hanging up on the cellphone debate
From fuel-pump hazard to brain cancer culprit, cells take heat
Zdeb, Journal Staff Writer
The Edmonton Journal / Monday, January 13, 2003
indispensable, but just how safe is your cellphone?
if you believe a lot of what you read on the Internet. Cellphones are
blamed for everything from brain cancer to sparking fires at the gas pump.
million cellphones users in North America alone, if, hypothetically, less
than one percent of them developed a cancer from routinely placing a radio
frequency (RF) transmitter against their heads, the numbers would be devastating.
George Carlo, an epidemiologist and co-author of Cellphones: Invisible
Hazards in the Wireless Age, and you'll think twice before handling your
cellphone in a cavalier manner. It's not his intention to scare you into
not using your cellphone, he says, but there are red flags to be concerned
about and people have a right to know all the facts to make an informed
decision on whether or not to use a cellphone and how to use it as safely
the wireless world in 1999 when he came out with a study on cellphones
and health for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association
which suggested cellphone use increases the risk of tumours, cancer, genetic
damage and other health problems. Four years later he is chairman of the
nonprofit Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. which
runs an Internet registry site at www.health-concerns.org
that contains a brief survey asking people about any ailments they believe
are related to cellphone use.
cellphone story sites on the Internet and speaking to Carlo, we took some
of the concerns raised about cellphone use and ran them past local doctors,
a traffic safety organization, the Cross Cancer Institute, a Shell Canada
rep and a medical physicist. What follows is a point/ counterpoint look
at the ongoing debate over cellphone use and safety.
The most dangerous use of a cellphone is holding one to your ear and talking
while driving. A Harvard University Centre for Risk Analysis study estimated
in 2001, 2,600 Americans died directly because of a driver using a cellphone,
more than double the 1,000 who died two years earlier, says Deborah Johnston
with Mission Possible, a traffic safety initiative. The study looked at
billing records to see if drivers were on their cellphones at the time
of the crash. In Newfoundland and Labrador, a law banning use of hand-held
cellphones while driving comes into effect in late March or early April.
A private member's bill looking for similar legislation for Alberta was
defeated, even though 26 per cent of Prairie drivers, the highest number
in the country, say they drive while talking on a hand-held cellphone.
Everyone spoken to for this story agreed driving while holding a cellphone
is the most dangerous use of a cellphone. Carlo, among others, argued
it was safe to drive if talking on a cellphone, hands-free. In fact, Carlo
was interviewed by phone as he sat behind the wheel, manoeuvring the streets
of Washington, D.C. mid-afternoon on a weekday.
Hands-free cellphone use still doesn't cut it, says Johnston. People think
they can drive with one hand or with both hands and still talk on the
phone, but driving is more than a physical requirement, it demands mental
effort. "If the road becomes more complex, or the driving task becomes
more demanding -- a left hand turn which requires you to signal, watch
for a gap in traffic, turn the wheel and adjust your speed is among the
toughest -- you have to put a lot more thought into what you're doing
and if you're involved in an intense or emotional conversation your thoughts
aren't focused on the road, she says.
"We listen to the radio, we carry on conversations with other people
in the car, that's part of our cultural procedure now," Carlo says.
Not everybody is able to do both. "If I'm having one of those days
where I don't feel sharp, I don't talk on the phone in the car. I know
I won't be able to do anything extra."
Cellphone use causes brain cancer. Lawsuits claiming this have been filed.
There's no definitive study, but what is known is enough to raise red
flags, Carlo says. "We're not going to know whether these red flags
are telling us about an impending epidemic or just another thing that
we should be aware of when we use this consumer device. We're not going
to know that for another 10 to 15 years." He recommends all cellphones
be used with a headset and the cellphone antenna be kept at least 15 to
20 cm (six to eight in) away from any part of the body.
Edmonton neurologist Ken Makus, says many studies linking the two together
are suspect when you take a closer look at them. Personally, he doesn't
think cellphones cause brain cancer, but he has patients who are concerned.
"There's one report of a patient having some numbness to the head
after using a cellphone, but the jury's still out," he says. Larry
Filipow, an assistant professor of radiology and diagnostic imaging at
the University of Alberta, notes that when so many people are using cellphones,
given the background rates of brain cancer, some cellphones users will
inevitably develop brain cancer. To what extent their cellphone use is
to blame, may never be known because of innumerable variables, Filipow
says. Even if ever there was a definitive study that showed one in 10,000
people who used their cellphones for more than five hours a week had a
chance of developing brain cancer, very few people would stop using cellphones
because it's a societal benefit, Filipow says.
