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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK


Mobile phones: Don't hang up

BBC Doctor Colin Thomas: No proof mobiles are dangerous

Over the past few years there has been an increased concern about the health effects of mobile phones.

We have seen both anecdotal reports of people suffering from ill health which has been put down to mobile phone usage, and studies which have not conclusively confirmed either the safety or otherwise of mobile phones, but have sown the seeds of doubt.

At present the National Radiological Protection Board in the UK sets human limits for microwave radiation which are designed to limit the local heating effects this has.

Microwave oven heat things up, of course, but these are thousands of times more powerful than mobile phones.

The big question mark is whether the heating effect alone is the only factor related to microwaves that could affect health.

Studies that were highlighted in the recent BBC Panorama programme have suggested effects of microwave radiation that do not seem to be explicable in terms of their heating effect alone.

However, at present these studies are only pieces in a jigsaw, and as even some of the researchers themselves admitted, their studies were not sufficiently large to be conclusive, and more work needed to be done.

One recent UK study suggested an improvement in reaction times with mobile phone use.

Surely, you might think, that is good. However, the most critical point, is the fact that they have any effect on the brain, beneficial or otherwise.

If there is a good effect, there is also the possibility of a bad effect waiting in the wings.

Confusing data

[ image: Millions use mobile phones]
Millions use mobile phones
We are at the mercy of studies which, on limited data, can give confusing results.

As a simple example, if we randomly selected a few days in the month to go out into the garden and look for the moon, we might not see it. We might reasonably hypothesise from that limited study that the Earth does not have a moon.

If, however, we observe on every night then we could soon shatter our original hypothesis - Martian readers might even find two.

The real truth is that we still have no hard scientific evidence to say whether mobile phones are harmful or not. However these small studies have raised, at least, the possibility, of effects which hopefully larger studies will eventually be able to clarify.

On this very small chance that there could be a risk, it makes good sense not to panic, but there would be no harm in trying to keep your mobile exposure as low as possible.

You could use your mobile only when really necessary, using standard phones when you can, and keeping the phone away from the ear with an earphone and microphone which would certainly reduce the dose received by the head.

At present it is fair to say that there is no concrete evidence or proof that mobile phones can damage health. Mind you with only three minutes of injury time remaining and two goals needed who would have put their money on Manchester?

I would like to finish my article this week by asking a question. I have been contacted by a lady from the USA regarding insulin pumps which are available for treatment of diabetes and especially useful in children.

Apparently this technology is not used in the UK. It is an issue I know nothing about, so is there anybody in the scientific and medical world out there who can shed any light on this subject for me?

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