* Children and
mobile phone use: Is there a health risk? (24/9/02)
Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens'
The case for extra precautions.
By Don Maisch
The paper "Mobile Phone Use: its time to take precautions",
published in the April 2001 issue of the Journal of the Australasian College
of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine by this author, examined what
was known about the possible hazards of mobile phone use up to that date.
(1) At first, this subject may not seem relevant to children's lives until
it is realised that today the fastest growing group of mobile phone users
are children and young people. This growth is actively encouraged by professional
advertising campaigns from the mobile phone industry, extolling how indispensable
the phones are to their life styles.
Case History: Walt Disney Co.
An unfortunate example of how youth are deliberately being targeted was
investigated by the New York based technical newsletter Microwave News.
In the May/June 2002 issue it was reported that in November 2000, just
as ABC News was about to air a TV program expressing concern over the
use of cell phones by children, the Walt Disney Co. announced that it
would no longer allow its cartoon characters to be used to market mobile
phones. ABC is a subsidiary of Disney. A Disney spokesperson said
at the time that the new policy would remain in effect "until there
is reliable evidence establishing the absence of any [health] risks,"
and that "The well-being of our customers is our first priority."
At first this seems like a responsible position by Disney but it was exposed
as a sham in the July/August issue of Microwave News:
"Disney and Motorola are teaming up to tap the 6 -to- 12 year-old
customer electronics market. They will roll out the first products --
a two-way radio and a 2.45 GHz cordless phone -- in the fall, with others
to follow next year. Motorola states that the walkie-talkies will
have a range of up to two miles. And in late July, Disney announced that
it is launching a service which will allow customers in Taiwan to download
images of Mickey, Donald and Goofy onto their phone screens. In 2000,
Disney pledged not to licence its characters for use on cell phones "until
there is reliable evidence establishing the absence of any [health] risks."
Disney recently reaffirmed this commitment to Microwave News."(3)
The only conclusion one can make here is that somehow, while all the scientists
doing research on mobile phone health effects cannot yet come up with
the goods on health risks, Disney has found "reliable evidence establishing
the absence of any [health] risks". Fortunate news for Disney for
now they can proceed with their new telecommunications venture, in partnership
with the paragon of truly independent research, MOTOROLA.
This constitutes a serious conflict of interest if Motorola is providing
'evidence of safety' while at the same entering into a major capital venture
To be fair to Disney, their executives would have only been provided with
the opinions of Motorola about the safety of children using mobile phones
and may be blissfully unaware that the science is not as black and white
as they have been led to believe. Considering that Disney has a significant
influence on many millions of children, the possibility of harm being
inflicted on these children by their wireless products must be given serious
With the continuing worldwide mobile phone advertising blitz, produced
by the same transnational public relations corporations that previously
gave us such delightful cartoon characters as "Joe Camel" for
the tobacco industry, no words of warning are heard. However, within the
scientific community, there is a growing chorus of expert voices that
are urging caution because if there are adverse health effects from mobile
phone use, it will be the children who will be in the front line, and
who may pay the highest price. For the sake of the future of our children's
health we need to seriously heed these voices and limit children's unnecessary
use of mobile phones.
Statements of concern from the scientific community:
1) In 1999, as a result of public concerns about possible health hazards
from mobile phone technology, the UK Government formed the Independent
Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) to examine possible effects of mobile
phones and transmitter base stations. This group was headed by Sir William
Stewart, the famous British biochemist and president of the British Association
for the Advancement of Science. What made the Stewart Inquiry unique,
was that it was made up almost entirely of biomedical specialists -- and
so were able to focus many man-years of acquired specialist knowledge
on the problem.
Their report, Mobile Phones and Health, was released in April 2000. In
regards to the use of mobile phones by children the IEGMP stated:
"If there are currently unrecognized adverse health effects from
the use of mobile phones, children may be more vulnerable because of their
developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues
of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure. In line with our precautionary
approach, we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children
for non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend that
the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile
phones by children."(4)
Sir William said at a science conference at Glasgow University in September
2001 that mobile phone makers often presented their products in adverts
as essential "back to school" items for children. Such
adverts were irresponsible, said Sir William. He added: "They are
irresponsible because children's skulls are not fully developed. They
will be using mobile phones for longer, and their effects won't be known
for some time to come. Mobile phone technology has been led by the physical
sciences. My own view is we ought to be doing more work on the potential
biological effects." (5)
2) On December 8th 2000, the German Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement
advising parents to restrict their children's use of mobile phones. They
advised that all mobile phone users should keep conversations as brief
as possible but that additional precautions are appropriate for children
in view of "special health risks" associated with their growing
3) On July 31, 2001, Wolfram Koenig, the new head of the "Bundesamt
fur Strahlenschutz, which is the federal authority for radiation protection
in Germany, stated in an interview in the "Berliner Morgenpost"
that "Parents should take their children away from that technology
[mobile phones]". Mr Koenig, also a member of Germany's Greens
party, said that "Some people are very sensitive to radiation."
