YOU ARE AT:Archived ArticlesMOTOROLA MEMO RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT WTR RESEARCH

MOTOROLA MEMO RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT WTR RESEARCH

WASHINGTON-Motorola Inc. planned two years ago to collaborate with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and Wireless Technology Research L.L.C. to downplay potentially damaging scientific findings on possible health risks from portable telephones, according to a December 1994 internal Motorola memo.

The memo, first reported by New York City-based Microwave News in its January/February issue, could raise more questions about the independence and credibility of industry-funded research on the cancer question.

The memo paints a picture of Motorola officials discussing how to respond to expected press inquiries on radiofrequency radiation research by Dr. Henry Lai and Dr. Narendra Singh, of the University of Washington in Seattle. The scientists reported single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rats exposed to RF energy at 2.45 GHz for two hours at low-power.

The research was published in 1995 and 1996.

“I think we have sufficiently war-gamed the Lai-Singh issue, assuming SAG (Scientific Advisory Group) and CTIA have done their homework,” said Norman Sandler, Motorola director of strategic issues, in a Dec. 13, 1994, memo to Michael Kehs, of the Burson-Marsteller public relations firm. SAG was the forerunner to Wireless Technology Research L.L.C.

Motorola officials, which confirmed the existence of the memo, began designing a media response strategy two years ago when they learned Microwave News, a newsletter that focuses on non-ionizing radiation health issues, had obtained advance information on the Lai-Singh research and planned to report on it in mid-December 1994.

WTR attacked the memo and tried to distance itself from it.

“It is unfair and untrue of Motorola to imply in any of its documents that Dr. George Carlo, Dr. Ian Munro or any members of the Scientific Advisory Group or Wireless Technology Research were part of a conspiracy to conceal the truth about the potential dangers of wireless technology,” said Michael Volpe, a spokesman for WTR.

“In fact, the SAG and WTR have repeatedly made public statements which confirm the contention that existing data and studies do not rule out the possibility that cellular telephones cause ill health effects such as brain cancer.”

But that perspective is at odds with the December 1994 memo’s description of a cooperative, less-than-arms-length distance relationship between the wireless industry and WTR. The memo has Motorola wanting WTR and CTIA out front to direct media strategy that would put a damper on speculation arising from Lai-Singh’s work.

Indeed, Motorola wanted WTR, in particular, to take the lead in that regard.

“SAG will be prepared to release Munro-Carlo memos, which touch on key points made in this material,” the memo states. Dr. Ian Munro, a Canadian toxicologist, and Dr. William Guy, a Seattle-based bioelectromagnetic scientist, report to Carlo and comprise WTR top management.

“The issue is about science, not strategy,” said Tim Ayers, spokesman for CTIA.

In anticipation of RCR’s publishing the story, Brashear stated, “Motorola has an unequivocal commitment to the safety of our products and to responsible action as a leader in wireless communications technology. We pursue that commitment on a daily basis with a sense of dedication and importance that has earned our company respect around the world. And we find it unfortunate that in an environment too often influenced by excessive and groundless litigation, we occasionally find ourselves in the position of seeming to be challenged or chastised for doing what is right.”

Motorola’s Sandler said there was nothing improper about the memo or contacts among Motorola, the world’s largest mobile communications equipment manufacturer; CTIA, the industry lobbying voice of pocket telephone carriers; and WTR, picked by CTIA and funded by its members to conduct RF cancer research, regarding a response to Lai-Singh’s research.

WTR’s Carlo wrote the introduction to CTIA’s December 1994 health and safety media manual that boasted that “a concerted industry response succeeded in blunting unsubstantiated allegations about a link to brain cancer in early 1993.”

The cancer scare was born in January 1993 as a result of national publicity surrounding a Florida man’s lawsuit that claimed his wife’s fatal brain tumor was caused by cellular phone use. The case was dismissed for lack of scientific data on cellular usage.

Today, the scientific community is divided over whether pocket phones cause cancer. The fact that there isn’t an abundance of new research on wireless phones has kept the debate polarized. New research is planned in Europe.

Lai and Singh were denied funding from WTR to replicate their rat RF dosing work, though WTR expressed interest in Lai-Singh conducting RF cell culture work. However, Dr. Lai said last week that WTR has not provided money for cell culture study.

