Cellphone health study on hold
As cellphone use grows around the world, concerns about the devices’ safety
Other nations have released their data on wireless health effects, so why
Dec 14, 2008
It’s supposed to be the mother of all studies into cellphones and their
potential link to head cancers, a definitive report that the
multibillion-dollar wireless industry has partially funded.
But the published analysis of the 13-country Interphone study is two years
late and likely to be delayed further as the more than 50 scientists
involved bicker over how to interpret the results, knowing full well that
any hint at health risks would have a profound impact on the industry.
The stakes are high, and the steps toward the final outcome are being
closely watched. More than three billion people around the world use a
cellphone, and while sales next year are expected to fall slightly amid
tough economic times, wireless gadgets like the BlackBerry and iPhone are
woven into the fabric of our daily lives.
Participating countries are free to publish their individual national
results, and eight countries have.
Among Nordic countries, there are already hints that cellphone use for 10
years or longer increases the risk of developing glioma and acoustic
neurinoma tumours on the side of the head where a handset is held.
It’s far from definitive, but suggestive enough to spark closer scrutiny
from some scientific corners. Growing impatient and citing the public’s
right to get “the whole pattern,” a group of scientists calling themselves
The BioInitiative Working Group are urging the remaining five countries –
including Canada – to hand over their results “without further delay.”
“There is a lot of data that’s been obtained, but not all of it, and the
people sitting on it are being obstructionists for a particular reason,”
said Dr. Martin Blank, a professor of cellular biophysics at Columbia
University in New York City and one of 11 scientists who signed a letter
earlier this month asking for speedy release of the data.
None of the five countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Israel and
Italy, has complied with the request. The scientists heading up Canada’s
portion of Interphone haven’t even responded.
“They don’t want the results to come out. It’s as simple as that,” said
Three cities are part of the Canadian study: Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver.
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which has consistently
maintained that cellphones are not harmful to use and comply with all
Canadian safety standards, contributed $1 million to the Ottawa portion
through a third-party organization.
However, the association said it isn’t aware of when the results will be
published and doesn’t know the reason for the delay.
“I have no idea why the full Interphone study has not been released,” said
spokesperson Marc Choma. “Interphone does not report to us.”
Dr. Daniel Krewski, a professor in the department of epidemiology and
community medicine at the University of Ottawa, is heading up the Ottawa
study. He did not reply to an interview request, either directly or through
In a May interview, however, Krewski told the Star there was a concern that
certain biases in the Interphone results – such as study subjects
overestimating their long-term cellphone use – may be skewing the analysis.
His counterpart in Montreal, Dr. Jack Siemiatycki at the University of
Montreal, told the Star in an e-mail exchange last week that the
BioInitiative Working Group has no greater or lesser claim to the data than
“There are no people in the world who want to see the Interphone results
published more than the Interphone collaborators ourselves,” Siemiatycki
“It has proven very difficult to achieve an agreed upon manuscript for
The reasons are “not sinister,” he assured. “They have to do with facts and
data that can legitimately be interpreted in different ways.”
Asked why Canada hasn’t released an analysis of its own data as eight other
countries have, Siemiatycki said it was agreed at the outset that Canada
would release its study after Interphone is published. For this reason the
Canadian data, while collected, has not yet been analyzed.
“And doing so won’t be a trivial task,” he added.
Australia and Israel have also not published their national Interphone
results, but the scientists heading up each country’s research have said
publicly, including in interviews with the Star, that there are concerning
patterns emerging for long-term use.
It’s part of the reason why Toronto Public Health and the University of
Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, in what some considered a controversial move,
both recommended this summer that children minimize their use of cellphones
and use headsets as a precaution.
Blank isn’t surprised there’s a concern.
“I think there’s going to be a building up of momentum,” he said.
On 14/12/08 17:28, “firstname.lastname@example.org”
FACTS ABOUT INTERPHONE STUDY
Members: Canada, Australia, Italy, Israel, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France,
Germany, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, United Kingdom.
Cancers studied: gliomas, meningiomas, acoustic neurinomas and parotid gland
Participating Canadian cities: Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal.
Study period: 2000 to 2004.
Complete published analysis: Expected in 2006. Still waiting.
Age group studied: 39 to 50 year olds.
Countries that have published own results: Japan, Denmark, Sweden, France,
Germany, Norway, United Kingdom, Finland.
Countries that haven’t published: Canada, Israel, Australia, Italy, New
Limit cellphone use, U.S. cancer institute head urges
The head of a prominent cancer research institute issued an unprecedented
warning to his faculty and staff Wednesday: Limit cellphone use because of
the possible risk of cancer.
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