Health debate over mobile phones heats up

Two articles published last Friday in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet have reignited the debate over the dangers that mobile telephones may pose to children’s health, yet the U.K. government has still not established a team to carry out research that it promised in May.

The Lancet articles, by Dr Kenneth Rothman, of Epidemiology Resources Inc. in Boston, Mass., and Gerard Hyland, a theoretical biophysicist at the University of Warwick in England, look at the issue from the viewpoints of epidemiology and mechanism respectively.

While Rothman finds it is too soon to issue a verdict on the health risks posed by mobile telephones, Hyland claims there is enough evidence that “the low intensity, pulsed radiation currently used (in mobile phones) can exert subtle non-thermal influences,” especially in the case of children. Furthermore, Hyland criticizes the mobile telecommunications industry for hiding behind a report published last May by the U.K.’s Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), entitled “Mobile Phones and Health” and known as the Stewart Report after William Stewart, chairman of the IEGMP.

“The Stewart Report, published in May, 2000, makes some sensible recommendations, but unfortunately some of its greyer areas are now being exploited by the industry to obfuscate the issue,” Hyland said in the article.

The Stewart Report did single out mobile phone use by children, the elderly and the infirm as cause for increased concern. “Children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure. We believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children for nonessential calls should be discouraged,” Stewart said at a press conference in May.

The IEGMP did not set out guidelines for how many minutes per day would be considered safe for a child to use a mobile phone, nor did the group specify at what age one ceased to be a child. At the time, the Department of Health publically welcomed the report’s findings, adding that the government has already commissioned an additional “multimillion pound research strategy, spanning several years,” according to Yvette Cooper, Minister for Public Health.

But little has been done by the Department of Health since then. “We said in May that we had commissioned a study. The group that will take that study forward has not yet been established nor have we determined how much it will cost,” said a Department of Health spokeswoman on Friday.

The Department of Health, in London, can be contacted at IEGMP, can be contacted in care of the National Radiological Protection Board, located in Oxfordshire, England at The Lancet can be found on the Web at