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FDA To Scrutinize Cell Phone Safety
Bloomberg News
06/08/00

The Food and Drug Administration says it will supervise an industry-funded research project to examine whether cellular phone users may be harmed by the energy emitted from the devices.

The FDA and the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) have signed an agreement under which the agency will guide and review safety studies conducted by independent research groups and financed by the cellular phone industry.

The FDA action comes amid growing concern that the radio frequencies emitted by cellular phones pose health hazards, including an increased risk of cancer. The FDA said cell phone safety has not been confirmed, though independent and industry-funded studies have not linked phone use to health problems.

''There is not enough information at this point to be absolutely certain that these products are without risk,'' the FDA said. ''Certain studies conducted by the (industry) have raised questions that need further exploration.''

Preliminary studies by Wireless Technology Research, an industry-funded group, have found a higher rate of death from brain cancer among handheld cell phone users, compared with users of non-handheld phones, WTR Chairman George Carlo wrote in a letter last October. Other studies, though, have shown no link between cancer and cell phone use, according to Wireless Technology Research.

As of 1999, the industry had spent $25 million over five years investigating possible health effects of cell phones.

According to the FDA, the findings that suggest a potential problem are inconclusive. In one industry study, researchers found an association between mobile phone use and a certain rare type of brain tumor called a neuroepithelliomatous tumor. Yet cell phone users in the same study who spent more time talking appeared less likely to have the tumor, the FDA said.

Safety issues are attracting attention as the number of mobile phone users and the amount of time they spent talking increase. The CTIA said in April that one-third of all Americans had cell phones at the end of 1999. They used the phones for about 180 minutes a month, up from 130 minutes in 1998.

The FDA plans to review industry research and identify any findings that merit further study. The agency said it would make recommendations on the planning of future studies to ensure they yield credible results.

The industry will pay for the research and find independent groups of scientists to conduct the studies. The project is expected to take three to five years.

The FDA doesn't regulate the cellular telephone industry or test the safety of consumer devices before they reach store shelves. The agency has the authority to take action if mobile phones or other products are shown to pose a health risk. The agency has already urged the industry to try to design phones to emit less energy and educate consumers about potential effects.