenelec, the Brussels body responsible for drawing up the new standards, said there was increasing evidence that heavy use was not recommended. "Certainly, for young people, prolonged mobile phone use is inadvisable."

She confirmed the Cenelec would be recommending a safe limit later this year for emissions of 20 milliwatts compared with the 100-600 milliwatts put out by most mobile phones.

Dr Narendra Singh and Dr Henry Lai have worked on another potentially alarming study due for publication in the International Journal of Radiation Biology. They found that low-level microwave radiation similar to that emitted by mobile phones can split DNA molecules in the brains of live rats. DNA breakage's are associated with illnesses including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and cancer.

Their conclusions are re-inforced by another American study by Dr Ross Adey, a specialist in the biological effects of microwaves and a member of the American Government's National Council for Radiation Protection.

He set out to repeat previous experiments showing that microwaves could accelerate the growth of brain tumours. The results, which are due for publication shortly, failed to show any conclusive link but highlighted other biological effects.

In Britain, the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), a government agency, has sponsored the construction of a 10,000 "phantom head", made of plastics and polymers mimicking bone, skin and nervous tissue. The head has sensors buried within it capable of detecting microwave radiation when a mobile phone is switched on nearby. Experiments by Gabriel and others showed up to 70% of the emissions were absorbed by the head

The NRPB said that although there was no conclusive proof that mobile phones were a threat to health more research was needed.

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