Cellphones aren't safe for children younger than 10. Some countries have
warning symbols on cellphones which discourage use by children, Carlo
says. He's concerned about children based on his research and the research
of others which show cellphone antenna radiation penetrates deeper into
the heads of children -- half way through the head of a 10 year old, almost
all the way through the head of a five year old a five year old, compared
to about an inch of penetration in the head of an adult. "Growing
brain tissue is more susceptible to the type of genetic damage that we
found so children have sort of a double whammy," he says.
One neurologist who spoke off the record dismissed the suggestion as "baloney."
Filipow says people have been exposed to electromagnetic radiation from
toasters and microwaves and refrigerators for years. "You could argue
that kids who use headphones for walkmans -- headphones are speakers and
speakers, like cellphones, are pulsed by an electrical current -- are
at risk but nobody seems to be concerned about that," he says.
You're safe if you only talk on a cellphone for a few minutes at a time.
"Exposure to the radiation from a cellphone antenna is highest during
dialing and ringing, so when you are unprotected when the phone rings
you are exposing yourself to a higher risk," Carlo says. Filipow
notes that radiation depends on the distance between a cellphone and its
source of power. But again is it worse to get 10 watts of energy to the
brain all at once because you're on the cellphone for two hours straight,
or is it worse to get 10 watts fragmented over a week because you're off
and on it? Nobody knows," Filipow says. Digital cellphones which
have been around since 1997 require less energy than the analogous phones
before them, which in theory should make them safer, but only time will
Shell Oil Company recently issued a warning after three incidents in which
two people were burned after their mobile phones (cellphones) ignited
fumes as they gassed up at the pumps.
"I have never seen a substantiated fire report," says Janet
Annesley, public affairs rep with Shell Canada Products in Calgary. If
there had been fires, she figures the federal government would have banned
cellphone use at gas pumps, as it did smoking and leaving the engine idling
while refuelling. Shell does advise people not to use a cellphone while
gassing up and will close the pump until they comply. "Cellphones
are electrical devices so they're a potential ignition source for any
fumes, but more importantly, we feel that cellphones pose a distraction
from the important process of refueling," Annesley says.
9.5 million Canadians had a cellphone in 2001 and the number just keeps
on growing seemingly undeterred by some studies which suggest cellphone
use is hazardous to your health. We hit downtown Edmonton streets to ask
people about their cellphone use and how safe they feel using it.
on my cellphone about 20 minutes a day. Even if people showed there was
brain cancer as a result of cellphone use I don't know how much it would
affect me. I mean, the same goes with smoking and people (me included)
still smoke. I feel OK about it."
husband has one. I don't because of affordability, but I also have a problem
with them. I don't think that they're safe. My biggest concern is brain
cancer. Cellphones haven't been around long enough to know if they're
safe or not and I think in 10, 15 years we're going to start seeing people
who develop brain cancer."
average cellphone call lasts two to three minutes and in a day, I'll make
a couple of calls. I've weighed both sides of the story (about brain cancer):
some say yes, some say no. I don't think it does. I think the power's
too low. There's a certain amount of radiation but I don't think it's
-- Don Scott
usually spend a couple of minutes on a call, about three calls a day.
It's my employer's phone actually. I don't use it that much. It's not
like I'm using it all the time, so brain cancer isn't an issue for me.
I try not to drive and talk on the cellphone. I have a hands- free in
spend probably an hour on the phone a day. I don't receive cellphone calls
in the car and I don't talk on the phone when I'm driving. Nine times
out of 10 if someone has caused a crash, or they've endangered the traffic
in some way, they're on a cellphone. I see it far, far too often. I don't
think it should be legal to drive and use a cellphone."
spend about five to 10 minutes a day on a cellphone. I've read some articles
recently that said it (brain cancer) is not much of an issue. There hasn't
been any evidence connecting cellphone use to brain cancer. I try not
to use it when driving, but cost is the number one factor limiting my
-- Mo Akbar
2003 Edmonton Journal
phones blamed for sparrow deaths
to join study into the effect of electromagnetic waves on Britain's garden
Sunday January 12, 2003 / The Observer
decline of the sparrow remains one of British wildlife's most enduring
fuel and even loft insulation have all been blamed for the disappearance
of 10 million house sparrows.
seeking to unravel the cause of their disappearance have identified a
new culprit: the mobile phone.
first 'sparrow tsar' is to investigate whether the explosion of electromagnetic
waves from portable handsets is wiping out the species. Rosie Cleary,
appointed by the British Trust for Ornithology to investigate the problem,
said: 'The disappearance of the species from large cities correlates with
the introduction of phone masts.
