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Phone Fears: Malignant Or Benign
Two days after cellphone manufacturers started including radio frequency radiation information on the packaging of their products, a Maryland neurologist with brain cancer Thursday filed an $800 million lawsuit for not having this information beforehand.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Associations, which represents the entire industry in addition to being one of the defendants in the case, just recently persuaded the industry to post information on SAR (Specific Absorption Rate), or the amount of radio frequency signals emitted by cellphones, on the phones' packages -- but it still maintains cellphones are safe.
However, the timing of the new labeling practices and a neurologist's allegations point up the difficulty cellphone manufacturers may have in convincing the public -- and more importantly, future juries -- of their claims.
Chris Newman, 41, of Baltimore, has become a thorn in the cellphone industry's side with his high-profile lawsuit against Motorola, Verizon Communications, Bell Atlantic Corp., Bell Atlantic Mobile, SBC Communications, the Telecommunication Industry Association, and CTIA.
Newman, who has a malignant tumor behind his right ear, claims the industry failed to inform consumers that cellphones produce high levels of radio frequency radiation that can cause cancer.
Phone manufacturer Ericsson, among the industry members not listed in Newman's lawsuit, said its products are rigorously tested to meet the Federal Communications Commission radiation limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram. That's approximately one-fiftieth the level of exposure that would have a minimal effect on health, according information posted on Ericsson's website.
"All the research that the industry has done is years and years worth of research," said Ericsson spokesman Rob Elston. "None of it has come up showing a credible link between mobile phone usage and cancer."
Norman Sandler, spokesman for competitor and defendant Motorola, said: "There have been a handful of lawsuits over the last eight years or so asserting some kind of connection between mobile phone use and adverse health effects. We have maintained all along that those claims are baseless and that has been borne out (by) the fact those cases have been either dismissed by the courts or withdrawn by the plaintiffs."
CTIA said it began asking cellphone makers to post SAR levels to assuage consumers' fears. A spokesman vehemently denied it was used to stave off lawsuits or raise flags as to the safety of the wireless devices.
"It's part of an ongoing educational campaign," said CTIA spokesman Travis Larson.
The most up-to-date research shows no direct link between cellphone usage and cancer, but it also doesn't absolve the wireless devices.
Research released in June by the Wireless Technology Research program, which is funded by the wireless phone industry, shows that radiation from cellphones is not strong enough to break DNA, however, it does cause genetic changes in the blood.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the WTR's findings to make an assessment of the situation. The FDA doesn't expect to release its findings for at least three years.
"Lawsuits or not, what is important to us is that people who use our products, use them in a safe manner," said Elston, Ericsson's spokesman, who said the company supports research on the subject.
This isn't the first time cellphone users have gone to court.
From 1990 and 1999, there have been 34 cases involving injuries and fatalities by drivers who've been yakking on their phones, according to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Juries presented 14 verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs, 11 for the cellphone users, six were settled out of court, and three resolved in third party mediation.
Of the 11 verdicts for the cellphone users, none involved issues surrounding users' health.
In the highest profiled case, company Smith Barney agreed to an outside settlement and paid $500,000 when one of its employees plunged into another car while talking on a company-paid cellphone.