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Children At Higher Risk Of Mobile Phone Radiation
Journalists: Rosie Waterhouse and Colin Brennan
November 18, 2001

Young children absorb up to 50% more radiation in their brains than adults when they use mobile phones, research has revealed.

The results will reinforce calls for parents to limit the use of the phones by schoolchildren. Radiation penetrates halfway through the brain of a five-year-old. The penetration falls to 30% for a 10-year-old, compared with just a small area around the ear in an adult.

Absorption rates are greater in children because their ears and skulls are smaller and thinner, according to the study, led by Om Gandhi, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Utah.

Gandhi says the results suggest international safety tests used to measure the absorption of radiation are inadequate and should be changed to take account of the size and thickness of a child’s skull.

Use of mobile phones by children has increased sharply in the past five years. The market research firm NOP says 56% of those aged between seven and 16 now own one — and among 15 and 16-year-olds the figure is 85%. Hundreds of thousands more will be sold in the run-up to Christmas.

Although evidence that radiation poses a health risk is inconclusive, researchers have raised concerns about the possibility of a link with brain cancer, memory loss, irregular brain activity and headaches.

The government has given a warning that users under 16 should limit calls to essential purposes and keep them as short as possible. This followed a recommendation by an independent group of experts chaired by Sir William Stewart that a “precautionary approach” should be adopted.

The government has printed 8m safety leaflets for distribution in libraries and mobile phone shops. However, on Friday only three out of 15 shops visited in London offered a leaflet when asked for advice on buying a phone for an eight-year-old.

The European commission’s maximum safety limit for radiation from mobile phones is two milliwatts per gram of tissue. All phones sold in Britain comply with this limit. But the Utah study, to be published next spring, claims that a standard test set by the commission and accepted in America is conducted on a model of a large adult head with a plastic ear that blocks some radiation andgives misleading readings.

According to Gandhi, the test should be conducted on a smaller head with a non-plastic ear. He says many phones would exceed the radiation safety limit if the tests were carried out on this smaller model.

There is no conclusive proof of a link between mobile phone use and brain tumours. There are also conflicting reports on whether hands-free kits, where an earpiece is used, reduce radiation to the head. A Consumers’ Association study claimed the device acted like an aerial, directing radiation to the head, but it was criticised as flawed by the industry.

Last week a 34-year-old US brain tumour victim issued a writ for 600m damages. For the first time a British company, Vodafone, which owns 45% of the US firm that supplied his phone, was named.

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