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15/06/2010 - Interphone revisited and inappropriate Welsh Assembly leaflets for children

Mobile Phone use and the risk of Brain Tumours - Interphone revisited

The Interphone study had some design flaws which underestimated risk by at least 25% according to a re-analysis of the published data that was released today at the annual Bioelectromagnetics Society conference meeting in Seoul, Korea.

The poster presentation report, called 'Re-evaluation of the Interphone Study: Applications of a Correction Factor' (see weblinks below) was prepared by Lloyd Morgan of Berkeley, CA, Senior Research Fellow at the Environmental Health Trust, USA; Michael Kundi, Professor of Occupational Health and Epidemiology and head of the Institute of Environmental Health, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria; and Michael Carlberg, M.Sc. of the Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Örebro, Sweden. The re-evaluation applies a correction factor to Interphone study results, calculated using the geometric mean value of the published odds ratios for less than five years of cell phone use.

The May 17, 2010 published Interphone study results did indicate risk of brain tumors after 10 years, but only in Appendix 2. However this re-analysis shows that the overall uncorrected Interphone study results substantially underestimate the risk for malignant brain tumors from cell phone use.

Lead researcher for this new work, Lloyd Morgan, said, "What we have discovered indicates there is going to be one hell of a brain tumor pandemic unless people are warned and encouraged to change current cell phone use behaviors. Governments should not soft-peddle this critical public health issue but instead rapidly educate citizens on the risks. People should hear the message clearly that cell phones should be kept away from one's head and body at all times."

Professor Michael Kundi stated: "The Interphone study, the largest epidemiological investigation on brain tumors ever conducted, was thought to give the final answer to the issue of a potential brain tumor risk from mobile phone use. It turned out to raise more questions than providing answers. Flaws in the design and problems during conduct of the study led to biased estimates of the risk. We tried to assess the magnitude of this bias and correct the most important risk estimates. It turned out that after correction the risk from mobile phone use is quite substantial and warrants precautionary activities."

The other author of this new paper, Michael Carlberg said, "The original Interphone results have severe problems with bias which results in underestimations of risks. Applying the correction factor shows that the actual risk is higher than the originally presented odds ratios, with several statistically significant results."

Lloyd Morgan explained, "In one Interphone study, by Lahkola et al (2008), which included results from the U.K. and four Scandinavian countries, the published Interphone results found virtually no increased risk of meningiomas. But when our correction factor was applied, using the mean value of the original odds ratios, not only was risk of meningioma found, but for every year of cell phone use, a person's risk of meningioma increases by 24%. For every 100 hours of cell phone use there was a 26% increased risk of meningioma, a tumor of the lining of the brain, the meninges.".... To download the full poster presentation, see below.

Welsh Assembly tells children "it seems that using a mobile phone won't cause health problems"

Most inappropriately (in our opinion) new Welsh Assembly Government Health Protection Agency leaflets tell children as young as seven years of age: Mobile phones are great for keeping in touch with friends and family, and millions of people all over the world use them everyday. At the moment it seems that using a mobile phone won't cause health problems." That is certainly not how we read the current state of the science.

The people responsible for this advice that effectively says it is OK for children as young as 7 years of age to have and use a mobile phone will have long left office and/or paid work by the time these children may develop brain tumours or other long-term health problems. There is now enormous peer-pressure among primary school children to own a 'cool' modern mobile phone. Although the leaflets also print a more cautionary message on the back page, they fail to give parents the support needed to justify refusing their child a mobile phone. Indeed, the leaflet for primary schools shows a father (or a teacher) suggesting to a child it's all right to use a cellphone as long as the calls are short. This contravenes the current UK Chief Medical Officer's advice for under 16's to use mobile phones "for essential purposes only". It also ignores recent repeated advice from Prof Lawrie Challis, former chair of MTHR (Mobile Telecommunications Health Research), that primary school children should not be using mobile phones at all.

