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May 5, 2010

Cell phones - beware of the risks

The Canadian Charger

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Although health-related scientific studies seldom produce conclusive results, a recent CBC radio interview shows that harmful effects of cell phone radiation is becoming widely accepted.

Dr. Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead University and one of four experts interviewed, said exposure to cell phone radiation may lead to early-onset Alzheimer’s, short-term memory loss, and. increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Although these results are not definitive, he said Lakehead is the only university in Canada that restricts the use of Wi-Fi because of concerns about the effects of radiation.

Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO) say cell phone radiation levels are within its standards, but these are based on talks with officials from the cell phone industry, which he said generates $120 billion in North America alone.

Dr. Daniel Krewski, director of the McLaughlin Center at the University of Ottawa, is working on the multinational Interphone Project to determine if cell phone use increases the risk of cancers in the head and neck. The project comprises epidemiological studies from 13 countries—Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.—and is coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC), a WHO agency.

To maximize the power of detecting a risk, the 13 national studies mainly focused on brain tumors in people aged 30 to 59 because they had the highest prevalence of mobile phone use five to 10 years ago. Also, it focused on those regions in the participating countries that have had the longest and highest rates of cell phone use.

The study’s final report on health risks is expected to be inconclusive, which is not surprising since the study is funded in part by cell phone companies.

“Only one third to one quarter of studies funded by the cell phone industry show health risk; for studies funded by governments, the reverse is true,” said Professor Dr. Henry Lee, a researcher at the University of Washington.

One problem, said Lee, is that most research focuses on high-intensity radiation, but cell phones emit low-intensity radiation.

He said exposure to this type of radiation has biological effects. Researchers have detected memory loss in animals exposed to this type of radiation, which has also been shown to break up DNA molecules in the brain. “If people aren’t sick nobody inquires, but cell phone radiation changes the function of cells,” he said.

According to Dr. Gilbert, this radiation is more insidious than the harmful effects of machines such as cars: “We are electrical beings. Our neutrons emit electrical charge. All of our cells are electrically charged. Non-ionized radiation, which includes microwave radiation from cell phones, replaces calcium enzymes with potassium enzymes. High production of potassium causes cell damage.”

Professor Magda Havas, an environmental and resources studies professor at Trent University, said scientists around the world believe that the thermal effect guidelines for cell phone radiation are outdated. People who live within 300 to 400 meters of a cell phone receiver antenna, she said, have increased cancer rates: “The combination of radiation in the ear and their land antennas increases the risk of different types of tumors in the head.”

The antennas are on lampposts and school rooftops all over Toronto, thus putting people in both situations very close to the radiation. In contrast, radio and television towers are much higher and located further away in rural areas.

Professor Havas said there is only so much radiation our bodies can tolerate. She said studies in Sweden show that if someone started using a cell phone before the age of 20, he or she has a 400% greater chance of developing a brain tumor.

The latency period of 20 to 30 years often means that researchers don’t find any noticeable short-term effects, yet studies show that people who’ve used a cell phone for more than 10 years develop cancer much more rapidly.

Although he acknowledges that radio frequency radiation does change cells, Krewski said he and his colleagues have looked at more than 100 scientific papers—WHO has examined 25,000—and they can’t conclude that non-ionizing radio frequency radiation is damaging cells or causing memory loss: “Overwhelmingly the conclusion is that there is no clear [cause and] effect between cell phone use and brain cancer. Mystery generates concern, if not paranoia.”

He said one third of IARC researchers say there is a risk of cancer; one third say there isn’t; and one third say they don’t know.

He added, though, that it’s possible that studies showing memory loss in animals can’t be replicated in humans.

Even though the results of the Interphone Project have been available for four years, they still haven’t been released. Dr. Krewski said the editors at a scientific journal have the results, and so he expects them to be published soon.

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