and urged companies not to target children in their advertising campaigns.
4) Statement delivered at an Australian Senate Inquiry meeting in 2000:
CSIRO Telecommunications and Industrial Physics chief, Gerry Haddad warned
that the new telecommunications exposure standards being drafted neglected
to take a high enough level of protection, particularly in relation to
children. Mr. Haddad said, "Restrict use of mobile phones to children
for essential purposes . . A precautionary principle would seem to be
a good idea:". Dr. Haddad complained that the CSIRO's view had been
rejected in the formulation of new emission standards that stopped short
of advising that children be restricted in their mobile phone use.(8)
5) A day after the release of a Danish mobile phone study titled
"Cellular Telephones and Cancer - a Nationwide Cohort Study in Denmark,
a panel of scientists in Denmark debated the findings and questioned the
validity of the study conclusions. Panel chairman Professor Albert
Gjedde, a brain specialist also expressed concern that children could
be more vulnerable, because their brain cells are still growing, and therefore
EMF had the potential to,lead to more serious brain damage than in adults.
He advised extreme caution in accepting assurances of safety, and suggested
Denmark should reduce children's exposure to mobile phone emissions to
a minimum. (9)
6) Statement from Olle Johansson, Assoc. Professor, The Experimental Dermatology
Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden. (September
"...Already in 1996, I started to warn in public of the effects on
microwave irradiation on children through their use of mobile telephones.
The debate has also very much focussed on the responsibility regarding
ads and products directly aimed for children, and here in Sweden great
alarm has been raised around the propositions to even develop and sell
cellphones for the ages up to 5 years."(10)
7) Statement from Sianette Kwee, Professor, Department of Medical
Biochemistry, University of Aarhus, Denmark. (Member of the Editorial
Board of Bioelectrochemistry. Danish expert representative in the European
Union's COST 281 project "Potential health effects from
Emerging Wireless Communication systems", Basic Research group.)
Fields of research: Bioelectrochemistry : electroporation - electrochemistry
of biological systems, Bioelectromagnetics: biological effects of
environmental electromagnetic fields (extremely low frequency /ELF and
microwave /MW), on cell growth in human amnion cells.
"Our studies showed that there was a significant change in cell growth
in these cells after being exposed to EMF fields from both power lines
(ELF) and from mobile phones (MW). These biological effects were
greatest in young and vigorously growing cells, but much less in old cells.
These results tell us, that e.g. microwave fields from mobile phones can
be expected to affect children to a much higher degree than
8) Statement from Dr. Gerard Hyland of the University of Warwick, Coventry,
England, and the International Institute of Biophysics, Neuss-Holzheim,
Germany. Excerpt (dealing specifically with children and mobile
phone use) from his Report for the STOA Committee of the EU.
"The Increased Vulnerability of Pre-adolescent Children:
Pre-adolescent children can be expected to be (potentially) more at risk
than are adults - as recognised in the Report of the UK Independent Expert
Group on Mobile Phones (the Stewart Report) - for the following reasons:
*Absorption of microwaves of the frequency used in mobile telephony is
greater (particularly at 900MHz) in an object about the size of a child's
head - the so-called head resonance - than in an adult's,
whilst, in consequence of the thinner skull of a child, the penetration
of the radiation into the brain is greater than in an adult.
*The still developing nervous system and associated brain-wave activity
in a child (and particularly one that is epileptic) are more vulnerable
to aggression by the pulses of microwaves used in GSM than is the case
with a mature adult. This is because the multi-frame repetition
frequency of 8.34Hz and the 2Hz pulsing that characterises the signal
from a phone equipped with the energy-saving discontinuous transmission
(DTX) mode lie in the range of the alpha and delta brain wave activities,
respectively. The fact that these two particular electrical activities
are constantly changing in a child until the age of about 12 years, when
the delta-waves disappear and the alpha rhythm is finally stabilised,
means that a child's brain must be anticipated to be doubly vulnerable
to interference from the GSM pulsing.
