June 2000

More results from Swedish study

In November 1999 "What's New Archive", there is a report on a Swedish study of brain tumours and cellular phone use, by Hardell and his colleagues. In a new paper these authors, using the same study group, now include information on a variety of exposures and reanalyse the data on cellular phone use.

The authors found that exposure to ionising radiation, work in laboratories, and work in the chemical industry was associated with an increased risk of brain tumours. Use of a cellular phone was associated with an increased risk in the brain area with highest exposure. Since the subjects are exactly the same as in the previous paper, similar criticisms can be levelled against this study as were made with the first one. The results are based on a very small number (13 cases), which increases the possibility that these results were due to chance variation. It appears that not all patients with brain tumours in the region were included in the study, raising the possibility that the study group was not representative of all brain tumour patients.

Reference: Hardell L, Nasman A, Phalson A, Hallquist A. Case control study on radiology work, medical x-ray investigations, and use of cellular telephones as risk factors for brain tumours. Med Gen Med, May 4, 2000 (Available at www.medscape.com/journal/MedGenMed then search for "cellular telephones and brain tumors"

UK Expert Group issues its report

In February, 2000, "What's New" discussed the establishment by the UK Minister for Public Health of an Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones. This body issued its report on May 11.

They state in their summary that "the balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general population." In one area the Expert Group comes to the conclusion that the use of mobile phones can be hazardous - i.e. while driving a vehicle. They recommend "that drivers should be dissuaded from using either hand-held or hands-free phones whilst on the move." They go on to state "There is now scientific evidence, however, which suggests that there may be biological effects occurring at exposures below these guidelines. This does not necessarily mean that these effects lead to disease or injury." These conclusions are in accord with the findings of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel, which reported in May, 1999 (pages 6 -13). (To access the Royal Society Report, go to www.rsc.ca).

In addition, the Group points out that it is conceivable that there could be some people with a genetic predisposition to unusual susceptibility to an environmental factor such as RF radiation, or that age could be a modifying factor. They "conclude, therefore, that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach."

With regard to base stations, the Expert Group states: "We conclude that the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of guidelines". This is also in agreement with the conclusions of the Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel, which said "Because of the low field strengths associated with public exposure to RF fields from wireless telecommunications base station transmitters, neither biological nor adverse health effects are likely to occur" (page 10). For Industry Canada guidelines for base stations, see http://strategis.ic.gc.ca

The Expert Group goes on to make a number of recommendations, focussing on five areas - advice to Government; advice to industry; research requirements; the need for better public information and consumer choice; and the role of NRPB.

The full report is available at www.iegmp.org.uk


The response of the UK Government to the report can be found at www.doh.gov.uk/mobile.htm

The British Medical Journal carried an editorial on the Stewart Report.
Reference: Maier M, Blakemore C, Koivisto M. The health hazards of mobile phones. BMJ 2000:320;1288-1289.

There was also a commentary in Science on the report.
Reference: Foster KR, Repacholi M, Vecchia P. Science and the precautionary principle. Science 2000;288:979-981

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