Approaching its final year, the five-year, $25 million WTR program has not completed any studies on rat and cell culture radiofrequency exposure. A WTR-led epidemiology study found little difference between the death rate of consumers with pocket phones and the death rate of users of mobile telephones with the handset separate from the antenna.

Lai said he wasn’t surprised by the Motorola memo. Asked whether he believes pocket phones pose a health risk, Lai answered, “It’s alarming.”

“I’m just waiting for the time to tell the truth,” he said, noting that he may seek funding for RF research in Europe.

Responding to the same question put to Lai, Jim Caile, vice president of cellular marketing at Motorola said, “The answer is no. I have a zero concern about that.”

A 1995 civil suit pending before the Cook County, Ill., circuit court claims CTIA and WTR orchestrated a coverup of health risks from cellular phones. Other lawsuits, several represented by the same Chicago law firm, allege that portable cellular phones promote brain tumors and that manufacturers misrepresented phones as being safe.

No court has awarded damages for any cellular cancer claim to date.

A November 1994 General Accounting Office report concluded existing research is insufficient to determine whether pocket phones pose a health risk to consumers and that federal regulators do not believe phones should be taken off the market. Still, the Food and Drug Administration is closely monitoring progress of the struggling WTR research.

In the memo, Sandler tells of “an animated telephone conversation” between Albert “Rusty” Brashear, Motorola corporate vice president and director of corporate communications, and Robert Weisshappel, president and general manger of Motorola’s Cellular Subscriber Sector, having Weisshappel “adamant that we have a forceful one- or two-sentence portion of our standby statement that puts a damper on speculation arising from this research, as best we can.”

Weisshappel, according to Sandler’s account of the Weisshappel-Brashear conversation, “was insistent as ever about the prominent inclusion” of language pointing out that Lai-Singh research was conducted at frequencies higher than where 800 MHz cellular communications operate.

Indeed, the results of a lifetime rat RF exposure study by Dr. Ross W. Adey for Motorola, announced last June, found 800 MHz RF directed at rats’ heads did not cause brain tumors, but did produce a bioeffect described as statistically insignificant.

“It (the memo) does not particularly concern me,” said Brashear, a former Reagan administration aide. Weisshappel and Kehs could not be reached for comment.

Sandler, according to the memo, suggested that because Lai-Singh research was performed at 2 GHz and cellular operates at 800 MHz, Motorola could say the findings and other research by Dr. Soma Sarkar, of the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences in New Delhi India, “are of questionable relev
ance.”

The memo also had Motorola prepared to tell the media that until Lai-Singh’s work was repeated and interpret
ed, “any conclusions about the significance of this study are pure speculation.”

Motorola would also note that even if cellular phones cause DNA breaks in rats, there is no evidence of increased cancer rates in people exposed to RF fields.

While many RF studies exist, there is not a lot of new animal research that precisely simulates long-term, head-specific exposure to RF energy at frequencies and power levels of today’s pocket telephones.

With only a year-and-a-half left in the industry-funded cellular cancer research program, WTR does not appear well positioned to significantly expand the body of scientific knowledge on RF bioeffects that wireless carriers and manufacturers hoped would give them a clean bill of health and arm it with powerful new data to put before local zoning boards when seeking antenna siting approvals. Some 2,000 new digital personal communications services licenses will occupy the 2 GHz band.

The program, bankrolled by wireless carriers and manufacturers, seemed to get off to a good start but in recent years has been mired in legal, administrative and fiscal problems.

As such, litigation continues and the health issue remains a flash point for the wireless industry.

Today, the relationship between Carlo and CTIA’s Wheeler appears to have significantly deteriorated as a result of differences over funding, legal and management issues.

The litigation has had a side effect in recent years of delaying rat and cell culture RF radiation exposure experiments because CTIA and WTR, until recently, could not agree on indemnifying scientists against lawsuits. Carlo and CTIA President Thomas Wheeler are expected to sign a contract this week that gives WTR scientists liability insurance.

Lucent Technologies Inc. and others have expressed fear that any mishandling of RF cancer research by WTR or funding by CTIA will create a public relations disaster for the wireless industry, even if no RF bioffect exists.

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