Israelis just aren't getting the message

Expert berates Israeli public for not taking in warnings about possible dangers of cellphone use.

cellphone feat biz 88 (photo credit: )
cellphone feat biz 88
(photo credit: )
A top expert on Monday berated the Israeli public for not internalizing warnings about the possible dangers of cellphone use. Prof. Elihu Richter, a senior expert in electromagnetic radiation and retired head of the occupational and environmental medicine unit of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, was speaking a day after the Health Ministry posted guidelines on cellphone use on its Web site. Richter, who does not use a cellphone, has been cautioning against the excessive usage of the devices for years. When asked to comment eight years ago on a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association claiming no connection between the use of cellular phones and brain cancer, Richter told The Jerusalem Post that the study's follow-up period of four years was too short and did not take into account the thinner skulls of children. He went on to add that had a similar protocol been applied to testing the effects of cigarette smoking, such a study would have erroneously yielded no correlation with cancer. On Monday, Richter cited a public statement recently issued by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, based on studies with a latency period of 10 years or greater, as evidence of the Health Ministry's obligation to launch an official warning. The professor called attention to the growing epidemiological investigations indicative of a link between cellphone usage and tumors on the corresponding hemisphere of the brain. Though yet to conclusively determine the extent of the damage inflicted by cellphones, such studies do encourage users to err on the side of caution. Richter expressed frustration with the public's refusal to take the threats seriously. "The basic problem with Israelis is not a lack of cellphones but a lack of ears... We do not have a culture of listening," Richter said. He did, however, credit the ministry as one of the first to make the information public knowledge, although perhaps not as soon as he would have liked. "As far as I know, Israel's Health Ministry is one of five ministries in the world to put out a statement [about the risks of cellphones], but the data on increased risks for gliomas and acoustic neuromas on the side of use, notably after 10 years from first exposure, have been in the scientific literature for several years," he said. "This is not a revolutionary finding." In a 2002 paper, Richter, along with Dr. Zvi Weinberger of the Jerusalem College of Technology, posited that the specific microwave frequency at which cellphones broadcast utilizes the human head as an antenna and the brain tissue as a radio receiver. The two scientists urged against the excessive use of cellular phones based on the premise that the body is actually involved in sending and receiving signals, which likely has medical ramifications. As of yet, conclusive studies have not been conducted on the consequences of cellphone usage by children. However, it has been inferred by many experts that the risk is especially great for youth. This is due to a larger overall vulnerability, amplified by thinner skulls and brains that have not yet fully developed, and the likelihood of them using the technology for far more years than those who were introduced to cellphones as adults. "The big problem is that we have a population, not only here but in many places in the world, which is becoming addicted to cellphone use. This problem applies especially to the young, so we have good reason for concern and good reason for the alert," Richter said. He went on to target the growing removal of landlines from public buildings as responsible for Israel's burgeoning reliance on cellular phones. According to Richter, a similar problem has arisen in many developing countries. "Where public telephone systems were never strong, cellphones were needed to fill a critical vacuum - especially in poor countries. The wireless companies and the traditional companies then began wiping out the traditional phone system and switching the public to the use of cellphones, which are more expensive," Richter explained. "I personally believe there should be legislation requiring public institutions, especially schools, where there are kids, to retain public telephones and increase their numbers. It's disgraceful that public telephones have been wiped out in key places," he said. According to Richter, the risks involved must be made explicitly public. He includes in his call to action the obligation of cellphone providers to include warnings with their products. "Of course they should [warn their clients] but I don't count on them to do it," he said.