*The increased mitotic activity in the cells of developing children makes
them more susceptible to genetic damage.
*A child's immune system, whose efficiency is, in any case, degraded by
radiation of the kind used in mobile telephony, is generally less robust
than is that of an adult, so that the child less able to cope with any
adverse health effect provoked by (chronic) exposure to such radiation."
9) WHO Director General on children & mobile phone use: (Microwave
News, March/April 2002)
"Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director general of the World Health
Organisation (WHO), favors a precautionary approach to the use of mobile
phones, according to press reports from Scandinavia.
In an interview with "Dagbladet Norge" (March 9, 2002), a major
Norwegian newspaper , Brundtland discouraged children from using mobile
phones. A physician with a degree in public health, Brundtland was a former
prime minister of Norway.
Jon Liden, a communications advisor in Brundtland's office in Geneva,
confirmed the accuracy of the Norwegian article to Microwave news.
Brundtland's outlook appears to put her at odds with the WHO International
EMF Project. "Precautionary policies should not be applied to EMFs,"
Dr. Michael Repacholi, who oversees the project, stated recently (see
MWN, S/O 01). He could not be reached for comment.
Brundtland advises everyone to limit the amount of time on the phone,
but she does not think there is enough scientific evidence to issue a
formal warning. For herself, Brundtland says that she gets a headache
whenever she uses a mobile phone. "In the beginning I felt warmth
around my ear. But the discomfort got worse and turned into a headache
every time I used a mobile phone," Brundtland said in the interview.
Making shorter calls does not help, she added. The interview was featured
on the front page of "Dagbladet Norge" and was later picked
up by the Swedish Press. (13)
10) Professor Michael Kundi, from the Institute of Environmental Health,
University of Vienna, Austria, writing in the July/August 2002 issue of
I read with great interest your report on the Rome meeting on the possible
risks of mobile phones to children (MWN, M/J02). My institution at the
University of Vienna and Physicians for a Healthy Environment (a non-government
organisation) have produced an information booklet on Mobile Phones
and Children, sponsored by the Austrian Greens Party. It discourages the
use of mobiles by children.
The arguments are similar to those that have been put forward by others.
In addition, however, it relies on a fact that has not been previously
stressed and, to my surprise, appears not to have been discussed in Rome.
A child's skull is not only thinner and surely has different dielectric
properties because it has more blood vessels - it also contains many more
stem cells which can form blood cells.
Hence, if RFMW radiation has an influence on the development of
cancer, ite effects will be greater for two reasons. First the most vulnerable
cells are only millimeters fron the antenna. (To my knowledge, nobody
has calculated the SAR within the bone marrow of the skull.) And second,
the earlier in life a malign transformation occurs, the more likely it
will result in a clinical malignancy. (14)
11) As reported in the March/April 2002 edition of Microwave News, The
French Government on March 1, 2002 reiterated an advisory to users of
mobile phones, reminding them that, on a precautionary basis, parents
should tell their children to limit the use of wireless phones, and that
when using an earpiece pregnant women should keep the phone away from
their bellies and teenagers should keep it away from their developing
sex organs. (15)
Relevant Media articles
12) Article from the U.K. Sunday Mirror , Thursday 27th December 2001
"THE CHILD SCRAMBLER What a mobile can do to a youngster's brain
in 2 minutes.
Scientists have discovered that a call lasting just two minutes can alter
the natural electrical activity of a child's brain for up to an hour afterwards.
THESE are the first images that show the shocking effect that using a
mobile phone has on a child's brain. Scientists have discovered that a
call lasting just two minutes can alter the natural electrical activity
of a child's brain for up to an hour afterwards. And they also found for
the first time how radio waves from mobile phones penetrate deep into
the brain and not just around the ear.
The study by Spanish scientists has prompted leading medical experts to
question whether it is safe for children to use mobile phones at all.
Doctors fear that disturbed brain activity in children could lead to psychiatric
and behavioral problems or impair learning ability.
It was the first time that human guinea pigs were used to measure the
effects of mobile phone radiation on children. The tests were carried
out on an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl called Jennifer. Using
a CATEEN scanner, linked to a machine measuring brain wave activity, researchers
were able to create the images above.
