Monday April 07, 2003
The Government is being asked to make manufacturers place safety warnings on phones. Picture / Reuters
Teen cellphone radiation risk
04.04.2003 - By ANITA MATTHEWS
Mobile phone manufacturers should take seriously a Swedish finding that their products are dangerous for teenagers and work on developing safer phones, says scientist Dr Neil Cherry.
Cherry, an associate professor in environmental health at Lincoln University, Christchurch, said there were more than 50 patents for devices or methods to make phones safer that were not being used by manufacturers.
"My estimate is that it is practical to reduce users' exposure by 100 to 1000 times," he said.
"The primary methods are to manufacture the handset within a 'Faraday cage' shield," he said.
"The antenna is on the outside but focused into a narrow beam of about 30 degrees pointed away from the user. The hands-free kit is a fibre-optic cable to connect the phone to the ear and mouth."
Cherry was commenting on a study by Swedish scientists, led by neurosurgeon Leif Salford and published last month.
It found that cells in the parts of rats' brains that controlled sensation, memory and movement died after being exposed to various GSM phones at different levels of radiation for two hours.
The rats tested were said to be equivalent in age to teenagers.
Salford warned that long-term exposure could potentially lower brain reserve capacity.
"We cannot exclude that after some decades of [often] daily use, a whole generation of users may suffer negative effects," he said.
There are 2.3 million mobile phones in use in New Zealand, with an estimated 60 per cent of households having at least one.
Cherry claimed that phone manufacturers were promoting their products to teenagers and children to create a lifelong customer base.
"Even though science shows that mobile phones are more dangerous than tobacco, they use the fact that radiation is invisible and can't be seen or smelt like smoke."
He urged the Government to make manufacturers place safety warning on phones. "Companies should be required to publicly agree to make phones much safer."
Cherry also urged parents to minimise their children's use of mobile phones.
"They should find the lowest-exposure cellphone, use a hands-free kit, and frequently question phone makers so they are continuously made aware of public concern. Whenever you can, use a wire phone."
Martin Gledhill, science adviser at the National Radiation Laboratory in Christchurch, also advised consumers to take precautions but said the Salford study had to be replicated and supported by similar research before it could be accepted as definitive.
Children younger than 16 were more vulnerable to radiation and should be discouraged from using mobile phones, he said.
Manufacturers the Herald contacted insisted their phones abided by international safety standards.
Sony Ericsson general manager David Georgetti said the Salford-led study was simply a re-analysis of earlier data produced by Swedish researcher Lennart Hardell.
"No overall statistically significant increased risk was found for all mobile phone users."
Georgetti said product safety was a top priority for Sony and its products were well within World Health Organisation limits.
"We have also introduced some models with speaker-phone functionality [external speaker and long-range microphone] and a desk-stand accessory which converts any phone to speaker-phone," he said.
Motorola's director of communications and public affairs (Pacific division), Russell Grimmer, said safety was an important part of the company's business.
"We are sensitive and responsive to any questions about the safety of Motorola products.
"We stand behind those products and devote considerable resources to assuring their safety."
Lane Stephens of Nokia Mobile Phones NZ said emission rates were below the prescribed limits.
"All Nokia phones fulfil relevant national and international safety standards and limits. Next-generation products are no different, since they must meet the same limits."
The National Radiation Laboratory, a Ministry of Health business unit, provides expert advice, service and research concerning public, occupational and medical exposure to radiation. Its recommendations on mobile phone use are:
* Use the phone in places with a strong signal. This allows the phone to transmit at low power (up to 100 times lower than its maximum value), reducing exposure accordingly.
* Minimise the length of time on calls.
* Extend the antenna and hold it away from the head.
* Use a hands-free kit with an external antenna.
Individuals concerned about exposure to radiation from mobile phones can refer to guidelines available at the National Radiation Laboratory.
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