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Warning Bells Over Children's Phone Use
Toronto's public health department has recommended children under eight should use a cellphone only in emergencies, and teenagers should limit calls to less than 10 minutes so as to limit exposure to electro-magnetic radiation.
The agency says research on the effects on children is "very limited" but many scientists feel they may be more susceptible to any harmful effects from radiofrequency waves. They have a smaller head and brain, thinner skull bones, skin and ears, and their brains and nerves are still developing.
Today's children have started using cellphones at a younger age, so their lifetime exposure will be greater, it says.
Toronto Public Health supervisor Loren Vanderlinden told the Toronto Star scientists were previously "pretty dismissive" of any risk but it appeared people who had been using their cellphones over time were at greater risk of certain types of brain tumours.
Similar advisory bodies in Britain and Germany recommend discouraging non-essential use of cellphones by under-16s "as a precautionary measure".
The New Zealand Health Ministry recommends people use hands-free kits, keep calls short and use phones in areas with good signal.
Some studies have suggested a possible link between very high cellphone use and brain tumours, though others show no connection.
Public opposition this year to a controversial cellphone tower proposal for Atawhai, Nelson, contributed to Telecom putting its plans on hold. The company had proposed to erect the tower next to a playcentre, prompting fears of exposure.
National Radiation Laboratory manager Jim Turnbull, who advises the Health Ministry on the issue, said yesterday the New Zealand exposure standard limits for wireless devices were designed to provide protection for all age groups.
It was possible, however, that children were more vulnerable to "subtle effects" not yet discovered, due to their more absorbent brain tissue and longer lifetime exposure.
New Zealand Cancer Society medical director Chris Atkinson said last night research on the health effects of cellphone use was inconclusive. But it was possible a link would be found between excessive use and negative health effects in the future.
It was wise to pay attention to "a sensible public health comment" from a city "as sensible" as Toronto, he said.
It was a good idea "for many reasons" for children not to overuse their cellphones.
Newlands mother Paula Wortman, whose 11-year-old daughter, Celia, has owned a cellphone for about two years, said she had not heard about possible health effects from cellphones - but she was unconcerned.
"I feel safer knowing she can get hold of us in an emergency."