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Will Your Cell Phone Kill You?
PC World
Journalist: Mike Hogan
April 02, 2002

We're all cell phone guinea pigs, yet the studies still outnumber definitive conclusions.

Will your cell phone kill you? A medical researcher who says radiation is a real risk is taking his crusade online, and searching for more evidence from anyone interested.

This latest warning comes from Dr. George Carlo, an epidemiologist and coauthor of "Cellphones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age." In a prepared statement at the recent launch of his Mobile Telephone Health Concerns Registry (MTHCR) site, Carlo asserts that "with medical science indicating increased risks of tumors, cancer, genetic damage and other health problems from the use of cellphones, the government and the cellphone industry have abandoned the public."

The mobile-phone industry and Carlo have more than a passing acquaintance. Between 1993 and 2001, he administered a $28 million research project funded through a blind trust established by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA). His interpretation of the research is that it suggests that extended exposure to a cell phone antenna could result in increased risk of brain tumors and genetic damage.

Findings Disputed
Not so, says Jo-Anne Basile, CTIA's vice president of external and industry relations. The multipart study Carlo administered was as inconclusive as hundreds of other studies, she says. And where effects have been found, they haven't been replicated by other studies to establish their validity.

"Just the law of averages dictates that, if you study something enough times, you are bound to get an anomaly or two," Basile says. "There is not a single government agency or health organization study that suggests there is a link between cell phones and disease. They do recommend more research, and a very broad research agenda is in place."

The "additional research is needed" recommendation is a fixture of statements by government and health organization representatives worldwide. The disclaimer on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Mobile Phones Web site is very typical:

"Thus, the available science does not allow us to conclude that mobile phones are absolutely safe, or that they are unsafe. However, the available scientific evidence does not [emphasis FDA's] demonstrate any adverse health effects associated with the use of mobile phones."

Guinea Pig Draft
That kind of soft-pedaling only demonstrates that the industry and government are in cahoots, Carlo says.

"As more science has emerged that shows problems, the FDA has become the cowering lapdog of the industry," Carlo charges. "The FDA has turned its back on consumers and walked away from this problem."

When pressed, Carlo acknowledges no conclusive link between cell phones and health problems is established: "That's absolutely true, but I don't know how else to say it; we have red flags here," he says.

A Swedish medical research project completed shortly before Carlo's project for the CTIA suggested a risk of brain tumors, especially with the use of older phones. The U.K. announced its own multipart study earlier this year.

The inconclusiveness of most research only underscores the need for an aftermarket registry like his own Web site, Carlo says. It is the principal project of his nonprofit Science and Public Policy Institute. Carlo says he would have preferred to see the industry or FDA conduct research before the sale of so many cell phones. Now, studies must be conducted with the entire cell phone community as potential guinea pigs--regardless of whether they participate in his registry.

For those who wish to enlist, the MTHCR site contains a brief survey that you can complete anonymously in about a minute. Besides general demographic data, it asks about any ailments the participant believes are related to cell phone use.

The incidence of symptoms reported by registry members will be analyzed on a quarterly basis to see if they are greater than their occurrence in the population at large. If they are, the information will be reported.

Conflict Continues
Whatever the registry discovers, it can't be anything but good news for tort lawyers looking for a heightened public awareness. Carlo reports his site got 40,000 hits during its first several days on the Web.

The research may be inconclusive, but already about a dozen class action and personal injury lawsuits are pending against wireless manufacturers. Many have dragged on for years.

In fact, seed money for the MTHCR site comes from a $250,000 partial settlement of an Illinois class action lawsuit that has been going on since 1995 and in which Carlo himself was, ironically, a defendant. Carlo says he agreed to settle when litigants offered to establish his Science and Public Policy Institute with $250,000 of the $1.4 million his insurance paid on the claim.

While the jury may still be out on the risks posed by cell phone radiation, most parties seem to agree that there is a simple and inexpensive way to avoid the danger entirely: Just use an earpiece instead of holding the cell phone to your ear.

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