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For Public Cell Studies
It's time to stop squabbling about the possible health risks of wireless communication and to start doing credible public research, health advocates say.
"We are stuck in a rut," said Gordon Miller, one of the speakers at a weekend forum on the effects of microwave radiation on humans. "Fifteen years ago, we were saying the research is inconclusive, we need more research.. We're still saying that."
Pockets of researchers worldwide have been examining the health effects of "nonionizing radiation," the kind generated by signals from cell phones and wireless transmitters. But, so far, no publicly funded studies have produced definitive results.
"Research, and their regulation, are heavily influenced by 'mission agencies,'" said Miller, who is chairman of the California EMF Stakeholders' Group. "So long as that continues, people are going to doubt the research, they're going to doubt the regulations, and this controversy will go on indefinitely."
As the market for cell phones has grown in the United States, wireless providers have targeted schools and churches as sites for wireless antennae. Annual payments to churches -- attractive for their high steeples -- can reach US$100,000 per year.
Saturday's forum was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where plans had been made to allow the installation of a wireless transmitter in its steeple. Church member Libby Kelley approached church leaders suggesting research to demonstrate the potential health effects. Her questions prompted the church to reverse its decision, and an activist was born.
Kelley sits on the steering committee of the California Council on Wireless Technology Impacts, which sponsored the forum. She is also trying to pressure the Federal Communications Commission into researching the public health effects of wireless phones and transmitters.
Miller said that after years of alarming findings and counterfindings by the wireless industry, it's time for research that will enable government bodies to address wireless issues at the national level.
Publicly funded research and oversight are key, according to Miller, "so the researchers and their agencies can understand where the money is coming from."
Last week, England's Minister for Public Health ordered an inquiry into health effects of mobile phones. The move followed a report in Britain's New Scientist, which detailed the wide-ranging effects that cell-phone signals have on living tissue.
At Saturday's forum, researchers from the United States and New Zealand summarized current findings regarding the neurological effects of wireless communications, which have prompted worldwide initiatives supporting more research.
Neil Cherry, a biophysicist who is a member of New Zealand's parliament, said studies showed that nonionizing radiation causes everything from cancer in lab rats to neurological changes in humans.
Ideally, for Cherry, telephone users would rely on land-line communications alone.
"We [humans] are very good conductors [of cellular transmissions], so most of the cell-phone signal goes through us, and very little actually goes to the cell site," Cherry said. "That's why we should design cell phones not to radiate into us, but to radiate toward the cell site."
Forum moderator Linda Evans said it's regrettable that, unlike Europe, the United States has no system for informing consumers about the risks inherent in cell-phone use.
"The European Parliament has said we need to carry a warning label [of health risks on cell phones] because it's part of the process of informed consent," Evans said. "If you don't know the risks, that's not informed consent."