The yellow coloured part of the scan on the right shows how radiation
spreads through the centre of the brain and out to the ear on the other
side of the skull. The scans found that disturbed brain wave activity
lasted for up to an hour after the phone call ended.
Dr Gerald Hyland - a Government adviser on mobiles - says he finds the
results "extremely disturbing". "It makes one wonder whether
children, whose brains are still developing, should be using mobile phones,"
he adds. "The results show that children's brains are affected for
long periods even after very short-term use. "Their brain wave patterns
are abnormal and stay like that for a long period. "This could affect
their mood and ability to learn in the classroom if they have been using
a phone during break time, for instance. "We don't know all the answers
yet, but the alteration in brain waves could lead to things like a lack
of concentration, memory loss, inability to learn and aggressive behaviour."
Previously it had been thought that interference with brain waves and
brain chemistry stopped when a call ended.
The results of the study by the Spanish Neuro Diagnostic Research Institute
in Marbella coincide with a new survey that shows 87 per cent of 11- to
16-year-olds own mobile phones and 40 per cent of them spend 15 minutes
or more talking each day on them. And disturbingly, 70 per cent said they
would not change the use of their phone even if advised to by the Government.
Dr Hyland plans to publish the latest findings in medical journal
The Lancet next year. He said: "This information shows there really
isn't a safe amount of mobile phone use. We don't know what lasting damage
is being done by this exposure.
"If I were a parent I would now be extremely wary about allowing
my children to use a mobile even for a very short period. My advice would
be to avoid mobiles."
Dr Michael Klieeisen, who conducted the study, said: "We were able
to see in minute detail what was going on in the brain. "We never
expected to see this continuing activity in the brain. "We are worried
that delicate balances that exist - such as the immunity to infection
and disease - could be altered by interference with chemical balances
in the brain."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "In children mobile phone
use should be restricted to very short periods of time." (16)
13) Thai minister mulls cellphone ban for youngsters Channel News Asia:
Southeast Asia News, April 5, 2002
"Thailand's interior minister is considering banning the use of cellphones
Purachai Piemsomboon, whose campaign against vice has barred teenagers
from pubs and night spots, cited a Japanese study, which he said concluded
that mobile phones emitted radiation harmful to brain cells and nerves,
especially of young people. He said that if teenagers continued to ignore
the warning, a law might become necessary to prevent them from using cellphones.
He didn't elaborate." - CNA (17)
14) Bangladesh to ban mobile phones for children (June 3, 2002)
Bangladesh is preparing to ban mobile phones for children under 16 to
protect them from exposure to radiation that could damage their brains.
Mobile phone companies have lashed out at the proposal, saying there is
no scientific basis for the measure. The Environment Minister has outlined
the plan to a conference of doctors and scientists in the capital Dhaka.
Experts are preparing regulations to stop companies from selling mobile
phones to children. Families will be encouraged to keep them away from
"There is no scientific evidence that mobile phones are bad for health,"
said Yameen Bakth, a spokesman for GrameenPhone, the largest of the nation's
four mobile phone companies. Mr Bakth said his company has beenassured
by manufacturers that mobile phone handsets "pose no healthhazard".
What the Australian authorities say:
The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) has distributed to every
school in the nation a pamphlet titled Mobile phones. . . your health
and regulation of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. In relation
to possible health effects, the ACA pamphlet states only that "Theweight
of national and international scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated
evidence that using a mobile phone causes harmfulhealth effects."
This pamphlet is quite misleading because it gives a very biassed version
of the "science". When the ACA pamphlet refers to "The
weight of national and international scientific opinion" it is referring
to the opinion and radio frequency exposure guidelines set by the International
Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) - guidelinesrecently
incorporated into the Australian RF standard. What is omitted from
the ACA pamplet, however, is an admission of the limited relevance of
ICNIRP on human exposures.
The ICNIRP guidelines are largely based on high-level, short-term animal
exposure studies, conducted to determine exposure limits set to avoid
immediate hazards to health (such as heating of body tissue, called a
thermal effect) from high level exposures. To quote:
" Most of the established biological effects of exposure to RF fields
are consistent with responses to induced heating. . . Most studies examined
endpoints other than cancer, many examined physiological and thermo-regulatory
responses, effects on behaviour and on the induction of lens opacities
(cataracts) and adverse reproductive outcome following acute exposure
to relatively high levels of RF fields. Very few studies are relevant
to the evaluation of RF exposure on the development of cancer in humans
The ACA pamplet would be more truthful if it added to its conclusion:
" . . there is no substantiated evidence that using a mobile phone
causes harmful health effects."- because the necessary reserrch has
not yet been done.
