AMTA responds to mobile phone health claims

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association relies on the expert judgment of public health authorities, such as the World Health Organization, for assessments of safety and health impacts, AMTA Chief Executive, Chris Althaus, said today.

He was responding to a report today on the Age On-Line site, reporting claims by a Canberra neurosurgeon that there was evidence that mobile phone use was potentially more dangerous than “asbestos and smoking”.

Mr Althaus said there was a large body of research into the health effects of radiofrequency emission available to health and regulatory bodies around the world, which is being continually reviewed.

“Potential health impacts of radio frequency energy have been studied in great detail over the past 50 years. This has resulted in a large body of scientific literature in this field - covering laboratory, clinical and epidemiological research,” he said. “Comprehensive reviews of more than 2500 research publications, including more than 600 studies specifically on mobile phones and base stations, by governments and health authorities continue, without exception, to find there is no substantiated scientific evidence of health effects.”

The WHO’s most recent advice says:

None of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure to the RF (radiofrequency) fields from mobile phones and their base stations cause any adverse health consequences.

Similar expert assessments confirming the scientific consensus on mobile phone and base station safety include: the UK Government (2007); EU’s Scientific Committee (2007); Irish Government (2007); the US Health Physics Society (2006); the Health Council of the Netherlands (2005, 2002); the UK Health Protection Agency (2004); the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority (2003); the American Cancer Society (2001); the World Health Organisation (2006, 2000); a specially-formed expert group of eminent scientists in the UK (2003, 2000); and the governments of France (2003, 2001), Australia (2000) and Canada (1999).

Mr Althaus said base stations and handsets are designed, built and tested to comply with strict science-based guidelines, which are recognised by national and international health agencies as providing ample protection for all members of the community.

“People can be confident, based on expert, independent advice, that there is no medical, statistical or biological basis to claim a link between mobile phone use and brain cancer,” he said.

Mr Althaus said independent experts had studied claims that the incidence of brain tumours had increased and found those assertions to be incorrect.

“The suggestion that fatal illnesses such as cancer have increased since the introduction of mobile phone technologies is false. For example, a number of recent papers have found the widespread introduction of mobile phones in the 1980s had no impact on the number of people diagnosed with brain tumours,” he said.

Sundeep Deorah of the department of epidemiology at Iowa University investigated brain cancer incidence in the US between 1973 and 2001.

The paper can be found at: [ http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/540146 ]

The study examined 38,453 cases of brain tumours and found no link between increased mobile phone use and brain cancer rates in the general population. The study concluded:

Our results do not support the hypothesis relating cellular phone use and brain cancer at the population level…If anything, the incidence of brain cancer declined during the period of cellular phone use. Of particular interest is the observation that the incidence rates are declining in the urban countries, which are expected to contain heavy users of cellular phones.

Also, Patricia McKinney, Professor of paediatric epidemiology at Leeds University and leading scientist in the UK INTERPHONE study, found:

Overall, we found no raised risk of glioma (Brain cancer) associated with regular mobile phone use and no association with time since first use, lifetime years of use, cumulative hours of use, or number of calls.

Mr Althaus said the literature review undertaken by the Canberra neurosurgeon and carried on his own website had not been published in a scientific journal or reviewed by any of his peers.

“While we recognize that this topic will continue to be subject to speculation and differing scientific opinions, weight must be given to the expert judgements of international authorities considering the results of published, peer-reviewed and replicated scientific research,” he said.

When the story about the neurosurgeon’s claims appeared last week in the Canberra Times, the newspaper reported comments from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the Federal Government agency charged with responsibility for protecting the health and safety of people, and the environment, from the harmful effects of ionising and non ionising radiation.

(ARPANSA) Non-ionising radiation branch director Colin Roy said yesterday the neurosurgeon's findings were at odds with findings from major international studies. "[We take] a weight evidence approach and the weight of evidence is from peer reviewed, scientific studies," Mr Roy said.

"Certainly an online report doesn't fall within that. The report itself is much more anecdotal than scientific and I suppose I agree with what other people might say that his findings are certainly contrary to all the major reviews that have been done by national and international bodies."

In its position paper on the subject, the agency concluded "there is no clear evidence in the existing scientific literature that the use of mobile telephones poses a long-term public health hazard although the possibility of a small risk cannot be ruled out".

"Users concerned about the possibility of health effects can minimise their exposure to the microwave emissions by limiting the duration of mobile phone calls, using a mobile telephone which does not have the antenna in the handset or using a hands-free attachment," the agency said.

Source: Canberra Times, March 28, 2008, page 6

For more information contact Randal Markey on (02) 6239 6555 or 0421 240 550