It seems a bit of a no-brainer (no pun intended) to be concerned about putting a microwave transmitter right next to one's head for long periods of time.  There are known deleterious effects, cancer notwithstanding, of such exposure at higher intensities.  And I don't know of anyone arguing against caution regarding radiation leakage from microwave ovens.

Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2008 16:58:19 +1200
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: unusually good article on harm from cellphones
To: [log in to unmask]

From: Contra Costa Times (Contra Costa, Calif.), Jul. 30, 2007
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Unsettled research has doctors hung up on recent advisory

By Suzanne Bohan

Cell phones are back on the hook as possible health hazards, leaving a
puzzled public wondering what to make of years of flip-flopping over
medical dangers of the ubiquitous gadgets.

Headlines in 2007 proclaimed that a large study from Denmark
exonerated cell phones from any connection to brain tumors -- a
nagging worry linked to the low-energy radio waves passing to and from
the devices.  And previous news stories on mobile phone health studies
reported either hints of risk or, in many cases, an absence of danger.

But a precaution issued last week by an academic cancer institute
advising against heavy cell phone use triggered a fresh round of alarm
and concern over the long-term effects of that electromagnetic
radiation, a precaution repeated worldwide by the media.

The advisory included particularly strong advice for protecting
children from cell phone radio waves, due to children's small size,
rapidly growing bodies and brains, and potential for long-term
exposure.  Even cordless phones are included in the statement, since
they also emit radio waves.

"Our motive is making prevention the cure for cancer," Devra Davis,
director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Environmental
Oncology, said in a telephone interview.

She and 22 other scientists, most notably Dr. Ronald Herberman,
director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, signed the
precautionary statement, which listed 10 measures for lowering
exposure to electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones.

During a Tuesday evening appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," Davis
added, "We don't want to frighten people.  We want them to take

But to many health experts, the scientists' advisory is far too light
on data and too heavy on alarm to justify the attention and concern.

"It's almost paranoid," said Dr. Paul Fisher, director of the Brain
Tumor Program at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto.

"It's an overly precautionary statement," Fisher continued.  "The thing
that's a little disappointing to hear from the head of a cancer
institute is that we can't wait for the science.  It's astounding to
hear that from a scientific person."

But therein lies the heart of the debate -- whether concerns over
emerging technologies and new products should be tempered until
scientific evidence accumulates verifying safety or harm, or whether
to adopt a precautionary approach while uncertainty abounds.

"I don't think we have to wait for the scientific evidence to come in
before taking precautions that are low-cost or no-cost," said Leeka
Kheifets, an epidemiologist with the University of California, Los
Angeles.  She previously directed electromagnetic field research at the
Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, and headed the World
Health Organization's radiation studies program.

"I'm a big believer in informing the public, in telling them what we
do know and don't know," Kheifets continued.  "I don't think we should
take a protectionist attitude.  This is not for a free society."

In Europe, this "precautionary principle" is more widely followed with
public health issues, and governmental groups in the U.K., France and
Germany have issued advisories to limit exposure to cell phone radio

Also called electromagnetic energy or electromagnetic radiation, radio
waves are created by the movement of electrical charges through an

High levels of electromagnetic radiation, such as that found in X-
rays, are strong enough to potentially damage DNA, which may trigger
cancer formation.  But radio waves from cell phones aren't strong
enough to create that kind of cellular havoc.  So thus far, no
plausible biological explanation exists for how cell phones could
cause tumor formation.

But cell phone radiation can heat up tissue, potentially damaging it.
And Kheifets said that it's possible that new mechanisms for cancer
development from low-energy radio waves could be discovered.

"Just because we don't understand it doesn't mean it isn't true," she
said.  "We didn't understand how cigarette smoke caused lung cancer for
a long, long time."

The chief problem with the state of research on the potential health
hazards of phone radio waves rests in the design of studies thus far
conducted, Kheifets explained.

"All the studies have methodology problems.  They have lots of
limitations," she said.

A review of the health effects of radio waves, published in
Environmental Health Perspectives, which she co-authored, put it more
bluntly: "Most of the studies suffer from severe imprecision."

To date, there have been about 40 significant studies on the health
effects of cell phones, Kheifets said.  They typically include too few
people to accurately catch an increase in often-rare brain cancers,
for example, or they rely on memory of cell phone use years earlier,
which is prone to error. Another significant flaw, Kheifets said, is
that none of the studies ran long enough to monitor the emergence of
typically slow-growing brain tumors.

But the most egregious oversight, in her view, is the paucity of
research on cell phone use and children's health.

"Given the amount of youth using cell phones, a lot of things have not
been looked at," Kheifets said.

A study in the July 7 issue of Physics in Medicine and Biology,
Kheifets said, reported that the brains of children under the age of
eight absorb twice as much radio waves from cell phones compared with

The National Cancer Institute, adopting a middle-of-the-road stance,
noted in a prepared statement that while studies haven't shown a
consistent link between cell phone use and cancer, "additional
research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration concurred, noting that "research
has produced conflicting results." In its "Cell Phone Facts" report,
the agency added: "There is no proof, however, that wireless phones
are absolutely safe."

The FDA also noted that three large studies have been published since
2000 on the link between cell phone use and brain cancers -- such as
glioma, meningioma or acoustic neuroma, as well as leukemia and other
cancers -- and none found an association. But since the research
lasted no longer than three years, "none of the studies can answer
questions about long-term exposure," according to the FDA

Much more support for independent research on health effects of mobile
phone radio waves is needed, emphasized Davis of the University of

"The issue is this: We have something that everybody is exposed to,"
she said. "So why don't we make a more serious effort to study it?"

As a start in that effort, Davis said that her colleague, Herberman,
is requesting cell phone records from companies to analyze whether
long-term users are at greater risk of health problems such as brain
and neck tumors.

Fisher, the brain tumor expert with Lucile Packard Children's
Hospital, however, emphasized the rarity with which these kinds of
cancers typically emerge.

"Even if we thought there was a very, very tiny risk (with cell phone
use), the risks are miniscule already," he said.

And there are far more immediate dangers from cell phone use, he said,
such as increasing the risk of injury by using them during other
activities, or other pressing health issues to focus on, like rising
obesity rates in youth.

Still, given that more than 2 billion people worldwide are estimated
to use cell phones, even a tiny health hazard from electromagnetic
radiation could add up, said Kheifets.

"We're dealing with a very, very large exposure," she said. "Even a
very small effect could have a big impact."
Reach Suzanne Bohan at [log in to unmask] or (650) 348-4324.

Copyright 2008 -- Contra Costa Times

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