Is it really good science for the ACA to depend upon high-level, short-term
animal exposure studies to give assurances of safety with the use of mobile
phones, especially where children are concerned? This, in effect, amounts
to false advertising.
Most importantly, ICNIRP does not examine the possibity of other non-thermal
health effects arising from long-term, low-level radiofrequency/microwave
exposure, such as from using a mobile phone for years. As such, it is
scientifically irrelevant to the issue. From a PR viewpoint however, statements
like "The weight of national and international scientific opinion"
do sound impressive at first glance.
In 1995, Dr. Ross Adey, one of the world's most respected and senior research
scientists commented on the "The weight of national and international
scientific opinion"by stating:
"The laboratory evidence for non-thermal effects of both ELF [power
frequency] and RF/microwave fields now constitutes a major body of scientific
literature in peer-reviewed journals. It is my personal view that to continue
to ignore this work in the course of standard setting is irresponsible
to the point of being a public scandal."(22)
So what we have is an ideological battle between a few voices of reason,
based on sound science, calling for a precautionary approach to safeguard
our children's health, versus the might of the mobile phone industry and
their supporters, based on maximising corporate profits. The outcome of
this conflict may not be known for many years, until today's young mobile
phone users are well into their adulthood. By then, if the warnings of
health hazards prove to be true, irreversible damage to the health and
wellbeing of many of these people will have been done.
For every parent who is tempted to allow unrestricted mobile phone use
by their children, they need to ask themselves: Is it worth the
risk to health?
And, for Walt Disney Co, if the well-being of their customers is truly
their first priority, they need to seriously re-consider moving into telecommunications.
Do they dare take the risk of litigation if the warnings of health hazards
are found to be real?
1) Maisch D. "Mobile Phone
Use: its time to take precautions" ACNEM Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1,
pp 3-10, April 2001.
2) "A Mickey Mouse Policy". Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 3,
pp 19, May/June 2002.
3) 4) "Wireless Notes" Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp 7,
4) Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, Mobile Phones and Health,
Advice to Industry (1.53), pp 8, April 2000.
6) "German Academy of Pediatrics: Keep Kids Away from Mobiles",
Microwave News, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp 5, Jan/Feb 2001.
7) Article in the Berliner Mornenpost, July 31, 2001.
8) The Australian Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology
and the Arts References Committee: Inquiry intoElectromagnetic Radiation,
June 2000. Also: "Kids phone usage fears" TheSunday Tasmanian,
March 18, 2001.
9) Maisch D. "Mobile Phone Use: its time to take precautions"
ACNEM Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp 4, April 2001.
10) Personal correspondence with Prof. Olle Johansson, The Experimental
Dermatology Unit, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.
(September , 2001).
11) Personal correspondence with Prof. Sianette Kwee, Department
of Medical Biochemistry, University of Aarhus, Denmark. (September , 2001)
12) Personal correspondence with Dr. Gerard Hyland, University of
Warwick, Department of Physics, Coventry, England. Exerpt from his Report
for the STOA Committee of the EU. (Specifically dealing with children
and mobile phone use)
13) "WHO Director on Cell Phones: Follow Precautionary Principle",
Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp 6, March/April 2002.
14) "More Reasons Children May Be at Risk", Microwave
News, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp 13, July/August 2002.
15) "Eye on Europe", Microwave News, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp
5, March/April 2002.
16) "The Child Scrambler - What a mobile can do to a youngster's
brain in 2 minutes", U.K. Sunday Mirror, 27 December 2001.
17) "Thai Minister mulls cellphone ban for youngsters",
Channel News Asia: Southeast Asia News, April 5, 2002.
18) "Bangladesh to ban mobile phones for Children", Ananova
- Orange mobile news service (http://www.ananova.com)
June 3, 2002.
20) "Mobile phones. . .your health and regulation of rediofrequency
electromagnetic radiation" Australian Communications Authority, April
21) International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
Health Issues Related to the use of hand-held Radiotelephones and Base
Transmitters. June 1995.
22) Personal correspondence with Ross Adey, August 1995.
PO Box 96. North Hobart. Tasmania, 7002. Australia