Government to investigate mobile phone safety

As the mobile mast debate reaches fever-pitch, volunteers will be used as guinea pigs to test whether mobile handsets can cause health problems
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The government is preparing to investigate whether mobile phones are as safe as the industry has been claiming.

A total of 15 research programmes, which will involve human volunteers, were announced on Friday. The total cost is expected to be around £4.5m.

Four studies will investigate whether mobile use can cause brain cancer or leukaemia, while other studies will examine possible effects on blood pressure, hearing, brain function and the ability to drive. A further four studies will also look at the interaction of radio signals with the body in order to discover how much energy is deposited and where.

The UK government and the mobile industry have each contributed to a £7.4m fund to investigate the safety of mobile phones. More projects are expected to be funded later this year from the remaining £3m.

The announcement comes nearly two years after the Stewart Inquiry -- a government-backed investigation in the issue of mobile phone safely -- found no evidence of health dangers. However, that inquiry warned that there was "the risk of a risk", and indicated that exposure to mobile phones and handsets could result in subtle biological changes.

Despite repeated assurances from mobile phone manufacturers that there is no evidence that using a mobile handset could lead to health problems, many people are still concerned. Some scientists believe that mobile phones are more of a health risk than the industry admits -- while others believe that it is simply too early to say for certain.

In November 2000, British scientist Dr Gerard Hyland accused the mobile industry of using the conclusion of the Stewart Inquiry to hide the dangers that mobile phones could pose, especially to children.

Dr Hyland, writing in The Lancet, said that the microwave radiation used in mobile telephony produces non-thermal heating that has the potential to induct adverse health effects. He believes that anecdotal reports of mobile phones causing headaches and lack of sleep could be accurate.

Other scientists claim to have found evidence that the radiation emitted by mobile phones could change the shape of a human cell.

The fact remains, though, that this is no clear link between mobile phone use to health effects, and one large study has already failed to find any conclusive evidence.

Many in the mobile industry are thought to welcome this new investigation, in the hope that it may reassure the public. If it concludes that mobile phones appear to be safe, then there could be long-term benefits to an industry that is encountering significant public opposition to mobile phone masts at a time when many more base stations will soon be needed for 3G.

Any firm proof that mobile phones are dangerous, though, could cripple the mobile industry. Some litigation is already underway in the US against mobile phone manufacturers, with at least one phone user claiming that he contracted brain cancer because of using a mobile.

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