The Bankok Post
New report reveals mobile phone cancer risk
Cellphones may be essential but the government should wise up to the technology’s potential health risks,
Writer: Surasak Glahan
Published: 29/08/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Top design, long-awaited new gadgets and tempting promotions – these are likely the things that dominate the public mind when it comes to talk on mobile phones and similar wireless devices here.
Three girls try out mobile phones at a Bangkok shop, but a new International EMF Collaborative report says they could be risking their health by doing so.
It is rare that the contentious global debate on whether long-term mobile phone use causes brain damage pops into the conversation.
Nor is it likely that research into the alleged potential health risks of mobile phone usage has ever been considered seriously by relevant local agencies and lawmakers.
Virtually every Thai is using the technology and there are some 58 million mobile phone numbers active in the country.
A group of local telecom experts and consumer advocates recently called on the government to take a serious look at the subject and to caution users, especially under-18s, that there could be potential health risks from long-term use.
The move could be too alarming for a country trying to bridge the digital divide.
Despite being a hot topic of debate for more than a decade, globally speaking, the issue of possible health risks caused by microwave radiation from mobile phones and transmitters has yet to be clarified.
Scientists, physicians and health experts from both sides of the debate continue to wrangle with each other but no consolidated scientific or medical position has been formed.
For Thailand, Sumeth Vongpanidlerd, a renowned electrical engineer, believes it is better to be safe than sorry.
“Cellphones became widely available only relatively recently, while tumours can take decades to develop,” he said.
“Since we cannot live without the technology, do we have to wait for another 10, perhaps 20 years, for the scientific proof before we take action?”
Dr Sumeth is a member of the Telecommunications Consumers Protection Institute, an arm of the National Telecommunications Commission.
Electromagnetic radiation, sometimes dubbed the potential “tobacco of the digital age”, is at the centre of the debate. It is emitted from mobile phone base stations and cellphone handsets. WiFi mini masts also emit the radiation.
Some independent studies have shown that long-term cellphone use, due to exposure to the radiation, increases the risk of brain tumours and damage to DNA cells. The risk is believed to be higher for under-16s as their relatively thin skull allows the radiation to penetrate deeper into the brain. But numerous other studies debunk such results saying there is no real risk from using the technology.
The World Health Organisation says currently available evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields.
But the WHO does not rule out the possibility, saying some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and further research is needed.
On Aug 25, a group of international scientists released a new 37-page report, downloadable at http://www.radiationresearch.org, affirming the possibility of a link between mobile phone use and brain tumours.
“Cellphones and Brain Tumours, 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone,” says research shows that electromagnetic radiation causes genetic damage to human blood that has been exposed to the radio-frequency transmitted by mobile phones.
Endorsed by scientists and non-profit organisations, such as the Radiation Research Trust and Britain-based Powerwatch, the report says 10 years of mobile phone use increases the risk of brain tumours by 280%. For teenagers and younger groups, the level could be as high as 420%.
“The danger of brain tumours from cellphone use is highest in children, and the younger a child is when he/she starts using a cellphone, the higher the risk,” the reports says.
The report was released ahead of the expected publication of the long-awaited, large-scale Interphone study, led by an arm of the WHO, which began in 1999.
It alleges that the Interphone study is flawed in such a way that it could produce questionable results. Like other studies which say there are no health risks from the technology it has been funded by the mobile phone industry.
The report indicates that parts of the industry seems to recognise there could be potential health risks. A number of cellphone user manuals – from Apple iPhone, Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry – advise users to keep their phone between 15mm to 2.5cm from their body to prevent possibly damaging their health.
The report advises the use of wired headsets or the speaker-phone mode to mitigate the risks.
Dr Sumeth said Thailand should adopt precautionary principles, such as those used by France, Canada and Russia, which implement certain regulations to at least keep people informed about the potential health risk.
“For example, the state should inform users that they keep their use of mobile phones or WiFi devices at a minimum,” Dr Sumeth said.
Whenever possible, he said, people should use either fixed-line phones or wired internet services.
Parents and schools should be advised to prevent children from unnecessarily using the technology.
People spending considerable time near mobile phone antennas and WiFi mini masts could also face the same health risk, and this needs attention from both the state and the industry, Dr Sumeth said.
“The concrete evidence and statistics should be enough to raise awareness,” Dr Sumeth said.
“There is potential harm (from mobile phones) which is irreversible.”
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