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Science & Technology
Cellular Phones

The Health Controversy That Lives On and On...

By Diana J. Choyce
Sep 27 - Oct 03, 1999

Most new technologies bring about some type of controversy when they are first introduced to the public. Often the panic has more to do with "Technology Fear Syndrome" than with any real issue. And most often the fear subsides with time and acceptance. But the health issues surrounding the cellular phone have continued to follow its use. Most of us are still trying to remember where we left our phone last, or whose phone is ringing in the midst of a large meeting. Meanwhile scientists are still researching exactly what effect using these phones may have on our fragile human bodies. And as usual they can't agree on what their research is telling them.

All kinds of interesting conclusions have been submitted, and many can't help but make one smile. From over heated brains, to memory loss and cancer. From accelerated worm growth, increased muscle reactions, to rats that drink too much. It makes one wonder whether these scientists time would be better spent elsewhere. But one fact does remain that makes it crucial that some studies continue. The microwaves emitted by cellular phones do have an effect on living tissues. What it is and if it's dangerous remains to be researched. Given the huge growth in use of cellular telephones, and their likely continued use since we can't seem to live without them, it may not be time to panic but it's a good time to keep an ear open.

There are several products on the market that help shield us from waves emitted by phones. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that hands free sets are the most reliable given that their use means the phone is no where near your ears or head. And the loss of reception was far less than the other available shielding devices. These other shields are placed to block the waves while still holding the phone directly to ones ear. They do a very good job of blocking the microwaves, but they also block reception. It looks as though a hands free set is your best bet to keep you safe, while the scientists carry on with their research.

The World Health Organization, with funding from several mobile phone companies, is embarking on a $6 Billion dollar study. Their goal is to determine if cell phone use causes brain tumors. The study will include 3000 people in Europe who already have brain tumors with a control group of healthy people. How often they use their cell phones, duration, and many other factors will be included in the determination of the study. But will it be conclusive evidence? Probably not, since there are so many other things to take into consideration including lifestyles, genetics and more. In fact, it will be almost impossible to come up with a definitive answer no matter how many studies are done. So the question remains, isn't that $6 Billion dollars better off spent elsewhere? Surely most of the worlds cell phone users can afford to pick up a hands free set, and then live long enough to pass their phone on to their grandchildren. Six billion dollars would go a long way in helping developing countries with far more important health needs.

Another interesting study was done at the University of Nottingham by David de Pomerai. Their experiments included exposing microwaves to nematode worms. The result was that the larvae who were exposed overnight wriggled less but grew 5% faster than unexposed larvae. The conclusion was that microwaves may speed up cell division. So their next step will be to expose mammal cells to register their reactions. A positive reaction could give cause to the fears about cancer. But given that a human would have to be exposed continuously for ten years it should not cause panic just yet. A different study was undertaken by Henry Lai at the University of Washington in Seattle. His work with rats showed that exposure caused them to produce natural endorphins which would make them more prone to reacting to alcohol, morphine and barbiturate use. He has also found evidence that exposure releases a stress hormone that may cause disruptions in memory and alertness.

The biggest problem with all of these studies is the fact that their conclusions can rarely be replicated. So there still remains many doubts that cell phone emissions have any effect at all on the human body. Scientists seem determined to keep repeating study after study to try and prove something...anything. So what is a "cellular addict" to do? Well we can throw our phones out the proverbial window and carry on with our previous quieter means of communications. Or we can protect ourselves as best we can because we all know that the cellular phone is here to stay. Buy a hands free device and actually remember to use it. Cut down on the duration of your calls. Use a regular phone as often as you can and save the cell phone for when it's really needed. But most importantly, let's try and get our governments and universities to cut down on cell phone research and use the money where it's most needed.