Mobile phones: A not-so-silent killer?
Sunday, Jun 23, 2013, 8:42 IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
To some scientists, they're deadlier than cigarettes; to others they're (mostly) harmless. Will we ever know the truth about mobile phones? Julia Llewellyn Smith finds out.
Representational image - DNA
In 1996, Neil Whitfield, a sales manager from Wigan, was given his first mobile phone by his company. "It was introduced as a nice, cuddly friend. It had all of your mates' contact details on it. It was always in your pocket or pressed against your ear," he says. However, within a short space of time Whitfield, a father of six who was then in his late thirties, started suffering terrible headaches. "Then my hearing deteriorated and I kept forgetting things, which was not like me." A scan revealed he had an acoustic neuroma - a rare brain tumour that grows on a nerve in the brain near the ear. Without surgery, he was told, he had five years to live. "The specialist asked if I used a mobile a lot. When I said yes, he replied: 'Mobiles will be the smoking gun of the 21st century.' He sowed a seed in my mind." Whitfield, now 56, is one of a growing and vociferous group of people who are convinced that mobile phones are killing us. A phone, they point out, along with cordless phones and Wi-Fi, works in the same way as a miniature microwave, emitting electromagnetic radiation. Admittedly, this radiation is at too low a frequency to heat human tissue, but there's a large amount of evidence that it could affect the protective barrier between the brain and blood, allowing toxins to enter. There is also evidence that mobiles could be damaging our immune systems, reducing sperm motility and causing tumours, Alzheimer's, strokes and autism. It's not just individuals like Whitfield who believe this, but a number of eminent scientists and physicians. Two years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organisation, published a report, reclassifying radiation from mobiles from category 3, with "no conclusive evidence" of causing cancer, to category 2b - a "possible human carcinogen" - along with diesel exhaust, chloroform, jet fuel, lead and DDT. In October, the Italian Supreme Court ruled that a businessman's brain tumour was caused by his use of a mobile for five or six hours a day for 12 years, paving the way for a potential host of legal actions from employees against employers. Yet bodies like Cancer Research UK assure me not to worry. "We think it's incredibly unlikely there's any link between phones and cancer, with the slight caveat it's a relatively new technology so we can't be sure of any long-term effects," says Sarah Williams, senior health information and evidence officer. To the layperson, the science behind all of this is mind-numbingly complex. For virtually every assertion of risk, there's another asserting no risk. "None of the research has been conclusive. When we do a meta-analysis of it all there's no clear effect in either direction. The studies that show phones don't cause cancer are balanced out by studies that show they do," says Williams. The anti-mobile lobby disagree. They cite the "precautionary principle" - a statutory requirement in EU law that basically can be translated as: "new technology is guilty until proven innocent". Until more research is done and phones have been in general use longer, they say it's better to be safe than sorry. Official advice from the NHS is to limit our mobile usage if we want to avoid exposure to radio waves. Children in particular should only use them in emergencies, because if there is any risk, their thinner skulls and developing brains would make them much more vulnerable to potential damage. Other countries have taken this a step further. France has banned all mobile phone advertising aimed at under-12s, while legislation is being introduced to make it compulsory to sell all phones with earphones. Canada and Russia have also...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document