New Scientist, January 11, 2005
CELLPHONES 'SHOULD NOT BE GIVEN TO CHILDREN'
[Rachel's introduction: A report issued by the UK's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), a government advisory body, calls for a "precautionary approach" to cellphone use.]
By Will Knight
Recent studies suggesting cellphone radiation may pose a health hazard have prompted UK experts to warn parents against giving mobile phones to young children.
A report issued on Tuesday [Jan. 4, 2005] by the UK's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), a government advisory body, calls for a "precautionary approach" to cellphone use. The study acknowledges that there is no firm evidence that cellphone radiation is harmful but warns that the possibility also cannot be ruled out.
"I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile phones are safe," said Sir William Stewart, chairman of the NRPB, at a press conference in London on Tuesday.
The NRPB report repeats concerns first raised in an influential study into cellphone health affects published in 2000 by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, also set up by the UK government and led by William Stewart. However, the new report adds that scientific research published since 2000 provides fresh evidence that cellphone radiation may be harmful to users. DNA damage
This research includes a European study published in December 2004 indicating that radiation from cellphones may damage DNA, a Swedish study from April 2004 showing a correlation between mobile phone use and auditory nerve tumours and Dutch research from October 2003, linking cellphones to impaired brain function.
But the NPRB report says these studies must be replicated by other research laboratories before any conclusion can be reached.
Zenon Sienkiewicz, principle scientist at NRPB, notes that complicating factors will also have to be investigated, such as whether some people are more susceptible to cellphone radiation than others. "All we're saying in the report is let's not close our minds," he told New Scientist.
Stewart says parents should not give cellphones to children under nine years old because they may be particularly susceptible to any ill effects of cellphone radiation. This is because they have smaller heads, meaning the radiation can affect a greater part of their brain, and less fully developed nervous systems.
"If there are risks -- and we think that maybe there are -- then the people who are going to be most affected are children, and the younger the children, the greater the danger," Stewart said.
Shortly after the report was published, UK company Commun8, which launched a mobile phone service aimed at children, announced that it would suspend operations.
But other representatives of the industry took a positive view of the report. "The key point of the NRPB advice is that there is no hard information linking the use of mobile telephony with adverse health effects," said Mike Dolan executive director of the UK Mobile Operators Association.
The NPRB report also recommends that older children and adults consider limiting their phone use and sending text messages instead of making voice calls whenever possible.
The rate of cellphone development is another cause for worry, according to the report. Third generation (3G) phones typically produce more radiation than older handsets, but there have been few studies of the health effects of these devices specifically. The board also said further research should be carried out into the effects of wireless networking technology such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
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