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Youth, Phones, Troublesome Mix, Two New Health Reports Say
December 03, 2001 

Research to be published in a the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry early next year will report heavy mobile-phone use can cause brain cancer and other diseases by interfering with DNA repair, a finding with magnified implications for youth-targeted marketing when combined with another new study showing that children absorb twice as much mobile-phone radiation as adults. 

"These findings have important implications with regards to potential health effects from prolonged or repeated exposure to mobile-phone radiation," said Dr. Theodore Litovitz, a biophysicist and professor emeritus of physics at Catholic University who worked with a team of scientists on the phone-health research. 

The article, "Chronic electromagnetic field exposure decreases Hsp70 levels and lowers cytoprotection," will be published in February. 

"Because stress proteins are involved in the progression of a number of diseases, heavy daily cell-phone usage could lead to great incidence of disorders such as Alzheimer's and cancer," said Litovitz. 

Industry and various scientists for years have insisted that mobile phones pose no health threat because there is insufficient energy to either cause heating of human tissue or the breaking of chemical bonds, theories that courts and government regulators have largely accepted to date. That could change. 

Litovitz and other scientists here and overseas are increasingly challenging scientific orthodoxy, arguing mobile-phone radiation can have a range of adverse health effects without breaking DNA, although research by Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington concluded it did break DNA. 

Other scientists argue that while mobile phones may not cause brain cancer and other maladies as a result of DNA damage, the radiation they emit could give rise to diseases by wreaking havoc with normal biological cell functions. Indeed, researchers have identified phone-radiation effects such as blood brain barrier leakage, decrease in melatonin and interference with DNA repair mechanisms generally. 

"The RF [radio frequency] alters tissue physiology," said Dr. George Carlo, an epidemiologist who found genetic damage in overseeing a $28 million research program funded by wireless carriers and manufacturers. Carlo recently won court permission to establish a registry that will collect data on mobile-phone subscribers who report illnesses they suspect may be caused by handsets. 

There is considerable controversy over whether the existing radiation safety standard governing phones and base stations considers nonthermal bioeffects from mobile-phone radiation. 

Some critics argue the RF standard, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission and upheld by the courts, is designed only to protect against radiation heating. 

The EMR Network, an advocacy group seeking stricter radiation guidelines, has petitioned the FCC to re-examine RF guidelines. The organization claims the current standard is based on research no more recent than 1985 and does not take into account more recent peer-reviewed and published research that found brain cancer, memory impairment, DNA breaks and various neurological problems from phone radiation. 

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, which is in the process of relaxing the current RF standard, is one of the defendants in a $1.5 billion lawsuit filed by a former Motorola Inc. employee who alleges mobile-phone use caused his brain cancer. 

The Litovitz study, coupled with a new study by University of Utah researcher Om Gandhi, could have major economic and legal implications for the wireless industry. 

Gandhi's research found the younger the child, the more radiation is absorbed in brain tissue, according to sources who have spoken with him. His new data is consistent with earlier work on radiation absorption. Some fear children may be more susceptible to mobile-phone radiation than adults because their nervous systems are still developing. 

Gandhi, whose latest study apparently has not yet been published, did not respond to requests for comment. Gandhi, while highly respected, has detractors. One is Dr. Neils Kuster, a world-renowned expert on RF measurement from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Kuster believes there is no difference between radiation absorption in the brains of children and adults. 

Mobile-phone use by children and teenagers is on the rise, and wireless firms see huge growth potential in the youth market. 

"We're pretty bullish on increased usage by teenagers. ... Usage penetration is exploding," said Adam Guy, a senior analyst at the Strategist Group. 

Wireless operators are pushing family plans, offering phones in ranges of colors and designs. 

One year ago, the Walt Disney Co. discontinued licensing some of its cartoon characters for display on mobile-phone faceplates because of health questions. 

The British government and others in Europe have advised consumers to take a precautionary approach by discouraging cell-phone use by youngsters. 

The Food and Dug Administration, which oversees radiation-emitting devices, takes a more relaxed approach. 

FDA states:"The scientific evidence does not show a danger to users of wireless phones, including children and teenagers." But the agency adds "reducing the time of wireless-phone use and increasing the distance between the user and the RF source will reduce RF exposure." 

Lawyers in Maryland and Michigan say they plan to file a public-interest lawsuit against the FDA and other federal regulators for failing to protect the health of the nation's 123 million mobile-phone subscribers. 

The wireless industry said there are benefits to supplying youth with mobile phones. 

"Many parents choose to give their teenagers a wireless phone for safety and the security of knowing they can reach them at any time," said Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. "Parents also make decisions daily for their children on a variety of issues. There is, however, no scientific basis to restrict the use of wireless phones by children, but parents must make their own choice in this matter." 

There are indications adults see more safety benefits than health risks from cell phones. Sales picked up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the nation, and some counties are rethinking the ban on cell-phone use by students on school grounds.

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