First world cellphone study does not rule out dangers

Partial results do not rule out dangers.

By
November 1, 2006 23:35
2 minute read.
kids cellphone 88

kids cellphone 88. (photo credit: )

The results of the largest-ever international study on the alleged health effects of cellphones will be released within a few weeks, but partial results issued by some of the participating countries - including Israel - have not ruled out the possibility that long exposure to their non-ionizing radiation may cause brain and head tumors. Dr. Siegal Sadetzki, the principal Israeli researcher for the "Interphone" study and head of clinical epidemiology and director of the cancer and radiation epidemiology unit at Sheba Medical Center's Gertner Institute, said results of the study were very interesting but that none of the participants could talk yet. She made her remarks Wednesday at the Conference on Environmental Pollution and Your Health, organized by Hadassah Israel and Hadassah College Jerusalem, held at Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. Sadetzki said alleged harm to health caused by cellphones and their giant antennas was difficult to pin down because it was hard to control all factors. Widespread use of mobile phones began worldwide only about a decade ago, she said, adding that environmental damage often showed up decades after exposure. A study documenting the carcinogenic effects in Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb blast in Hiroshima in 1945 was published only in 1995, she said. Sadetzki said one-sixth of the world's population used cellphones. She said she was shocked to see that the length of cellphone conversations by Israelis was considerably longer than in most other countries, adding: "And third-generation cellphones [which use more power] have not yet been tested." Sadetzki said cellphone use had been proven to increase the risk of road accidents by drivers who use them, whether using hand-free devices or while holding them. Regarding possible cancer risks, especially to the head and brain, she said British studies did not prove a connection, while results of Scandinavian studies were mixed. For example, the Swedish study found four times the risk of head cancers on the side of the head that people held their cellphones, using them for more than 10 years, compared to non-users. Another Nordic study found no smoking gun. "But that doesn't mean we're safe," Sadetzki said. "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence [of harm]." She said even a weak association between cellphone use and cancer could affect a large part of the population or susceptible people, or it could interact with exposure to other environmental hazards. Sadetzki said it was clear that extra caution must be taken with children since they absorb more energy into their heads because they are smaller and cancer is more common in children whose cells divide for growth. Sadetzki's case-controlled studies examined 1,700 patients with head tumors and looked at their cellphone use, comparing that with controls. Environment Minister Gideon Ezra described the difficulties of cleaning up the country's water, air and land. He said he had changed the name of his office from the "Ministry of Environmental Quality" to the "Ministry of Environmental Protection" to stress the need to protect dwindling untouched resources from pollution. Ezra bemoaned the fact that of 7 million tons of building waste produced each year, only 1 million tons were buried in legal dumps because contractors were charged NIS 300 to $500 per truckload. Not charging for dumping in legal sites would save the environment from severe damage, he said. A feature on the environmental health conference will appear in the Health Page on Sunday, November 12.


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