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Consumers 'Show Little Interest' In Data On Mobile Phone Radiation
Canberra Times
April 22, 2002

Consumers have shown little interest in the Specific Absorption Rate information included now with all new-model mobile phones sold in Australia, according to the chief executive officer of the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA), Ross Monaghan.

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) quantifies the amount of radio-frequency energy absorbed by a person's body from a mobile phone.

It is determined in a laboratory at the highest certified power of the phone. Mobile-phone handset manufacturers began including SAR information voluntarily in brochures or product manuals supplied with phones sold after October 1 last year. This international initiative was facilitated by the development of a new method of testing mobile phones for their SAR value, allowing consistent reporting of SAR values world-wide. In Australia it was promulgated after the May 2001 report of the Senate Inquiry into Electromagnetic Radiation, which cited mobile-phone safety as a topic of immense public interest.

The report recommended that consumers be provided with 'clear, concise information on radio-frequency exposure issues and the meaning of SAR data'. The new material provides the maximum SAR value for handsets and background information on how to understand SAR. Although AMTA has not assessed formally consumers' interest in the SAR information, Monaghan said anecdotal evidence indicated that there was a low level of interest at point of sale. Lyn McLean, the executive officer of the Electromagnetic Radiation Association of Australia (EMRAA), does not believe that this is a reflection of lack of public concern about the issue. 'My guess would be that not many people are aware of the SAR information or they do not properly understand what SAR measurements really mean,' McLean said. Both AMTA and EMRAA recommend against making a buying decision based on differences in SAR values between models. 'Mobile-phone users should be careful how they interpret SAR the SAR values that (are) provided by industry are maximum values which do not necessarily reflect the exposure in everyday use because mobile phones constantly adapt to the minimum power required to make a quality call,' said Monaghan. 'Generally, the closer you are to a base station the lower the output of the phone no matter what its maximum SAR value is in laboratory test conditions.' McLean said, 'It is not a carte blanche for using a low-SAR phone.

'As it's only an indication of heating and we think that effects are also caused by other-than-heating mechanisms, we don't yet know how much protection a low SAR reading provides.' The number of mobile-phone account holders in Australia had doubled in the last 2 years, reaching 12 million. Nonetheless, the number of people inquiring about the health effects of mobile phones remained low. On average, AMTA received two such calls a week. The Australian Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has received seven phone calls this year and 20 calls in the second half of last year from people concerned about mobile-phone safety. ARPANSA spokesman Brendan Elliott suggested that the relatively modest number of inquiries received by the agency might be a product of ARPANSA's low public profile and limited consumer concern about the issue. However, the number of inquiries ARPANSA received regarding radiation and health was increasing gradually. According to Lyn McLean, the number of inquiries received by EMRAA fluctuates considerably, but she receives calls and e-mails on the subject every day. The CSIRO, too, fields calls about the possible effects of mobile phones on health, but does not keep a record of the number as it refers the calls to the other agencies. Although the six-month phase-in period for the inclusion of SAR information with new mobile phones elapsed at the end of March, not all buyers will receive the information with their phones. 'Given the slow-down in the industry, there are some older models still in (mobile-phone retailers') stock,' said Monaghan.

'The agreement was always that new models coming on to the market would include that information.' SAR values for both new and old model mobiles can be found on manufacturers' web sites.

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