By Izzy Woods
Regardless of whether cell phones are really damaging our health, we’re probably losing years of our life to the debate raging over whether they’re bad for us. Like the issue of climate change, the subject of cell phone safety has seen scientists at war with each other for a decade or more. Just as a report is published establishing a link, another appears to refute it utterly.
This has been the situation for so long now that it is safe to assume we will only find out the answers when health problems start to occur and there can be some multiple variable regression analysis done on the data. But should we be waiting that long? One group of leading UK scientists thinks not and has just published a new report urging government to take steps to protect children in particular from the potentially devastating effects of cell phone exposure.
So should you be encouraging your kids to use their first current accounts to save money for a cell phone? Read on before you decide.
What do they say?
The group, called MobileWise, have just published a report called Mobile phone health risks: the case for action to protect children and can be downloaded as a PDF. MobileWise is a charity dedicated to protecting children from the harmful effects of cell phone use through education and safety labeling. Professors of neurosurgery and physics, as well as other leading experts in the field advise them. Their report points to over 200 studies which links cell phone use in children with harm, including brain tumors and damage to genes, fertility and other biological processes, some of which play a role in the prevention of cancer. Endorsed by scientist from all over the world, the report would seemingly make a strong case for action. So why isn’t it happening?
Cell Phone Harm Statistics Do/Don’t Tell Lies
The failure of governments to act, and scientist to agree comes down to methodology, as so often. A good example of this is a recent Danish study, which looked at a large number of cell phone subscribers and gathered data on their medical outcomes. It was published in the highly respectedBritish Medical Journal and one would assume it was conclusive: the Danish team looked at a total of 358,000 people and declared there was ‘no link’ between cell phone use and harmful effects on users.
But whilst this was heralded as ‘new’ research, scientists were quick to point out that it was nothing of the sort, merely an extension of a previous study by the same team two years before. Dr Devra Davis, epidemiologist of the Environmental Health Trust in the US points out that the method and findings of the first study was widely criticized at the time, and its results subsequently rejected by the World Health Organization, who reviewed the studies in May. In addition some scientists point out that even the authors of the impressive sounding report point to possible flaws in its findings, in that “…a limitation of the study is potential misclassification of exposure…Subscription holders who are not using their phone will erroneously be classified as exposed and people without a subscription but still using a mobile phone will erroneously be classified as unexposed.” The report was dismissed as ‘worthless’ and ‘seriously flawed’ by Dr Denis Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects at the University of Bristol.
Who Do We Believe Then?
The WHO decided almost unanimously to classify cell radiation as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. Many governments around the world accept that there is a degree of risk and advise against extensive cell phone use in children, who can absorb up to 60% more radiation from cell phones that adults. A consensus is beginning to emerge, but there are no public safety campaigns and no education is schools by and large.
One of the issues is that brain tumors take up to thirty years to develop so the harm is not immediately apparent. But when you consider the lessons we learned with asbestos and cigarette smoking, can we really afford to wait and find out if we are storing up another health crisis. If children’s genes, brains and fertility are being affected now, what is the potential cost of this time bomb when it goes off in thirty years time?
In fact there is evidence that the incidence of brain tumors is rising already, with statistics for Scandinavian countries showing incidence has increased over the past decade for both sexes. In Norway, tumor incidence has risen in in both sexes by about 1.7 and 2.8 percent each year for the past decade, with women who use cell phones more likely to develop the disease than men, and with 200 studies showing a possible clue to the underlying trend, perhaps these are these signs we cannot afford to ignore.