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Government Funds Mobile Phone Safety Studies
Fifteen committees have been set up initially, using human volunteers, to focus on effects on blood pressure, hearing, brain cancer or leukaemia, brain function and behaviour, changes in exposed cells, drivers and the interaction of radio signals on the human body.
Fifteen separate projects - funded jointly by the government and industry - will receive an initial £4.5m for a wide range of studies examining the biological effects of radiation from mobile phones and aerial masts. To date, studies have found that absorbed radiation heats tissues in the head, but no long term health risks have been proved to result from this.
Four studies will investigate whether the use of mobile phones increases the risk of brain cancer or leukaemia. Others will look at the effect of mobile phone signals on brain function and examine how the body absorbs energy released by the devices.
Another study will investigate the effect of mobile phones on the performance of drivers, the one area where experts agree that mobile phones damage health, by way of drivers on phones causing accidents.
The government first announced the research programme in December 2000, after a study chaired by Sir William Stewart found no evidence that mobile phones were a health hazard or could cause brain and nervous system cancers.
However the Stewart inquiry concluded that radiation from hand sets and base-station masts could cause "subtle biological changes", the long and short term effects of which are unknown. It recommended further study.
Sir William, who will also chair the new round of research, has stuck by his recommendation that children use mobile phones sparingly or not at all.
"I said (last year) that I wasn't prepared to let my grandchildren use mobile phones and I have not changed that attitude," he told the Today programme this morning.
"The reason we don't recommend long-term use of mobile phones by children is that their skulls are not fully fixed, their nervous system is not fully developed and as youngsters they are likely to be exposed longer during their lifetimes to mobile phone radiation. In many cases, they are frequent users," he added.
An estimated 40m mobile phones are in circulation among the UK population of 55m people.
The public health minister, Yvette Cooper, said: "We need to fill the gaps in our scientific knowledge as soon as possible so that we can provide people with the evidence they need to make an informed choice about using their mobile phones."
Douglas Alexander, the minister for ecommerce, defended industry involvement in the studies: "I should stress that [the researchers] have been scrupulous in maintaining their independence and that although industry is funding 50% of the costs of the work, neither it nor the government departments involved have played any part whatsoever in the funding decisions."