A Dangerous Call - Is Your Cell Phone Frying Your Brain?
They are both fashion accessories and an essential part of our lives. Yet since they first became widely available in the 1990s, there have been nagging doubts about just how safe mobile phones really are. Could they cause cancers in the brain? Does living near a mobile phone mast raise your risk of other cancers?
Professor Denis Henshaw, head of the Human Radiation Effects Group at Bristol University, says: "We are steeped in denial over the safety of mobile phones and related technologies." He points, as an example, to a recent Austrian study which found a raised risk of breast cancer near phone masts. "We have emission levels in the UK similar to those in Austria and yet there is no warning to people of possible dangers."
Contrast the UK position with that in other countries, where at the very least they take the approach that when it comes to this new technology, its better to be safe than sorry. The German government has taken a more cautious line over wi-fi. Last September, the German environment ministry recommended that people should keep their exposure to radiation as low as possible by replacing wi-fi with a cabled connection. Three years ago, the Vienna Chamber of Doctors put up more than 21,000 posters in surgeries and other places with very specific warnings about mobile phones, such as: "Use your phone as little as possible" and "Men - never keep a phone in your trouser pockets as it can reduce fertility."
A study last month reported that out of 360 men attending an infertility clinic, those who used their mobile the most had the poorest sperm quality. Last October, two Swedish professors pulled together the results of 11 studies involving people who had used mobiles for more than a decade and found they were 20 per cent more likely to develop a benign tumour in the inner ear, and 30 per cent more likely to develop a type of brain tumour known as a malignant glioma.
Last month, the Irish Doctors Environmental Association said that the current thermal-based guidelines were clearly no longer appropriate and called on the government to "immediately start research into the non-thermal effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation". "There is absolutely no doubt these effects exist," says Dr Andrew Goldsworthy, a biologist and expert in low frequency microwave radiation, and honorary lecturer at Imperial College in London.
"For instance, we've known for more than 30 years that electromagnetic fields affect the behaviour of calcium in living cells." He claims that this could explain the symptoms reported by people who say they are affected by pulsed microwave radiation - the sort emitted by mobile phones. "The textbook symptoms of too little calcium - such as fatigue, muscles cramps, irregular heart rhythm and gut problems - are very similar to those reported by people who say they are affected by microwave radiation," he says.
"Mobile phones and the rest aren't going to go away, but could we do more to acknowledge the possible problem so people can make an informed choice about using them and can learn to deal with the effects?"