Wednesday, June 1, 2011

WHO Report on Carcinogens Adds To Cell-Phone Worries

A World Health Organization report on possible carcinogens has added to worries about cell-phone usage. The WHO report offers no new cell-phone/cancer research, but points to others' studies. An analyst said without conclusive proof, the report's impact will be minimal. And the wireless industry and others are critical of the WHO cell-phone report.

The World Health Organization's declaration that cell phones are among a group of possible carcinogens has added new fuel to growing worries about the dangers of electromagnetic devices increasingly glued to the sides of our heads. The United Nations agency cited 31 scientists from 14 countries.

The report contains no new research showing that heavy exposure to mobile Relevant Products/Services phones' microwave-like radiation can eventually cause brain tumors, but cited studies that merit caution. Proof of a link to cancer has been elusive, since many doctors agree that long-term study is necessary and mobile phones have only been widely available for about 15 years.

More Warnings?

The report by WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer gives a boost to those who have long warned that cell phones are a potential hazard, but it also raises questions for the industry. Will governments revise the acceptable radiation levels for phones or require more prominent warning labels, or even disclaimers in TV ads? Will the industry respond by marketing some phones as safer than others?

Analyst Michael Gartenberg of Gartner Relevant Products/Services feels that absent conclusive proof, the impact will be minimal. "The report seemed pretty iffy, so I'm not sure consumers are going to necessarily change behavior without a lot more evidence," he said. "I suspect some folks will use their headsets a bit more just in case."

CBS News, in response to the WHO report, listed online a list of 10 low-radiation phones dominated by Samsung devices such as the Captivate, Evergreen, Replenish, Haven, Acclaim 4G, Infuse and, at number one, the Blue Earth. Also making the list were LG's Quantum, Huawei's Ideos X5, and T-Mobile's Sidekick. The list was based on the specific absorption rate of radiation. The Federal Communications Commission's current limit for public exposure from cell phones is an SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram.

CTIA – The Wireless Association reacted to the report with skepticism.

"IARC conducts numerous reviews and in the past has given the same score to, for example, pickled vegetables and coffee," said John Walls, CTIA's vice president for public affairs. "This IARC classification does not mean cell phones cause cancer. Under IARC rules, limited evidence from statistical studies can be found even though bias and other data Relevant Products/Services flaws may be the basis for the results."

'No Evidence'

Walls added, "Based on previous assessments of the scientific evidence, the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that '[t]here's no scientific evidence that proves that wireless Relevant Products/Services phone usage can lead to cancer.' The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that '[t]he weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.'"

Also skeptical is wireless industry analyst Craig J. Mathias of the Farpoint Group. But he said the final word on cell phones and cancer may not be known for years, if ever.

"I'm not sure cell phones are not safe," said Mathias. "I'm also not sure they are. Prudence is the watchword for now. But I'm pretty sure that a definitive link between cell phones and cancer will not be established except in very rare cases."

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