Should we be worried about our cell phones?


No conclusive evidence has been found but there are striking similarities between what's going on in the cell phone industry and what happened with Big Tobacco. Certain studies when lined up together do present some disturbing red flags.


Pioneers silenced In 1995 bioengineering Professor Henry Lai and his colleague Narendra (N.P.) Singh published their findings documenting the connection between cell phone non-ionized radiation and DNA damage in brain cells. Their funding was subsequently cut. "When you look at the non-industry sponsored research, it's about three to one-three out of every four papers shows an effect," Lai says. "Then, if you look at the industry-funded research, it's almost opposite-only one out of every four papers shows an effect." Their research was not presented to the public.

Britain's groundbreaker In 2000, the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), chaired by Sir William Stewart, looked at cell phone studies worldwide. The Stewart Report concluded there were enough gaps in information to "to justify a precautionary approach." Stewart himself recommended children not use cell phones. He issued his warning again in 2002 and again in 2004. In 2005 when Stewart became the chair for the National Radiological Protection Board, he issued the following statement: "If there are risks -- and we think that maybe there are -- then the people who are going to be most affected are children, and the younger the children, the greater the danger. Parents have a responsibility to their children not simply to throw a mobile phone to a young child, and say 'off you go'," said Stewart. In 2007, Stewart called for a review of the health risks of wireless technology on children.

More "inconclusive" evidence In December 2004, the REFLEX study was published. Costing more than 3 million euros, the study involved 12 research groups in seven European countries working from 2000 to 2004. REFLEX found that mobile phone radiation did break DNA human cells causing mutations that carried on in subsequent generations of cells. Basically it confirmed research done by Lai and Singh. Yet the 259 page final didn't conclude that mobile phones are health risks. The toothless watchdog RF has been on the World Health Organization (WHO) radar since 1986. In 2004, its branch of the International Agency for Research on Cancer began co-ordinating The Interphone study, also known as the IARC study. The study was to pool the data of 13 countries researching tumours of the head and neck area to see if there was a link between cell phones and cancer. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK participated. The Interphone report is still not been published even though completed two years ago. "Certain people are embarrassed it's taking so long," said Dr. Louis Slesin, who has been taking the study to task in her scientific newsletter Microwave News. "At some point, it becomes a public health scandal that they're not releasing it." Read more about other studies on page 2....

Europe spills the beans The delay hasn't stopped other individual countries from releasing their own studies. When placed together, the results are alarming: July 2008. The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute issued The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones, a compilation of research from 23 international oncology experts. It urges the cell phone companies to provide access to their records so appropriate studies can be carried out. It cautions about cell phone usage. April 2008. The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection issued a warning on children using mobile phones, mentioning health hazards ranging from ADHD, diminished learning and cognitive abilities leading to brain tumours and overall degeneration of the brain.

May 2008. The Swedish report, ">Meta-analysis of long-term mobile phone use and the association with brain tumours, by oncologist Dr. Lennart Hardell, looked at 10 glioma studies and concluded after 10 years of use or more there was "a consistent pattern of an association between mobile phone use and ipsilateral glioma and acoustic neuroma."

July 2007. Dr Hardell study, Evidence for Brain Tumors and Acoustic Neuromas, examined 30 European, Canadian and American studies from 1987 to 2006 and found "crude exposure categories" and the "likelihood of bias towards the null hypothesis." The conclusion was that few long-term exposure studies were seriously flawed, that includes the infamous Danish study the cell phone industry likes to quotes.

November 2007. After reviewing the Interphone results, the French government agency Telecom commissioned a report from Dr. Joe Wiart. The study found young children can have exposures that are twice those of adults and even higher, prompting the French Ministry of Health to issue an advisory about children and cell phones. A second conducted by Niels Kuster, the director of the IT'IS Foundation in Zurich completed for the German Federal Office of Radiation Protection (BfS) confirmed the French findings.

October 2007. Israel's Tel Aviv University published, Cellular Phone Use and Risk of Benign and Malignant Parotid Gland Tumors. The study included 402 benign and 58 malignant incident cases of, and 1,266 population individually matched controls. A link was found between parotid gland tumors (PGTs) diagnosed in cell phone users between the ages of 18 years.

Jan 2007. The Scandavian report, Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in 5 North European countries was co-authored by the Finnish scientist Anna Lahkola. The report cited evidence that cell phone users of more than 10 years had an increase in glioma tumours on the side of the head where the cell phone was placed. (Glioma is the most common type of brain tumour ) The study recommended more research.

March 2006. Sweden's National Institute for Working Life looked at 905 cases of people between the ages of 20 and 80 diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. A total of 85 people had used their cell phone for 2,000 hours or longer. The findings confirmed a 2004 study from the"> Swedish Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska. Sweden has been using cell phones since 1984 -- longer than most countries. The National Institute was shut down in December, 2006.

The Whistle Blower Dr. George Carlo is considered the Jeffrey Wigand of the cell world (Wigland was the Tobacco Industry whistle blower). When hired by the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association to head up their $28 million research program, he found a connection between brain cancer deaths and cell phones. After he went public he was fired. He's since coauthored several books including Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age. He continues to lecture about risks around cell phones and participated in the French documentary Cell Phone War. 

Canada's limp response The first and last Canadian report was released in 1999. We have not yet released our part of the Interphone study. The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), a lobbyist group for the industry, gave one million dollars to fund the Canadian Interphone study and also pays the salary of Dr. Daniel Krewski, the head scientist on the report. To date, Canada is the only country to accept money from a cell phone lobbyist. When asked about the two-year delay Krewski said "This is such a high-profile study we want to make sure we get it right before it becomes public." The CWTA continues to site research dating back to 1998 on its website.

Word of caution There is no conclusive evidence on the connection between cancer and cell phones. But with close to three billion users worlwide, even a slight increase in cancer would translate into plenty of sick people, some of them children. Take the advice of the world experts and limit your cell phone use. Read more about No cell phones for kids and Safety tips for cell phones. Shelagh McNally is the editor of Green Living Online. She wants to know why FIDO didn't tell her about all of this before she signed her 3-year contract.