• 08 OCT 10
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    1301: Review of Devra Davis’ new book on mobile phone dangers


    With new evidence on the dangers of mobile phones, we examine the worrying
    risks you’re NOT being told about

    By Tom Leonard

    6th October 2010

    Timebomb? A new book claims we have underplayed the threat from mobile phone
    radiation for too long

    Could mobile phones be giving us brain cancer? And has the ­mobile phone
    industry spent years trying to bury the ­scientific evidence that it does in
    order to protect its ­$3″trillion, 4.6billion-­customer, global business?

    According to Devra Davis, an eminent ­American scientist and one of the
    country”s leading epidemiologists, the answer to both these questions is a
    resounding “yes”.

    With mobile phone use soaring, especially among the young, Dr Davis says we
    could face a “global public health catastrophe” in as little as three years
    if the problem is ignored.

    Mobile phones are low-powered radio ­frequency transmitters which produce
    ­microwave radiation.

    The debate over the cancer risks from this radiation has been going on for
    years. Yet the lack of any conclusive evidence has allowed the industry to
    claim phones are safe and led to sceptics being dismissed as scaremongers.

    But now the alarm has been raised by an award-winning academic and
    toxicologist who was in the group that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

    So should we think twice before clamping a mobile phone to our ears?

    In a new book provocatively titled ­Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone
    Radiation, What The Industry Has Done To Hide It And How To Protect Your
    Family, Dr Davis says we have underplayed the threat from mobile phone
    radiation for too long.

    She says: “Is it possible that the pervasive use of mobile phones is causing
    a host of ­subtle, chronic health problems, damaging our ability to have
    healthy children and creating long-term risks to our brains and bodies?

    “The fact we do not have clear answers to this question at this point in the
    history of electronic technology is not an accident.”

    Dr Davis says crucial scientific evidence, some of which has existed for
    decades, has been ignored – particularly that involving experimental
    research on animals and human cells.

    Her work includes supporting research from studies in the U.S., Sweden,
    Greece, France and Russia. For example, a team at the ­University Of
    Washington found that just two hours of mobile phone-level radiation
    splintered the DNA of brain cells in rats, making them ­similar to cells
    found in malignant tumours.

    In humans, the evidence is less dramatic, but equally worrying.

    In Moscow, a study has found that while the brains of children who regularly
    use mobile phones look the same as the brains of those who do not, users
    have poorer memories and other learning problems.

    Dr Davis, who is a grandmother, is worried about the effect on ­children,
    arguing that their thin, pliant skulls make them more vulnerable.

    Last year, the Finnish ­Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority warned that
    regular use of mobiles could damage children”s brains, ­confirming previous
    warnings in the UK, France and Israel.

    Dr Davis believes children are “growing up in an unprecedented flood of
    radio frequency signals”. She says they should only use mobile phones in
    emergencies. “The dangers for children are not definitively proven but do we
    really want to risk it?”

    The most troubling research, she says, threatens male fertility. Research in
    seven ­countries, including the U.S., China and Australia, suggests that
    keeping a switched-on mobile in a trouser pocket can have a ­drastic effect
    on sperm count.

    “All the research shows the same thing – if you take young men who are
    trying to become fathers, those who use mobile phones at least four hours a
    day have about half the sperm count of others,” says Dr Davis. “Sperm
    exposed to mobile phone radiation in the lab is sicker, thinner and less
    capable of swimming.”

    Using a mobile for four hours a day sounds a lot, but Dr Davis says 20 per
    cent of the young males in a 2008 study, by America”s Cleveland Clinic, used
    their mobiles for this long. However, her most compelling evidence about the
    health ­dangers, and that mobile phone manufacturers are probably aware of
    the risks, is buried in the small print of the ­instructions that ­accompany
    every new phone.

    Those for the latest BlackBerry (the Torch), warn users to “use hands-free
    ­operation if available and keep the device at least 0.98 inches from your
    body (including the abdomen of ­pregnant women and the lower abdomen of
    ­teenagers)” when it is switched on.

    Apple tells iPhone users to keep them 0.625 inches away from their body and
    to point the dock connection towards their ­shoulders “to increase
    ­separation from the antenna”.

    Dr Davis says at least two ­senior scientists who work for mobile phone
    companies told her they were “deeply ­concerned” about the health risks.
    Insiders say phone manufacturers are now developing safer models.

    Many studies looking into the cancer risks of mobiles have been

    Revealed: How other gadgets affect your health
    Gadget Health Danger graphic

    In May, the hotly-anticipated Interphone report for the World Health
    Organisation drew no conclusions, but suggested that heavy phone users could
    be at risk.

    The research team was divided about their findings, but that didn”t stop the
    UK-based GSM Association, which represents the global mobile industry, from
    deciding the report supported a consensus that there was “no established
    health risk”.

    Dr Davis specialises in how the environment affects our health and wrote a
    book about how the tobacco ­industry was not ­initially ­honest about the
    links between cigarettes and ­cancer. Similarly, she says, the debate in
    Britain over the ­dangers of asbestos lasted a century.

    She insists the mobile phone industry has behaved the same way, working,
    often with ­government help, to ­discredit independent scientists while
    ensuring that others toe the line for fear of losing their funding.

    “Those studies that have been paid for by the industry tend to find that
    there”s not a problem,” said Dr Davis. “Studies that are ­independent –
    while there are fewer – tend to show there is a problem. I don”t think
    that”s an ­accident. This has had a chilling effect on the ability of
    policy-makers to form policy.”

    She said the debate has been distorted by a “show me the bodies” approach to

    But it is too early to expect ­mobile phone users to develop brain tumours,
    she said.

    The same slow development of problems occurred when the Hiroshima bomb
    survivors were tested: after ten years ­researchers found no evidence of
    brain cancer, but 30 years later many cases were found.

    While defenders of the safety of mobile phones point out that official
    statistics show the ­incidence of brain cancer is ­falling in countries like
    the U.S., Dr Davis says people ­typically don”t develop it until they are
    over 65 and, at present, people in that age group have not been big mobile
    phone users.

    “The absence of an epidemic right now is hardly cause for great relief,” she

    In most countries, heavy mobile phone use is recent. Even in Scandinavia,
    home of many of the world”s biggest mobile phone makers, only half the
    population owned one in 2000.

    Dr Davis finds it ­frustrating that there are ­simple ­precautions that
    users could be ­taking. She says ­fashion will have to adapt, with people
    keeping phones in bags and the ­knee-level pockets of cargo trousers, well
    away from their ovaries or testicles.

    Her book, ­published in Britain next month, has already been ­challenged in
    America over its science. But Dr Davis doesn”t ­dispute that mobile phone
    radiation is weak – she stresses the cumulative effect on people using
    phones for several hours.

    Her solution is for a “major, independent research ­programme, not a fake
    one like those we”ve had for decades”.

    As for her own habits, she has cut down her dependence on her mobile but
    still uses one.

    “We”re as dependent on mobile phones as we are on our cars,” she says. “They
    do a lot of good – they save lives in emergencies – but we have to be
    smarter about how we use them.”

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