Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And now for another scare

Ever tried asking a mobile phone salesman how his phones damage your brain?

You might as well try buying condoms in the Vatican

But in fact what you want to know should be the most important thing about the phone you will press to your ear.

Evidence is increasing that radiation from handsets presents a cancer hazard, particularly to children and to those who use their phones for more than a decade.

Later in September, a long-awaited 13-nation study should be published.

The official European Environment Agency (EEA) is sounding a discreet alarm.

And the French government is so concerned that it is developing measures to ban the devices from primary schools, stop their promotion to children under 12, and prevent them being sold without a headset to heavily reduce radiation exposure.

Early studies found no sign of cancer – causing blanket reassurances from ministers and the industry.

But they were largely irrelevant, because few, if any, of the people they examined had been using the phones for as much as a decade, and cancers normally take at least 10 years to develop.

More recent studies – especially in Sweden, where mobile phones took off early – have included such “long-term” users.

They have found, on average, that they are about twice as likely to get malignant gliomas – an incurable brain cancer – on the side of the head where they held the handset.

As the latency period for cancers is usually 20 to 30 years, this may indicate a much bigger toll to come.

Worse, more Swedish research – limited, but believed to be the only work on the effects on children and teenagers – found that people who started using the phones before the age of 20 were five times more likely to contract the cancers, and eight times more prone to get them on the appropriate side of the head.

If these studies are right, we could be in a lot of trouble.

There are more than two billion mobile phones in use worldwide.

In Britain – where there are now nearly two per person – at least 90 per cent of 16-year-olds have their own handsets, as do more than 40 per cent of primary pupils.

Prof David Carpenter, dean of the school of Public Health at the State University of New York, predicts an “epidemic of brain cancers” among today’s children as they grow up.

Ministers, however, have done little to implement measures to reduce exposures recommended nine years ago by an official inquiry headed by Sir William Stewart, a former government chief scientist.

Like others, they have been waiting for the results of a massive $30 million, 13-nation study being carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Largely financed by the industry, the study has been hotly criticised for features that would seem to underestimate the risk, such as including few long-term users and excluding children and young adults.

Even so, some of the research has found increased cancer, and publication of the study has been held up for years while the scientists have argued about how it should be interpreted.

Now, after pressure from the EEA and others, a version is finally to see the light of day.

Mobile phones have brought huge benefits, not least in improving safety by keeping parents and children in touch and alerting emergency and security services to accidents.

It would make no sense to ban them, even if it were possible.

But radiation levels can be brought down fairly easily: they already vary about eightfold between handsets.

Another simple measure – proposed by Stewart, and now being seriously examined in San Francisco – would be to display the radiation level of each phone prominently.

Then people could chose whether to buy a low radiation one or not

Again industry pressure has delayed these findings, which could affect hundreds of millions of our children

Sad thing is or is it criminal?

Once this becomes an issue the industry will find ways to lower if not remove the danger
What a world

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