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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 12:08 GMT
Are mobile phones a health hazard?
Mobile phones
It has been claimed that mobile phones cause leukaemia
The impact that mobile phones have on health is unclear. Some scientific studies have linked use of mobiles to headaches, memory loss and cancer, while the industry claims that they are perfectly safe.

A government-funded committee headed by scientist Sir William Stewart concluded that while there was no direct evidence of a health risk from using mobiles, more research was needed to prove their safety.

Now the government is unveiling a 7.4m research project to try to uncover the truth.

News Online asked two people on opposite sides of the debate for their advice.

Roger Coghill is a specialist in bioelectromagnetics, who runs an independent laboratory in Gwent. He has long campaigned for mobile phones to carry a health warning.

"I do not see that mobile phones used normally pose a health problem, but some people are using them for 20-30 minutes or more at time, and there is overwhelming scientific evidence that there is a hazard to health from that kind of use.

"My advice is not to get panicked, and to use your phone normally, but to restrict calls to around five minutes a day.

"We have just carried out a survey of 500 users that shows that 12% of users use their phones for more than 20 minutes a day, and that 1.8% use them for more than two hours a day.

"It is that 1.8% that we are worried about - that is about 250,000 people who are being put at risk of serious ill health.

"We do not know exactly what the risks are of sustained exposure to mobile phone electromagnetic radiation. Mobile phone manufacturers should have funded research into that question before they put them on the market - if they were pharmaceutical products they would have to have been pre-tested.

Health syndrome

"What is clear is that there is a syndrome associated with excessive mobile phone use.

"Around 40% of users complain that they suffer from headaches, and many people find that after a day's heavy use of the phone that they have a thumping headache.

"After a while users feel extremely tired, and their reaction times start to fall off.

"After 14 months to two years some users will start to develop leukaemia.

"My laboratory has carried out research which shows that after a seven-and-a-half hour exposure to a mobile phone on stand-by there was a serious degradation of the while blood cells (the cells that fight disease). A day after exposure there was a substantial fall in the viability of white blood cells, and after the second day only 13% of white blood cells were viable.

"There are some simply, virtually costless things that people can do to minimise risk.

"If somebody touches a mobile phone to their head radiation is conducted directly into the head. Keeping the phone a couple of centimetres away from the head reduces the exposure to radiation by orders of magnitude.

"Also if users hold their phone away from their head then after a while they will start to get a muscle ache which will warn them they have been on the phone too long.

"Protective pouches also help to reduce exposure to radiation, but earpieces are enormously adverse, because they conduct radiation directly to the head."

Tom Wills-Sandford is director of information and communications technology for the Federation of the Electronics Industry.

"We firmly believe that there is no link between use of mobile phones and any adverse human health effect.

"This is based on many years of research. The mobile phone industry is a global industry and research into the safety of phones is done on a global scale - probably $60m has been spent on this particular issue.

"You have to look at the totality of science, and when you do you will find that there is no evidence of a link between use of mobile phones and ill health.

"The FEI welcomes all good peer reviewed science, including Dr Preece's work in Bristol, in which, we note, he failed to find any link between mobile phone usage and memory loss despite the enormous amount of publicity we have seen in the last few weeks.

"The one effect he did find was that choice reaction times were reduced by four per cent after exposure to radiation from analogue mobile phones, but this contrasts with other studies which have found a 20% variation in reaction times when no mobile phone usage has been involved.

Committed to openness

"The industry is committed to being open about this matter. We take this issue seriously, and we are concerned if our customers are concerned.

"But the National Radiological Protection Board and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection set the guidelines that the industry follows, and all mobile phones sold in the UK are designed, built and tested to these standards which take account of all the scientific research into this issue.

"It is perfectly legitimate that the public should be concerned, and we welcome responsible public interest but we do not get headlines about the many studies that come up with no link between mobile phones and ill health.

"My advice to people who are worried is that they can always use an earpiece, which can be very convienient in a hands free environment - although they do not need one for health reasons.

See also:

08 Apr 99 | Health
Jury still out on mobile health
08 Apr 99 | Health
Mobile phones 'speed reactions'
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