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The End Is Near
Dozens of studies say cell phones don't cause cancer. But they do, says George Carlo. And he won't stop until you believe him.
In January a study of 3,044 people published in the International Journal of Cancer said that mobile phone use doesn't significantly increase the incidence of brain cancer. It was the latest of many bulletins dismissing the dangers of a radiation-emitting object held to the ears of a billion people.
George Carlo doesn't buy it. He thinks wireless radiation is making us sick. "This is the most serious threat that mankind has ever faced," he says. Carlo cites a half-dozen papers that he says prove a link between mobiles and tumors.
Credit for the durability of the death-by-phone theorem goes to the tireless peregrinations of Carlo, a 53-year-old Ph.D. in epidemiology. Last month he left his home in Sarasota, Fla. for posh Rancho Santa Fe, just outside San Diego. Residents there had commissioned Carlo to tell them if the town's new cellular base stations would make them ill. (he, as is his wont, waived the $85,000 fee for the report, charging only $10,000 for his expenses. And, as is his wont, Carlo rendered a "yes" verdict.) Then he flew to London to speak to legislators on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland, where he stumped for his plan to convert today's wireless infrastructure to a fiber-optic and wireless system.
The cell phone companies would like to see Carlo go away, but they created him. In the late 1990s he ran the industry's $28.5 million, six-year research project into mobiles' potential for harm. Carlo concluded that they were dangerous, affecting pacemakers and increasing cancer risk. The companies disputed his claim and told him they would no longer be requiring his services. But mobile makers, eager to stave off the plaintiffs' bar, started disclosing phone radiation levels. The Federal Communications Commission mandates that, when you're talking on your cell phone, your body absorbs no more than 1.6 watts of power per kilogram. Stand out in the noon sunlight, by comparison, and your whole body absorbs 3 watts per kilogram (albeit at a frequency that differs by a factor of 10 million from your cell phone).
Carlo and his nonprofit Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. don't have a lot of scientists on their side. "Over time there have been 16 studies looking at this issue, and most have found no relationship between cell phone use and increased risk," says Michael Thun, of the American Cancer Society. The Food & Drug Administration, while overseeing further long-term research, says likewise.
"There's no question that you're talking about intentionally misleading the public," says Carlo, a man who thinks the sky is falling but can't get anyone to duck.