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Hands-Free Mobiles 'Increase Radiation Risk'
The Guardian
Journalist: Sarah Boseley
April 4, 2000

Hands-free kits for mobile phones do not protect your brain from radiation - on the contrary, they channel three times the dose into the skull that you receive by holding the phone next to your ear, according to the Consumers' Association.

A report in this week's Which? magazine will upset those who rushed to buy the devices out of fears for their health. Two of the most popular kits were tested - one from Carphone Warehouse and the other from BT Cellnet. The researchers found the wires leading from the phone into the ear acted like an aerial, conveying a more concentrated dose of radio waves than usual.

Which? acknowledges that nobody knows for certain whether the form of radiation emitted by mobile phones - radio waves which are non-ionising radiation - is harmful to the brain. Exposure to this type of radiation can cause a rise in temperature - although not as much as sunbathing in a Mediterranean summer - which makes your heart work harder and can lead to headaches, sickness and dizziness. Some claim the phones can cause more serious problems, such as tumours, headaches and memory loss. The Department of Health has asked a panel of scientists, the Stuart Commission, to investigate. The Consumers' Association has submitted its findings to the commission.

The national radiological protection board, which sets limits on the amount of radiation mobile phones are permitted to emit, says they do not have enough energy to damage genetic material such as DNA and therefore could not cause cancer. But it sets limits on the grounds that the heating effect of the phones could potentially be a problem.

The Consumers' Association says the findings on the hands-free kits were a surprise. 'If you're worried about levels of radiation from your mobile phone, you shouldn't rely on a hands-free set,' said Graeme Jacobs, editor of Which? 

Antonia Chitty, one of the authors of the report, said there was a mismatch between the reasons the companies design hands-free kits and the reasons many people buy them. 'Consumers are buying them because they want the protection. Our impression is that companies are developing them to be handy and convenient,' she said.

BT Cellnet makes no safety claims about its hands-free kit, says Which? but Carphone Warehouse said that if the user was worried about radiation, an earpiece attachment meant the phone will not be adjacent to your head.

When Carphone Warehouse was confronted about the findings, 'the response was pretty disingenuous', says Which? The company said its fact-sheets 'simply state the facts - it is a fact that earpieces remove the phone away from the user's head'. The company said its revised fact sheet would include the Which? findings.

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