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Brain Cancer Linked To Youngsters Using Cell Phones
The Gazette
Journalist: Sarah Schmidt
March 16, 2009

An international group of scientists is calling on Canada and other countries to bring in tougher safety standards for cellphone use after a Swedish team found a fivefold elevated risk of malignant brain tumours in children who begin using mobile phones before the age of 20.

The plea — and the science underlying it — is published in the forthcoming edition of Pathophysiology, devoted to peer-reviewed research about the biological effects of the global explosion of wireless technologies and devices like cellphones, cordless phones, wireless Internet and cell towers.

The findings of 15 studies from health researchers in six different countries, looking at the effects of electromagnetic fields and radio frequency radiation on living cells and on the health of humans, should jolt government agencies into action as a precautionary measure, Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health & the Environment at the University at Albany, and one of the co-authors, said in an interview.

"What stands out is the consistency of the association of exposure and disease. The evidence, as I see it, is sufficiently strong that there needs to be public warnings, there needs to be establishments of exposure guidelines and that the present guidelines — in Canada, the United States or anyone else — are not protective of human health.

"I see us facing a major problem in the future because of the fact that young children are on cellphones constantly, and we may be setting ourselves up for an epidemic of brain cancer, the same thing we did with cigarette smoking and lung cancer."

According to Columbia University physiology professor Martin Blank, who edited the special issue, the laboratory studies "point to significant interactions" of both power frequency and radio frequency with cellular components, especially DNA.

The epidemiological studies "point to increased risk" of developing certain cancers associated with long-term exposure to radio frequency, he said.

Dr. Lennart Hardell is among the scientists who contributed to the special edition of the journal. The oncologist from Sweden's University Hospital found that after one or more years of cellphone use, there is a 5.2-fold elevated risk of malignant brain tumour in children who begin using mobile phones before the age of 20 years; the odds for other ages was 1.4.

"There should be special precaution for children and young persons about the use of mobile phones," Hardell said in an interview.

In Canada, 71 per cent of youth between the ages of 12 and 19 have a cellphone, according to new data compiled by Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. The penetration nears 80 per cent for this age bracket in Toronto and Vancouver, where cells are seen as an essential social tool as well as a matter of safety for parents, according to the research firm specializing in the youth market.

Solutions Research Group estimates that among nine- to 12-year-olds, one in four own cellphones. Also, their research shows 70 per cent of mothers with tweens share the cellphone with their kids occasionally for calls, texts or games.

Overall, there are 21.5 million Canadian wireless phone subscribers, representing a national wireless penetration rate of 67 per cent. And half of all phone connections in Canada are now wireless, according to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.

A spokesman from that agency, Marc Choma, said these subscribers, including parents of younger users, need to look at all the evidence about the safety of cellphones rather than cherry-picking a few.

"You have to look at the overwhelming amount of research that is out there. It's been done for decades now, and you have vast amounts of scientists around the world that have been studying this issue, and you can't just look at one study or you can't just look at two studies. You have to look at in the totality of all the work that's out there."

Government agencies responsible for compiling and analyzing this body of work — including Health Canada and the World Health Organization — "continue to say that the evidence that is out there that has been reviewed for years and years and years, that there is no demonstrated risk for human health," said Choma.

But Toronto Public Health last year recommended parents take precautions to minimize any potential risks to their children from cellphone use, acknowledging the "uncertainty in the science on health risks from cellphone use, particularly where it concerns children."

After the agency released its position last July on cellphone use and kids, Health Canada issued a statement, reaffirming that the department "currently sees no scientific reason to consider the use of cellphones as unsafe. There is no convincing evidence of increased risk of disease from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields from cellphones."

Health Canada was not available Monday to comment on the latest research.

In a statement Monday, Toronto Public Health said it's "important that the public is aware of the ongoing debate and research into this area, however inconclusive. Toronto Public Health will continue to monitor emerging research addressing health risks associated with cellphone use, and our position will be informed by any significant new information."

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