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Phone Cancer Risk Concealed
Mobile phone companies and government regulators are withholding information crucial to consumers about radiation levels - the main cause of fears over brain tumours.
All three major manufacturers - Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia - and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), which monitors standards in the area, are aware of the enormous variation in the amount of radiation phones emit.
Industry sources say insiders are aware of which mobile phones emit the lowest radiation levels, choosing phones such as Motorola's StarTac 70 or the newer V-series. These, and similar phones by other manufacturers, are small and have angled bodies so the antenna, through which most radiation is emitted, points away from the head.
The result, according to testing carried out in Britain for the BBC's Panorama program, shown recently on the ABC's Four Corners, is that phones with large flat bodies, with antenna lying flat against the user's head, give up to 20 times as much radiation to the brain.
Both the industry and the regulators are aware of these tests. The ACA requires manufacturers to carry them out before marketing. The manufacturers have their own testing labs, and must keep records of tests in case of audit by the ACA. Yet nobody will pass their knowledge of radiation levels on to consumers.
The comments of Motorola's manager of corporate communications and public affairs, Mr Russell Grimmer, are typical. "Basically, all our phones operate within the limits accepted internationally as safe," he said this week.
"We haven't seen any scientific evidence which has been tested which warns of any danger."
When asked why companies don't pass the results on to consumers, Mr Grimmer said: "We're very doubtful about the accuracy of the testing."
Asked whether radiation levels might be both interesting to consumers and a useful marketing tool, Mr Grimmer said his company would still not publicise radiation levels "because we believe our phones are safe".
Mr Ian McAlister, manager of the ACA's radio communication standards group, takes a similar approach.
While quite a few studies have found the electromagnetic radiation given off by mobile phones has no effect, there is enough research suggesting an effect to keep the topic alive.
There is research showing that electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones can change cells in culture, as has been shown by Dr Peter French of the St Vincent's Hospital Centre for Immunology.
Animal research from the Royal Adelaide Hospital suggests electromagnetic radiation can induce cancer in mice genetically predisposed to the disease.
There have been only two studies on people. A United States study was stopped fairly early on when a participant sued the telephone company for passing on details of phone use to researchers without permission. The only published paper showed no difference in overall death rates between mobile phone users and those who don't use one.
The other study, from Sweden, found no difference in rates of brain tumours between users and non-users, but suggested an increased rate of brain cancer on the "phone" side of the head.
Independent scientists say there are no definite answers as to whether or not mobile phones cause either brain tumours or lesser problems such as dizziness and memory loss. The research has not been done.
But the Federal Government thought enough, in July 1996, to promise to spend $3.1 million of the industry's money over 4 1/2 years on research. So far, 2 1/2 years into the program, only $1.279 million has been committed.