have warned about the effects of these radiations on reproduction. Are
these interfering with urban sparrow populations?'
leading a major study involving up to 30,000 birdwatchers, which will
examine urban sparrow populations near mobile phone masts, where electromagnetic
fields are most concentrated. London has witnessed the sharpest decline
in the sparrow population - a 75 per cent fall since 1994, which coincides
with the emergence of the mobile phone.
an estimated 40 million mobile users in Britain, with hundreds of masts
scattered across England's capital.
sparrow population has almost halved in the last 30 years, from 24 million
to less than 14 million.
scientists have found that birds tend to avoid places with high levels
of electromagnetic contamination. Mobile phone masts are located in high
places for maximum coverage, which could explain a decline in
species which tend to nest in roofs.
said the latest attempt to solve the mystery was a logical step, but that
evidence to support a definitive link was lacking.
professor of physics at Bristol University, pointed to tests where the
egg-laying ability of chickens had been affected by electromagnetic waves.
Other studies have pointed to reduced sperm counts in rats.
'It is very
difficult to determine the size of the effect. Humans face an increased
cancer risk with long-term exposure, but the problem is that sparrows
may not live long enough for that to be a factor.'
added that electromagnetic waves could affect a sparrow's ability to navigate.
'Animals navigate by the Earth's magnetic fields and waves could disturb
a bird's ability to find their way around. Though whether that leads to
a decline in numbers is a matter of speculation.'
Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Bristol, who has studied
the effect of electromagnetic waves on humans, said he was sceptical of
a link. 'The field of influence from a mast is quite localised - no more
than 60 metres,' he said. Rewards offered for the first proper scientific
explanations of sparrows' demise in urban areas remain unclaimed.
many previous theories attempting to explain the decline of house sparrows,
attacks by cats has been the most contentious. One study of a Bedfordshire
village revealed that up to a quarter of its breeding pairs of sparrows
may have been harmed by predatory felines.
squirrel has also been blamed, although critics say they cannot often
reach lofty sparrow nests to cause such a widespread decline.
organic compounds within lead-free petrol could, according to a widely
discredited theory, affect bugs that sparrows feed to their chicks. Other
studies have suggested a correlation between falling sparrow numbers and
partly government-funded study will last 18 months, covering this year's
and next year's breeding seasons.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL, IRISH DIVISION
Sean MacBride House. 48 Fleet Street, Dublin 2.
I have just read through your newly arrived January 03 edition of AMNESTY
IRELAND with its emblazoned caption: "Mental Illness hits One in
Four." My reaction to this caption and indeed to the content of your
lead articles on the topic is similar to that of a prisoner who has been
falsely accused of a crime she did not commit and is refused help by all
legal authorities she appeals to to re-examine her case and help her clear
her name. What she has to endure instead are the efforts of some blundering,
well-intentioned supporters who champion for improvements in her prison
conditions but who refuse to consider that it was a miscarriage of justice
that got her locked up in the first place.
As you know
from my previous correspondence with you, I have been falsely stamped
as mentally ill, and refused all forms of legal help to redress my situation.
My bleak future, by medical decree, is designed to be permanently imprisoned
within this category. And AMNESTY IRELAND is now openly participating
in this injustice to me, and indeed not just to me but to all other electrosensitive
persons who have also been judged by medical "experts" whose
expertise however does not extend to electrosensitivity as being delusional
about the bioeffects they experience from electromagnetic radiation.
is the major faultline in your campaign: Your blind refusal to challenge
on behalf of medical victims who are misdiagnosed as mentally ill the
very medical "experts" who pushed them into that socially-abhorrent
category. The dreadful cruelties and injustices perpetrated by other bastions
of power in Irish society have been duly exposed and legal redress activated
for these, in recent years (such as institutional child abuse and the
locking up of unwed mothers) but unlike the focus of your campaign now
for the mentally ill, those ultimately responsible for forfeiting the
freedom and Human Rights of those victims were named and shamed! Why are
you not turning your spotlight on the ultimate wielders and abusers of
power within the Mental Health system: psychiatrists and their ilk!
