SIRC – Media Watch 03-06-99
May 1999: Mobile Mania Month
The BBC, May 11, reported calls from the Headway National Injuries Association for mobile phones to carry health warnings. Bill Acker from Headway attempted to justify this rather extreme stance: "Before the real horrors were known about the risk to health of tobacco, people dismissed calls for warnings as scare-mongering. What we say is that the same is true of mobile phones now."
A BBC Panorama programme, screened on May 24, involved Swedish cancer specialist Dr Lennart Hardell. Although his research showed no link between brain tumours and mobile phones, he suggested that his study indicated a biological problem that necessitated further investigation. The National Radiological Protection Board later refuted Hardell's conclusions and suggested that his study lacked statistical precision. "In this study we did not find an increased risk for brain tumour associated with exposure to mobile phones". They found the study to be problematic on a number of different levels. The size of the study did not involve enough people and positive associations drawn proved to be not statistically significant. Information was gathered by questionnaire, usually regarded by scientists as an unreliable method of data collection. Also referred to in Panorama was a study conducted by George Carlo, director of Wireless Technology Research. Funded by the industry and as yet not accepted for publication, he found no overall link between brain cancer and cellular phone use. From 450 cases 30 people had contracted neurocytomas. Of these 30, 40% had reported using mobile phones compared to 18% of the controls. On this basis Carlo described his findings as equivocal and suggested that more work be carried out. Research actually commissioned by the programme reported large fluctuations in the amounts of radiation emitted by different makes of phone. They ranged from 0.02 to 0.44 watts/kg. The recommended government safety limit is 10 watts/kg ie. over twenty times more than the biggest offender the Nokia2110!
A Mori poll conducted early in May stated that more than 40% of mobile phone users were concerned about possible adverse health effects. Little wonder with the column inches and air time that have been devoted to their potential but unproven hazards.
Dr Hyland of Warwick University suggested that government regulations designed to protect users from intense microwave radiation were flawed. His theory was that the possible dangers of mobile phones lay in the frequency of their electromagnetic radiation emissions. Tom Wills-Sandford, a director of the Federation of the Electronics Industry had this to say in response: "We would welcome the publication of Dr Hyland's work in a peer reviewed scientific journal so that the scientific community can analyse his theories. The consensus among scientists as a whole is that there are no established health effects from using a mobile phone." It seems that Mr Wills-Sandford has been familiarising himself with the recent Code of Practice.
The Express announced that there had been a cover up over the dangers of mobile phones. It claimed that the funding for a particular research study, initially provided by Motorola, was withdrawn when Professor Ross Adey highlighted an increase in brain tumours in rats exposed to mobile phones. Albert Basher, a spokesperson from Motorola denied Professor Adey's claims of corporate intervention: "With any contract for research we do it with the clear understanding that the researcher is not only able to publish their findings but it is something they are required by us to do."
Much of the scare-mongering once again focuses on studies that use tumours in rats as a predictor of a human form of the condition. Also little reference is made to Dr Allan Preece's study back in April which concluded that use of mobile phones may, in fact, accelerate reaction times and improve the speed at which our brains function. A pan-European study is currently under way which involves 3,000 brain cancer sufferers. It is funded in part by the phone industry and is being co-ordinated by the WHO. Its findings are unlikely to be published for several years by which time we will have undoubtedly retraced our footsteps many times over.