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To Resolve Mobile Phone Health Fears
A major programme of 15 research projects designed to help resolve confusion surrounding the health effects of mobile phones has been announced, funded by the UK government and mobile phone industry.
"People want to know the impact being made by mobile phones directly on the human body," says William Stewart, chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR), an independent group of mainly of British university scientists.
Despite scare stories in recent years, the majority of evidence to date suggests that exposure to mobile phone radio frequency emissions does not have adverse effects on health. Studies that have shown effects have proved difficult to reproduce.
The new studies, which will be conducted at universities across the UK, will look for possible links between mobile phone use and different types of cancer, as well as effects on basic brain and body function. The radiation doses of different devices will also be investigated. Human volunteers will be used in most of the experiments.
The mobile phone industry has contributed half of the £7.4 million earmarked for the MTHR. Only £4.5 million has so far been allocated, and more projects were called for in November 2001.
The research programme will also include work on emerging technologies, such as third generation (3G) mobile telephones, which are due to be released this year.
But it will be some time before any results are released. The programme includes a one-year project to study the effects of hands-free sets on drivers' attention, compared to talking with other passengers or listening to the radio.
The other 14 studies, designed to investigate health risks, will last two or three years, at least, says Stewart. And "careful consideration" will be given to whether or not to announce results individually, he says. "This programme is about providing evidence that will benefit the public and that's where our priority must be."
For this reason, particular attention will be paid to how the impact of mobile phone use on tissue properties, for example, may change with age. However, the MTHR stresses that no experiments will be carried out on children.
The programme was set up following a report published in 2000 by the UK's Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, chaired by Stewart. This report suggested radio frequency emissions below current guidelines might have biological effects.
Mike Dolan, director of the Mobile Telecoms Advisory Group, an industry body, welcomes the new research. "This announcement represents the delivery of an important recommendation from the report of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones," he said.