Britain Urges Caution On Mobile Phone Use

Britain Urges Caution On Mobile Phone Use
Journalist: Edna Fernandes
May 11, 2000

Government-backed scientists have urged parents to curb children’s use of mobile phones and promised tougher rules for transmitter masts as a precaution against potential health risks from radiation.

The warning on public health came in a report that ministers said was the most comprehensive investigation in the world and they ordered fresh research to find out more.

Sir William Stewart, head of the inquiry, said while there was no evidence yet to suggest a health risk to the whole population, early findings pointed to possible “subtle effects” on brain function.

“There is some preliminary evidence that exposures to radiation may cause subtle effects on biological functions, including those of the brain,” the report said.

“We conclude that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to radiation…is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach,” it added.

As some scientists involved spoke of early evidence showing a “cooking” effect on the brain, some mobile users were concerned. Vicky Alexander, a mother of three, said: “I’m worried about the children. It’s a nightmare.”

But Paul, a telephone engineer, doubted it would scare users off: “Well, the damage is already done, isn’t it? No one will really believe it until someone’s brain shrivels up and dies — and then it’s too late — half the population’s got it.”

The report came just days after the government raised 22.5 billion pounds from the mobile phone industry for a new generation of licences.

But the mobile industry, which has 27 million users in Britain, was relieved the inquiry had given it a clean bill of health for now, and share prices were unmoved.

A spokesman for the Orange network said: “The balance of evidence does not suggest mobile phone technologies put the health of the general population at risk. (But) we acknowledge public concern on this issue.”

Even so, the scientists recommended discouraging regular use of mobiles by children, those under 16, and said the industry should not market to that age group.

“Widespread use of mobile phones for non-essential calls should be discouraged,” the report said.

Stewart, chairman of the UK’s Microbiological Research Authority, said while he would still use his mobile, he would not let his own grandchildren do so.

Children are at risk because they have thinner skulls, smaller heads, and still-developing nervous systems.

The inquiry also called for phone companies to publish the phones’ radiation levels and creation of a mobile ombudsman.

On Wednesday, a source close to the inquiry told Reuters that the scientists were worried by some unusual findings.

“One odd finding came up when we looked at microwave radiation on nematode worms. That showed odd changes to the protein structure,” said the source. “It was a kind of heat shock on the protein. You know, slightly cooked.”

The inquiry committee was established after reports of radiation from mobiles causing illnesses including cancer.