In the "Mental
Illness Campaign Unveiled" section (page 14) of AMNESTY IRELAND's
September 2002 edition, Fiona Crowley, who is now in the forefront of
this campaign for the rights of the mentally ill writes: "We are
asking all Amnesty members to get involved in this campaign. We feel we
can really make a difference through developing a platform for change,
WHILE BEING MINDFUL THAT IT IS NOT OUR ROLE TO SECOND-GUESS MEDICAL OPINION
AND WE CANNOT OFFER ASSISTANCE WITH INDIVIDUAL COMPLAINTS." (Emphasis
statement above makes your--and AMNESTY IRELAND's--intention toward me
very clear: the medical decision makers who took over my life when I returned
to Ireland in late 1996 with severe electrosensitivity and blithely signed
away my right to be considered a person of sound mind are above reproach!
Oh no--this could never be considered "cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment" of me!
these medical mental experts are not mere flawed mortals and thus are
immune to errors of judgement, their diagnostic opinions issue directly
from God! What ultimate power these professionals exert over mere laypersons'
lives that at the flick of a pen, at whim almost, they can permanently
allocate a person's reputation to the worst dungeon of all: insanity.
And what privilege they enjoy with there being no legal bringing to account!
All of you
engaged in this campaign might be well advised to remember
that mental health "experts" are not exempt from the cautionary
tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
I wish you
to know that a leading authority on Human Rights--Professor Brice Dickson,
Chief Commissioner of N. Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC--informed
me by email that he wishes to agendise the Human Rights violation inherent
in medical misdiagnosis for his NIHRC committee. He has also indicated
his support of the right of electrosensitives to have their Human Rights
grievances duly considered by Human Rights Commissions. Why does AMNESTY
IRELAND not follow his commendable support of ALL persons Human Rights
(that includes electrosensitives) and the right to legal support for challenging
misdiagnoses (and that includes being misdiagnosed as mentally ill).
space in your January 03 edition with the plight of the designated mentally
ill is Johnny Connolly's emotional appeal for support of the Human Rights
of his brother Niall and the other two Irishmen who are presently imprisoned
and awaiting trial in Columbia. Mentioned in this is the generous help
given by Irish lawyers to help "work on the men's defence."
While the prisoners' avowal that they were visiting Columbia to "get
to know the people, the natural beauty and the peace process" seem
totally creditable reasons for many of their Irish Human Rights supporters
and lawyers, such reasons may appear either false or delusional to others,
including the Columbian prosecution. To pose the following hypothesis:
should the three Irish prisoners be decreed by some Colombian medical
mental health experts brought in by the prosecution to be of unsound mind/insane
to have visited Columbia for such purposes and consequently moved to a
psychiatric facility and forced to take psychotropic drugs, would Irish
lawyers and Irish Human Rights activists just leave them to rot as surely
psychiatrists' diagnoses anywhere must not be challenged!
I have been bluntly refused help to correct my misdiagnosis here by all
legal agents and agencies (including one designated to support Irish Human
Rights and Civil Liberties). So, wouldn't the same apply in my hypothetical
query? And if not, why not?
I plan to
attend your full day conference,February 22, at the Law Society, Dublin,
on AMNESTY's work for 2003 and will continue to lobby there on getting
medical misdiagnoses of electrosensitives onto your agenda.
I look forward
to an explanation from you, Sean, as to why you are deliberately omitting
this most serious of Human Rights violations to us electrosensitives--that
is being misdiagnosed as mentally ill/delusional about being affected
by electromagnetic radiation/psychotic--from your campaign. If it is a
question of needing to be put in touch with medical experts on electrosensitivy
I can easily do that for you. The number of ES medical experts keeps right
focus in this letter has been the misdiagnosis of electrosensitives, before
signing off I should mention another reason why the whole issue of electrosensitivity
needs urgent inclusion in your agenda for the rights of the mentally ill.
People who suffer from ES suffer even worse when locked up in psychiatric
facilites with no electro-sanitised areas. They can suffer horrendous
bioeffects from all the e-equipment, flourescent lights, etc. Their electrosensitivity
worsens in such environments, and the harm inflicted upon them can be
long term. For one of the many first hand accounts of this needless cruelty
to ES patients in psychiatric facilities please refer to the following
posting on the Citizens Initiative Omega (quick access through Google)site:
"Another tragic misdiagnosis of an EHS sufferer who has been locked
up and forcibly medicated" (15/9/02). Immediately above this entry
(7/9/02)is the newspaper interview with Dr. Gro Brundtland, WHO's recently
retired director general, in which she bluntly states that she is electrosensitive
and can't use cellphones.
you might like to glance through a real life report that is almost identical
to the bizarre scenario I have sketched above for the three Irish prisoners
in Columbia, but no Human Rights agency rushed to Dr. Munzert's defence
when it happened to him. His story "Scandal: inconvenient German
scientist was brought against his will in a mental institution" features