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How Mobile Phones Can Damage Your Brain
The Express
02/29/00

Compelling new evidence that mobile phones affect the human brain has been presented to Government experts.

Yesterday The Express revealed that the team is expected to call for tougher guidelines on radiation from masts and handsets. Their decision has been prompted by new research by Finnish scientists who found volunteers exposed to radiation from mobiles showed faster reaction times when completing memory and mental arithmetic tests.

The results back up the findings of a study in Bristol last year which prompted the Government to set up the independent group in response to continuing public concern about safety. At first sight the results could be interpreted as positive news for Britain's 24million mobile users.

The Finnish study, led by Dr Mika Koivisto of the University of Turku, concluded: "The results suggest that exposure to the electromagnetic field emitted by cellular phones may have a facilitatory effect on brain functioning, especially in tasks requiring attention and manipulation of information in working memory."

But while the scientists involved refused to speculate on whether the tests have implications for long-term health, some experts warn any evidence of interference with normal brain functions by signals from handsets should be cause for concern.

Microwave radiation expert Alasdair Philips, of Cambridge-based consumer group Powerwatch, said: "Many poisonous substances have a beneficial effect in small doses. Digitalis is a deadly poison but is a useful and widely-used heart stimulant. The point is that occasional use of a mobile phone may be fine. Excessive use could be deadly."

A team of 48 volunteers aged 18 to 49 were asked to complete a set of 12 tasks which tested a range of functions including reaction times, memory, accuracy and mental arithmetic.

All volunteers were asked to carry out the same tasks during two sessions 24 hours apart, once while exposed to mobile radiation almost identical to that used by modern digital mobiles on the Cellnet and Vodafone networks.

During both sessions volunteers wore a digital phone mounted on a headset in the normal position with the antenna 4cm from their heads. They were unable to tell whether or not the phones, which were controlled by a remote computer, were switched on.

The Bristol study found decreased reaction times only in simple choice tests when users were exposed to old-style analogue phones, not digital handsets.

However, volunteers in the Finnish study, due to be published in the British journal Neuroreport, were exposed to double the power of that used in Bristol. Scientists say this probably explains the seeming discrepancy although the level was still well within international guidelines. The power levels from handsets vary during a call according to a range of factors, including how close the phone user is to a transmitter.

Dr Alan Preece, who led the Bristol study, said: "This research basically confirms our findings. They have used more sensitive tests, that is several which test a similar function to narrow down the particular effect.

"What we still don't know is what mechanism is causing these effects. We are still arguing about it. There are three or four possible mechanisms which need evaluating before we can say what the long-term effects will be. "One theory scientists are considering is that the radiation dilates the blood vessels feeding more oxygen to the brain, a mechanism linked to heating which is thought unlikely to cause long-term damage.