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Watchdog Concern At Potential Risk From Mobiles
Financial Times
Journalist: Ben Hunt
January 11, 2005

The National Radiological Protection Board has advised a “precautionary approach” to using mobile phones, warning on Tuesday that it remained unclear if cellphones were affecting users' health.

Five years after his first report into mobile phones and health reached a similar conclusion, Sir William Stewart, chairman of the NRPB, said while there was “no hard evidence” mobile phones adversely affected users, he was “more concerned” than before about the potential dangers as there might be unknown long-term problems.

“There have been some recent reports that suggest there may be problems but they have not been independently corroborated and they are of variable quality,” he said. “We cannot put our hands on our hearts and say that they [phones] are safe and so we are still recommending a precautionary approach.” The NRPB recommended that children's use of phones should be controlled and that younger children should not use the devices. “If there's going to be harmful effects it's more likely to be in sensitive groups like children,” said Sir William.

“When it comes to the suggestion that mobile phones should be available to three to eight-year-olds, I can't believe that can be justified.” The warning prompted Communic8, a UK distributor, to withdraw its MyMo handset on Tuesday, which was marketed as a security tool for four to eight-year-olds.

“Although we feel the product, if used as recommended with parental guidance, is safe, we are not experts in either the radiation or medical fields that Sir William and his team are,” the company said. “It would be foolish, ignorant even, if we were to simply ignore these findings as we are sure the major manufacturers will find all too easy to do.” Sir William admitted that the same precautionary advice issued in 2000 appeared to have been largely ignored by the public as the number of mobile phones in use in the UK had doubled since then to 50m.

The NRPB report made a number of recommend-ations, some repeating those issued in 2000. It said improvements should be made in the availability of information about mobile phones and masts to the public and that the planning process for the erection of base stations, which has caused widespread concern, should be subject to independent review.

The report also said research into possible health effects should be continued, although it admitted that all such studies were problematic. “The widespread use of mobile phone technologies is still fairly recent and technologies are continuing to develop at a pace which is outstripping analyses of any potential impact on health,” it said.

The Mobile Operators Association, which represents the UK's five mobile network operators on health issues, welcomed the NRPB's report and in particular its “key point . . . that there is no hard information linking the use of mobile telephony with adverse health effects”.

Mike Dolan, executive director of the MOA, said: “The operators have a very good track record of responding positively to advice from the NRPB and the government.

“They adopted the precautionary approach recommended in 2000 and will carefully study the detailed recommendations made in this latest advice from the NRPB.” Ben Wood, analyst at Gartner, said there was little evidence as to whether safety advice affected usage but there had been instances where specific warnings had altered behaviour. “The biggest change was when a report came out that said you should use a hands-free kit and for some time a lot of people used headsets but they migrated back off of them eventually,” he said.

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