New report details evidence from more than 200 scientific studies linking mobile phone use with serious health problems
A new report published today by UK charity MobileWise warns that children’s health is being jeopardised by the failure of Government and phone companies to respond to the growing body of evidence linking mobile phone use with health hazards. Medical experts and MobileWise are calling on Government and industry to respond to the evidence and to provide warnings and advice on ways to reduce the risk of health damage when using mobiles, especially for children.
The new report Mobile phone health risks: the case for action to protect children brings together, for the first time, more than 200 peer-reviewed studies from a range of research institutions that link mobiles to serious health problems. These include brain tumours and potential damage to fertility, genes, the blood-brain barrier and melatonin production, as well as other biological effects thought to have a role in the development of cancer. Endorsed by a number of eminent doctors and scientists, the report highlights the growing and substantial body of evidence that has been obscured in the debate over these risks.
Dr Lennart Hardell, Professor of Oncology and Cancer Epidemiology at Orebro University Hospital in Sweden, who has led several studies on the link between phones and cancer, says: “This timely report draws attention to the large body of evidence which links prolonged phone use to health hazards such as brain tumours. This is particularly important given the way the debate over the safety of phones has been played out in the media recently. In my view, while further research is still needed, there is certainly enough evidence to warrant urgent action by public health agencies to protect the public, especially children, who are significantly more vulnerable.”
As studies highlighted in the new report show, children’s brains are more susceptible to the effects of mobile phone radiation because of their smaller heads, thinner skulls and greater tissue conductivity. Not only does this double the amount of radiation absorbed by their brains, but the overall effect stands to be reinforced by much longer cumulative exposure than adults over their lives.
British neurosurgeon Kevin O’Neill, Chairman of the Brain Tumour Research Campaign, says: “It would be a mistake to ignore the mounting evidence pointing to a link between mobile phones and risks to health, especially when we know that children are much more vulnerable to phone radiation and that there are simple measures available to help them cut their exposure. We have an opportunity now to promote safety measures, mindful of the benefits of mobile phone technology but reflecting the potentially serious risks.”
The report criticises the mobile phone industry and the Government – which receives billions in mobile phone tax and licence revenue – for focusing on studies that have found no evidence of harm rather than responding to the mounting evidence that suggests the contrary.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) confirmed these concerns when, in May this year, its expert panel of 30 scientists classified mobile phone radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans (within Class 2B) after having reviewed all the existing evidence, including the Danish cohort study, recently publicised in an updated version in the BMJ,
which they considered unreliable.
MobileWise’s report points out that, given the average latency lag for brain tumours of around 30 years, the studies done so far simply don’t give us the full picture. Even so, most of the longer-term studies have found evidence of a link with brain tumours and the largest, the Interphone Study, found an increased risk for people who had used phones for half-an-hour a day for 10 years. Although scientists are still debating the evidence, many believe it is sufficient, and the potential risks serious enough, to justify action to protect children.
MobileWise Director Vicky Fobel says: “We have a choice: we can either continue to ignore the mounting evidence of risks and do nothing until we have incontrovertible proof that mobiles can damage health or we can take note of this evidence, even if it is still inconclusive, and act to protect children before it is too late. Since the measures proposed are simple, inexpensive and unobtrusive, it is irresponsible to wait for conclusive proof of lasting damage before acting.”
The report highlights the fact that the use of mobiles among primary schoolchildren is on the rise and that by secondary school 9 out of 10 children are using them, many habitually. MobileWise is calling for them to be informed about how to limit their exposure – including keeping calls to a minimum, texting, using headsets and keeping phones away from the groin.
David Gee, Senior Science and Policy Adviser at the European Environment Agency (EEA), comments: "We are urging governments to adopt the precautionary principle and develop appropriate policies on mobile phone use, as we recommended in 2007. We wouldn't yet expect to see uncontested evidence of harmful effects, so the absence of these is not a reason to wait. When we consider that the evidence linking smoking and asbestos to lung cancer only became clear 20 to 25 years after first mass exposures began, taking simple, low-cost preventative action now emerges as the only sensible approach."
The report points out that the Department of Health has issued warnings about the risks of mobile use, recommending that under-16s use phones only for essential calls. But it criticises the Government of doing little to publicise these warnings, citing the fact that the current Department of Health/NHS leaflet has never been printed and is only available as a pdf on the Department of Health website.
Fobel says: “The UK government is lagging behind other countries such as Canada, France and certain states in the US, all of which have taken steps to publicise safety guidance. In line with new recommendations by the Council of Europe, we are urging the UK government to stop dragging its feet and to roll out an information campaign in schools, doctors’ surgeries and phone shops as a matter of urgency.” MobileWise also wants phone companies to publicise safety warnings, currently hidden in barely legible small print in user manuals.
EXAMPLES OF ACTION TAKEN BY OTHER GOVERNMENTS AND ADVISORY BODIES:
The Council of Europe has called for strict regulation of the use of mobile phones by schoolchildren on school premises and awareness-raising campaigns targeted at children, teenagers and young people of reproductive age on the potentially harmful biological effects of mobile phones and other wireless technologies - via legal authorities in its member countries.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified mobile phone radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans, within Class 2B.
The European Environment Agency has called on governments to adopt measures to reduce exposures to mobile phone radiation, particularly to children and young adults, as well as recommending stricter standards and warning labels.
USA San Francisco’s city government recently passed regulations requiring phone retailers to give all customers a government leaflet containing safety advice. Similar proposals have been put forward in Maine and Pennsylvania.
France Mobile phones are banned from French primary schools, operators must offer handsets that allow only text messages, all phones must be supplied with a headset, sale to children under 6 is prohibited and advertising targeted at children is banned. The government has initiated a safety information programme through its National Institute for Prevention and Health Education.
Canada The country's public health service has issued new cautionary guidelines over children's mobile phone use since the WHO classification. The guidelines include practical advice for under-18s on how to reduce exposure to radiation by texting, using hands-free devices and limiting voice calls.
Mobile phone health risks: the case for action to protect children is launched on Wednesday 9th November 2011. The full report can be downloaded at www.mobilewise.org. For a summary of the scientific findings see page 6 of the report.
MobileWise is an independent charity set up in 2010 to help children use phones more safely. For more information on MobileWise go to www.mobilewise.org Its Safe Mobile Code has been formulated to offer practical solutions to cut exposure to phone radiation, particularly to the head and groin, which are shown by research to be particularly vulnerable.
The current Department of Health/NHS leaflet can be downloaded here
The Government receives more than £20 billion a year in revenue from mobile licences. It has spent around £7.5 million over the past three years on mobile-related health research.
Phone manuals contain guidance hidden in small print recommending customers hold the phone away from the head and body, reduce the time spent on calls and keep the phone away from the abdomen of pregnant women.
A new study in the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine demonstrates how radiation (SAR) levels on mobiles were set using as a model a large American man, meaning that children, with their smaller heads and different anatomy, can absorb double the amount of radiation into their heads and up to 10 times into some parts of the head - here.