• 29 OCT 06
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    #578: A recent poll suggests widespread cell phone use is a social malady

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    From Robert Reidlinger:

    A recent poll suggests widespread cell phone use is a social malady.
    One scientist think it”™s a lot worse than that


    Β© Copyright 2006 Monday Magazine


    Hazard? Invisible

    Oct 26 2006

    One in 10 Canadians would rather lose their mother-in-law than their cell phones, according to a poll released earlier this month.

    The Palm Canada/Leger Marketing poll of 1,100 cell phone users also found that one in 20 would give up their right to vote rather than turn in their phones. However, if George Carlo is right, that kind of addiction to the technology may be the least of the problems caused by cell phones, which are now owned by half of all Canadians.

    The Washington, D.C.-based Carlo believes that the growing use of cell phones, wireless Internet and similar forms of information-carrying electromagnetic radiation may outrank other health hazards that humans have created.

    The problem, says Carlo, makes other threats to human health pale into insignificance. The most acute issue is the effect of the rapidly increasing sea of electromagnetic radiation on children.

    As well as being an epidemiologist, Carlo is the editor of two volumes of “Wireless Phones and Health” collections of peer-reviewed research on the health risks of wireless technology. He is also the director of the non-profit Safe Wireless Initiative, based in Washington, D.C., and is the co-author of Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age (with Martin Schram, Carroll & Graf, 2001).

    Speaking in an interview last week from Washington D.C., Carlo says that published, peer-reviewed studies from 2000 and 2001 show that adults using cell phones for between 500 and 800 minutes (roughly between eight and 14 hours) a month, for five to 10 years, face a doubling of their risk of brain tumours.

    Companies are now actively marketing cell phones to children as young as 10 years old, and some kids use the phones for more than an hour per day””as much as 2,500 minutes monthly. Assuming that the risks grow with usage, by extrapolating the numbers for adults Carlo says the risk for those children of brain and eye tumours is increased by a factor of 12 to 15.

    “There is nothing in your life that causes a 12-fold increase in your risk of death,” Carlo says. “Not smoking, not drinking, not driving an automobile””nothing.”

    There”™s another way of comparing the impact of radiation from cell phones with other risks, he continues.

    “It took about 100 years for us to figure out that cigarette smoke was dangerous,” Carlo says. “It took about 80 years to figure out that asbestos was dangerous. [But] it took us five years to figure out that mobile phones are dangerous, once we started to look.”

    “What we”™re talking about here is an effect that, at least in terms that are able to be recognized, greater than smoking and asbestos,” he adds.

    Danger calling

    It isn”™t surprising that Carlo”™s views aren”™t universally held.

    Marc Choma, the communications director for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, an industry lobby group, says that all Canadian cell phones must meet Health Canada”™s “Safety Code 6,” which he describes as “very strict.” (Safety Code 6 sets the limits of safe human exposure to electromagnetic radiation for various frequencies.)

    Speaking from Ottawa this week, Choma says Canadians need not worry. “The vast majority of research, which continues to this day, has always shown that there has never been a demonstrated risk to human health from using wireless devices at the levels that have to be adhered to by the wireless manufacturers,” Choma says.

    Randy Ross, a radiation protection officer with Vancouver”™s Centre for Disease Control, says that as far as he knows, there is no hazard from cell phone radiation.

    “But on the other hand, we pretty much go by Health Canada”™s Safety Code 6, which actually deals with the power in the wave in milliwatts per square centimetre,” Ross says.

    In other words, Health Canada doesn”™t pay attention to the radiation produced when the carrier signal is modulated to carry information””the very thing that Carlo says we should worry most about. (See sidebar.) Its sole concern is the strength of the carrier signal. For the general public, the limit is 1 milliwatt per square centimetre for six minutes.

    “That level”™s like, really, really hard to get to,” Ross says, adding that it depends how close you are to the antenna.

    Ross says that the centre is “not concerned” about health effects of cell phones. However, he says that officials continue to monitor research.

    “We”™re watching it,” he says, adding that cell phones have been around for a long time. “So far, it”™s been pretty good.”

    Told of Ross”™s comments, Carlo says he”™s “simply wrong.”

    “He is wrong, because the mechanism is not dependent on intensity,” Carlo says. “The mechanism is dependent on the type of radio wave that carries information. There is no safe level. We have not identified any level that will not trigger that response by the cell mechanism.”

    Given the widespread””and growing””use of cell phones and wireless internet systems, Carlo readily admits that the content of his talks is hardly uplifting.

    Yet he shows no signs of backing off his campaign to reduce the use of cell phones, especially by children, and to replace wireless Internet with non-radiating fibre optic systems.

    “The experiment that we”™re embarking on is putting our kids at risk that is far greater than anything that we as adults have ever experienced in our lifetimes,” he says. “That is unacceptable.” M

    George Carlo speaks on “Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age” at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, November 1, at the Hotel Grand Pacific, 463 Belleville Street. Tickets are $5 at the door. To reserve, phone 595-1952 or e-mail kerrycrofton@telus.net.

    And on Wednesday, November 15, Vancouver public health advocate Milt Bowling and Victoria author Kerry Crofton will speak on “The Action Plan for Safer Homes, Schools and Communities.” It”™s free, but reservations are recommended by calling 595-1952 or e-mailing kerrycrofton@telus.net.

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