Two newly publicized health studies on cellphone and base-station radiation have produced mixed results, likely keeping alive the long-running scientific debate over whether handsets and cell-site transmissions can cause cancer and other illnesses.
Japanese mobile-phone operators NTT DoCoMo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Mobile Corp. said industry-funded laboratory studies concluded radio-frequency radiation from base stations does not cause damage to human cells, according to DoCoMo press release.
“In an interim report on April 26, 2005, the companies announced they had found no effects on cell proliferation, gene expression profile, or DNA single-strand breaks. Now they have found there are no genetic alterations or protein functions that could be associated with cell transformation or programmed cell death (apoptosis). Based on these findings, the operators have concluded that they could not find adverse health effects from radio waves from mobile-phone base stations,” DoCoMo stated.
DoCoMo said Mitsubishi Chemical Safety Institute Ltd., a specialized research institution, conducted the experiments on behalf of the carriers, with the latest results of peer-reviewed data due for publication in the Bioelectromagnetics Journal.
Mixed results from Europe
Meantime, a European multi-nation epidemiology study published in the International Journal of Cancer failed to identify a general link between cellphone use and the risk of glioma. At the same time, researchers discovered a nearly 40-percent increased tumor risk for a class of long-term subscribers. The scientists found an elevated risk for those who used mobile phones for more than 10 years and whose gliomas were on the same side of the head where they hold their cellphones.
“Although our results overall do not indicate an increased risk of glioma in relation to mobile-phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn,” said researchers associated with the 13-country Interphone research program.
Countries participating in the project include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Interphone researchers previously found evidence that long-term cellphone exposure can cause another type of cancer-benign-known as acoustic neuroma. Gliomas are far more dangerous.
FDA cautious on results
The Food and Drug Administration’s top cellphone radiation expert said the latest Interphone results should be interpreted with care.
“Our staff epidemiologists and statisticians have not had sufficient time to read and analyze this paper as of now. However, in the abstract to this paper, the authors express caution about their finding and state that it is of ‘borderline statistical significance’ and that this finding ‘needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn.’ We agree with those caveats and await the completion and analysis of the entire Interphone studies,” said Howard Cyr, with FDA.
On a related front, Cyr said the FDA-which has legal oversight over phone safety, while the Federal Communications Commissions enforces transmitter power limits of regulated wireless carriers-could have news soon on Phase 3 of a cooperative research agreement with the cellphone industry. The purpose of Phase 3 is to identify any remaining gaps in the U.S. government’s knowledge about the possible health risks associated with RF radiation. The initiative would involve an open meeting with a panel of experts, ultimately and a written report.
British study forthcoming
With the results of the new Interphone study fresh in the public arena, a leading British mobile radiation expert is putting the finishing touches on a research venture with the government to fund a new health study on long-term cellphone use. Lawrie Challis, a physics professor and chairman of the independent Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research program, will devote $3.8 million in funding from England’s health department to track 200,000 individuals for at least five years to determine whether their cellphones contribute to cancer and other diseases.
U.K. carriers are kicking in research dollars as well. MTHR will also examine whether there is a risk in allowing children to use mobile phones.
“We are hoping to have the funds in place in the next two months or so,” Challis said.
Challis, an emeritus professor of physics at Nottingham University, succeeded Sir William Stewart as chairman of the MTHR Program Management Committee in November 2002. Stewart led a government-chartered panel, which in 2000 issued a report saying that while there was no conclusive proof that mobile phones pose a health risk, children should limit their use of wireless handsets and the industry should refrain from promoting phone use by kids.