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Are Cell Phones Safe?
Consumer reports
03/06/03

Ten years ago, David Reynard said on Larry King's CNN talk show that he blamed his wife's brain tumor on her cell-phone use. After her death, he sued a cell-phone carrier and a maker, charging that the phones had health risks.

A federal judge eventually dismissed the lawsuit for lack of scientific evidence. But questions remain that new research has yet to resolve. More than 70 research papers on the potentially adverse effects of cell-phone use have been published in the past decade. Some have raised concerns about cancer, neurological disorders, sleep problems, or headaches; others have shown no association or were inconclusive.

The major unanswered question: Can exposure to low levels of electromagnetic energy that the body absorbs from a cell phone be harmful? (A phone emits the most radiation when you're on a call, but it also emits small amounts periodically whenever it's turned on.)

The federal government sets upper exposure limits to electromagnetic energy from cell phones known as the specific absorption rate, or SAR. However, the SAR limit does not address other effects, such as those from very low levels of radiation on cells and tissues.

The government's stance on cellular safety comes in this carefully worded but equivocal statement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC): "The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones. There is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe."

In the May 2002 issue of Differentiation, a scientific journal on cellular and biological research, a Finnish team reported that when human cells were exposed to cell-phone radiation in lab studies for one hour, protein changes occurred. One of the altered proteins plays a role in maintaining the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from toxins in the bloodstream.

"The take-home message from these studies is that the low-dose radiation from cell phones is biologically active, and that we are not transparent to these signals," says Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, a newsletter covering health issues surrounding electromagnetic radiation.

Government agencies or advisory groups in Britain, France, and Germany have discouraged children from using cell phones largely because of concerns that their developing nervous system may be especially vulnerable.