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Mobile Phones - Are There Health Risks?
BBC Online
April 03, 2000

Mobile Phones in Cancer Link" - was the disturbing headline in a Sunday paper last week, and with 24 million people in the UK using mobiles, it’s a cause for concern, particularly for younger people.

The percentage of under 18’s using mobiles, has risen from 15% in 1998 to 35% in September 1999. That figure is expected to reach 70% by 2002.

The newspaper article said a 20 year study of servicemen has established the strongest link yet, between mobile phones and cancer. The research is being carried out by military scientists in Warsaw, looking at a high cancer death rate among soldiers exposed to microwave radiation, the same as that emitted by mobile phones.

Although mobile phones have previously been linked by studies to a number of illnesses including cancer, the majority of the research has involved exposing rats or mice - not humans. Health risks linked to mobile phones include memory loss, high blood pressure, heart disease, dizziness and headaches.

The Polish research team is looking at the medical records of servicemen who were exposed to the radiation between 1970 and 1990, and are comparing their medical histories and death rates to a group of soldiers who were not. The newspaper article claimed "the strongest link between mobile phones and cancer."

Dr Michael Clark, scientific spokesman for the National Radiological Protection Board says the results of the study aren’t due to be published for another five years. "So to say it proves something, is somewhat premature. Proof is a very strong claim, and I don’t think they have it yet. A newspaper article, like this, is a good demonstration of the subject where there’s a strong element of scaremongering," he says.

How do headlines like these affect the public?

"People don’t have time to read all the scientific studies and epidemiological literature that’s available. That’s the job of scientists, and bodies such as the NRPB," Dr Clarke believes.

"There are other studies that show no effect, " he says. "And that says to us, as scientists that, there very probably is no effect. We need to look at the whole picture."

But we’re not scientists! So who do we believe?

Dr Clarke says, "Science has always been an argument, that’s how you find the truth! You only find the truth by arguing. Even Newton’s law of gravitation wasn’t accepted on the continent for 100 years. This is an argument in public and that’s the problem!"

So is there research to show that they are completely safe or that they’re dangerous?

The short answer is NO but Dr Clarke and the NRPB do support the need for research in this area to ensure that there is no damage to health. There’s no evidence of a real risk, but he says, "I can’t tell you what we may learn tomorrow." He thinks the risk is very small, but he says no-one can give you an absolute guarantee. But he thinks the risk is minimal.

Other scientists don’t agree. Dr Gerard Hyland is a physicist with the University of Warwick and a member of the International Institute of Bio Physics in Germany. He says microwave radiation is dangerous because we have a particular pre-condition to radiation in the microwave band.

Unlike radio transmission, mobile telephony involves pulses of radiation. This means there are flashes of radiation, like a lighthouse, but invisible.

So is there scientific research to prove this?

Dr Hyland says a lot of research is motivated and financed by the mobile phone companies themselves. "Often if they are presented with results they don’t like, the research never sees the light of day" he told me. Long before the advent of mobile telephones he says there was research done into the same type of radiation in the context of military radar. This indicates, he says that the human organism can react adversely, to very, very low intensity microwave radiation, of the kind used now in mobile telephony.

Dr Hyland says a total mindset change is needed.

Many users get a burning sensation in the side of the face or ear, depending on the brand of phone they are using, according to Dr Hyland. He says the heating effect of microwaves is an important element, but it is only one side of the coin.

More important is the effect of the non thermal side. "An example of a non thermal effect, is a flashing light 15-20 times per second, which may induce epileptic seizures in certain kinds of photo sensitive epileptics. The brain recognises a pattern in the flashing which triggers the epileptic seizure, but It’s the pattern of the flashing, not the heating, causing the seizure."

This is similar to the microwave radiation used in the mobile phone according to Dr Hyland. He says the microwave radiation similarly flashes and there are patterns in the flashing, 8 - 10 times per second . In this way the radiation can access and affect the human organism."

"We’re told when we go into a hospital or on a plane, not to use our mobile phones, because they interfere with electronic equipment. The human body is a piece of electronic equipment, par excellence. We have to re educate ourselves that we can similarly be interfered with. We are like miniature radio receivers which happen to be tuned to the microwave part of the spectrum. So our reception can be similarly interfered with, as in the case of radio."

So has he advice for mobile phone uses?

Dr Hyland says -

Keep the use to an absolute minimum

Use it for emergencies and keep your conversation short.

Ear pieces are not as good as you might think. Dr Hyland says the radiation can be propagated up the wire and accessing the brain through the aural canal, so they are not the panacea we might think , he says.

Dr Clarke on the other hand uses a mobile phone, so do his children. He uses an ear piece in the car, for safety reasons.

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