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Research Backs Up Fears On Mobiles
Journalist: Tara Womersley
October 02, 2003
Radio signals for the next generation of mobile phone services can cause headaches, tingling sensations and nausea - but also improve your memory and make you more alert, new research has claimed.
The first study of its kind, carried out by the Dutch government, backed up campaigners’ warnings of the dangers of mobile signals. But the experts studying the third-generation (3G) phone networks also found that cognitive functions, such as memory and response times, were improved - by the impact of radiation from both 3G and current signals.
The 3G mobile phones - which enable fast data transfer and services such as video conferencing - work on different radio signals to the current mobile phones. This means existing masts need to be upgraded, or new base stations, which can range from masts to boxes placed on the side of buildings, need to be set up. Not all mobile phone networks have started marketing the 3G mobile phones in Britain.
The Dutch research focused on signals from base stations, which generally cover a "cell" area of several square miles and transmit signals to mobile phones using an electromagnetic field.
A spokeswoman for the Dutch economics ministry said: "If the test group was exposed to third-generation base station signals, there was a significant impact ... They felt tingling sensations, got headaches and felt nauseous."
The research team, however, found no negative impact from signals for current mobile phone networks, but noted that people became more alert when they were exposed to signals from both phone networks.
The Dutch ministries for economic affairs, health and telecommunications, which were responsible for the study, said that follow-up research was needed to confirm the findings, as well as to look at any longer-term health effects.
The study, which was carried out by the Dutch technological research institute TNO, will also be discussed with the European Commission. Because the research involved double-blind laboratory tests, no-one involved knew whether signals were actually being transmitted. Those exposed were subject to the levels of radiation expected when 3G networks become commercial. Radiation levels from base stations would be at a lower level than from handsets.
The GSM Association, a global organisation of mobile telecommunications operators, said it was studying the report and could not comment.
In 2000, the Stewart Committee in the UK found no known health problems caused by mobile phones, but advised caution, especially among the young, until more research was carried out.
A long-term study by the International Agency on Research on Cancer is expected to report results within the next few years. Alasdair Philips, the director of Powerwatch, which provides information on potential health effects of mobile phones, said: "Nobody knew whether they were being exposed so they could not say there was a problem as a result.
"One of the characteristics of 3G base stations is that they pulse in a different way, which is similar to terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra), than other base stations.
"There are reports that people near to Tetra masts and 3G masts experience a greater rate of sleep disruption with bad dreams and nightmares and not waking up fresh in the morning. The actual levels of microwaves are lower than the existing masts, but seem to trigger some sort of reaction in brain. What they say about cognitive functions being more alert may tie in with the problem of bad dreams.
"These results do not particularly surprise me and confirm what reports we are hearing from members of the public. Dutch investigations into mobile phone issues have been very dismissive of effects in the past, so this is very interesting they are the ones first reporting actually finding real effects."
Campaigners who handed a petition to the Scottish Parliament yesterday called for a moratorium on Tetra masts, which are being introduced throughout the UK to improve police communications.
The public petitions committee noted there had been inadequate research to date, and agreed to write to the Executive for further information. The issue will then be remitted to a committee of the Scottish Parliament for a full debate.
Alison Mackay, a campaigner against Tetra masts in Scotland, said: "Tetra has been surrounded by controversy since it was introduced. It is a hugely expensive system, and carries health risks for the police who use the handsets and the public who live near the masts.
"The Home Office is to carry out research costing £5 million over 15 years into the safety of the system once it is operational, but that is the wrong way round, and turns us all into human guinea pigs."