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MARKEY, FDA AGREE ON NEED FOR RF STUDIES, NO HINT OF NEXT STEP

WASHINGTON-Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) was informed by the Food and Drug Administration last week that neither federal government nor cellular industry-funded scientists have conducted large-scale radio frequency radiation bioeffects research in the four-and-a-half years since a lawsuit first linked cellular phones to cancer. Markey responded by saying an aggressive research program is needed to get answers to the public on the controversial health issue.

“The FDA indicates that a significant research effort is needed to provide answers to the allegations of health risks,” said Markey. “Yet the agency also asserts that since this issue was first raised in early 1993, no research has been performed by federal agencies or sponsored by the federal government specifically directed toward wireless phone safety.

“Reason demands that the government engage in an aggressive research strategy designed to get specific answers to the potential health risk to wireless phone users,” Markey stated.

Markey last month sent a series of questions to the FDA as part of a probe into the agency’s oversight of the five-year, $25 million cancer research project the cellular industry started four years ago.

The program was prompted by a highly publicized lawsuit in early 1993 involving a Florida man who alleged his wife’s fatal brain cancer was caused by her cellular phone. The judge dismissed the case for lack of scientific evidence. Other product liability lawsuits against cellular manufacturers are pending.

The General Accounting Office concluded in 1994 that the lack of cellular cancer research made it impossible to conclude whether the phones posed a public health risk.

When Markey held hearings on alleged cellular phone health problems in February 1993, 15 million people used mobile phones. Today, with 45 million mobile phone subscribers, policymakers still are unable to give phones a clean bill of health due to lack of RF research.

Markey’s investigation followed articles in RCR and The Washington Post on the lack of industry-sponsored RF bioeffects studies and on efforts by the cellular telephone lobby to discredit University of Washington findings of single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rats exposed to pocket phone-like radiation after two hours.

More recently, the cellular industry downplayed a new Australian study sponsored by telecommunications giant Telstra that found an increase in the rate of lymphoma in cancer-prone mice exposed to 900 MHz Global System for Mobile communications digital phone transmissions.

“I intend to follow up with the appropriate federal agencies and the cellular industry to determine how we can accelerate getting answers to the public,” said Markey.

In its 8-page response, which Markey received two weeks after the April 21 due date, the FDA emphasized that little cancer research on mobile phones had been undertaken at the federal level and that a comprehensive program is needed to fully assess any potential health hazards from phones.

FDA stressed WTR’s progress in reviewing scientific literature and in developing RF exposure systems for animal and cell culture studies. In addition, the agency said WTR could be trusted to provide objective data.

“The type of research proposed by WTR should provide part of the answer to the questions of whether RF exposure from wireless phones poses a health risk to consumers,” said the FDA.

Overall, the agency appeared to go to great lengths to avoid criticism of WTR. Not highlighted to any significant degree by the FDA is the fact that WTR head Dr. George Carlo likely will be unable to perform much, if any, of the research recommended in March by Dr. Elizabeth Jacobson, deputy director for science of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Where Markey’s investigation leads is unclear. Though a highly influential telecom lawmaker, Markey is a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Congress and, hence, is not well positioned to push for appropriations for RF research in the United States.

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