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Mobile Phone Safety Signals Unclear
Wireless NewsFactor
Journalist: Lou Hirsh
February 04, 2002

Although hundreds of studies have been conducted around the world on the potential health hazards of wireless phone use, only one clear conclusion can be drawn: the evidence is inconclusive.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, available evidence shows no direct link between the low levels of radio-frequency (RF) energy emitted by wireless phones and such health problems as cancer.

"We look at what the government agencies have said about this, and we've come to the same conclusion -- so far," said Jo-Anne Basile, a spokesperson for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), an industry trade group. "There is no evidence of health hazards caused by mobile phones," she told Wireless NewsFactor.

On the other hand, the FDA says there is no proof that mobile phones are absolutely safe.

Long-Term Studies Needed
Since cell phone use is still in a relatively early stage, the FDA says on its Web site that more long-term human studies must be completed before there is a definitive answer. For one thing, several years could pass between the time a person is exposed and the time when symptoms develop.

Past animal studies, based on short-term exposure, have provided results that are either conflicting or not applicable to humans, according to the FDA.

Industry and government experts contacted by Wireless NewsFactor said that as long as common sense prevails and equipment standards are upheld, there is no need for mobile phone users to panic.

Debate Far From Over
The CTIA has a cooperative agreement with the FDA for continuing research on the subject. The federal agency is providing scientific oversight, getting input from experts in government, industry and academic organizations. CTIA-funded research is conducted through contracts with independent investigators.

Basile said that the CTIA has commissioned an independent cell-tissue study in North Carolina, which began in June and is expected to be completed in two years.

Similar studies are under way in Italy and Germany, Basile said.

With the use of wireless devices skyrocketing, the health issue has become a global one. Since 1996, the World Health Organization has been monitoring some 300 studies on the subject. Just recently, on January 25th, the government in the UK announced 15 new studies into various health questions related to mobile phones.

The FDA is a leading participant in the WHO's electromagnetic fields project, and is conducting ongoing studies with other U.S. government agencies.

Government representatives contend that as long as consumers use caution, they can limit their potential exposure to the small amounts of radiation emitted by mobile phones.

Equipment Safeguards
All wireless phones sold in the U.S. must comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines that limit RF emissions. The current limit -- based on an absorption rate of 1.6 watts per kilogram -- is set well below levels of exposure known to have effects on body tissue, according to officials.

Robert Cleveland, a senior scientist in the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, told Wireless NewsFactor that the standard is based on input from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement.

However, Cleveland said those still concerned about energy emissions can take steps to limit their exposure by keeping handsets away from the head whenever possible. Cleveland said there are several effective hands-free accessories on the market, but he added he is skeptical about so-called "shield" devices that claim to limit RF emissions.

"Most of those devices don't do what they claim," Cleveland said.

The FDA says consumers can also limit exposure simply by limiting their time spent using wireless phones.

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