The leaflet uses sanitised language - for example: "When we use a mobile phone it sends out radio signals. A radio or television uses the same kind of signals", and again: "Radio signals are used to send and receive messages. Radio signals bring music to our radios, pictures to our TV's.". They are not comparing like with like - a mobile phone handset is a transmitter by the ear, whereas a radio is only receiving signals from a transmitter many miles away. Also, mobile phones use pulsed radiated energy at a microwave frequencies, very similar (especialy 3G/UMTS phones) to microwave ovens. We don't call microwave ovens "radio ovens". Where has the context for this use of the word "radio" come from? It is not a normal term asociated with mobile phones. There is no formal definition of where microwaves start, but it is generally accepted that this refers to signals with a wavelength of less than a metre - i.e. frequencies above 300 MHz (e.g. mobile phones). This level of language sanitisation is both concerning and unnecessary.

The leaflets miss the opportunity to give necessary advice about how to properly reduce exposure from cellphones. They mention 4 tips:

  • Send text messages instead of making calls
  • Keep your mobile phone calls short
  • Use a Hands-free kit
  • Use the speaker phone feature

What they don't say includes:

  • hold the phone away from your body in your hands or on a book on your lap.
  • (Phones use less much radiation to send text than to speak, and texting keeps radiation from your head)
  • Choose a low SAR model - it is inexcusable not to include this.
  • Whenever possible, only use your phone when the signal quality is good.
  • (the phone can turn its power down by up to 1000-fold when it has a strong signal. The weaker the signal, the more the radio frequency has to boost itself to get connected, increasing your exposure. When reception is bad, such as in a rural areas, or when you are in a metal box, such as an elevator, train, or car, use your phone only for emergencies.)
  • Do not keep a phone turned on standby next to your body all day
  • When you are not using the phone keep it in a backpack or bag
  • Boys should not keep it their pocket - radiation will affect their fertility
  • Do not keep your phone on standby under your pillow at night
  • (This practice also exposes their heads to regular high levels of pulsed microwaves througout the night as the handset checks in with the network.)

The French are taking steps to change the law in order to protect children from the potential dangers of mobile phone. Its past the time for the British Government to follow suit. The French now recommend:

  • All cell phones must be sold with a device limiting head exposure to EMF
  • Any advertising campaign promoting the use of cell phones by children under 14 is banned
  • Providing radio transmitting equipments designed for children under 6 may be banned by ministerial order
  • In kindergarten primary school and junior high, the use of cell phones is banned for children during all teaching activities in locations listed in School rules
  • For all cell phones sold on the French territory the SAR must be indicated clearly and in French. Possible risks resulting from excessive use must also be mentioned

The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), chaired by Sir William Stewart, set up to advise the government on the potential risks of mobile phone risks, produced two reports, one in 2000 and an update in 2005. Sir William said children under eight should not use mobile phones at all. He said: "If there are risks - and we think that maybe there are - then the people who are going to be most affected are children, and the younger the children, the greater the danger. Parents have a responsibility to their children not simply to throw a mobile phone to a young child, and say 'off you go'".BBC news

Professor Lawrie Challis, who was vice chairman of the IEGMP and then of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme, set up to investigate the health risks of mobile phones, said "I would certainly not wish my own grandchildren to use mobile phones more than they had to." In June 2009, he was reported in the Daily Mail as saying that "primary school pupils should not have phones at all." Michael Carr-Gregg, a leading Australian psychologist and professor of paediatrics called parents who allow young children to use mobile phones "insane" and said that no child under 12 should be allowed a mobile phone.

2002, the Science and Public Policy Institute in the USA stated "Studies showed that that radiation penetrated deeper into the heads of teenagers and children resulting in more exposure to potentially harmful radio waves than adults; the type of genetic damage that was found - micronuclei in human blood - is more likely to occur in growing tissue undergoing mitosis, such as growing brain tissue in children."

The Vienna Doctor's Chamber (Wiener ärztekammer) warns expressly against excessive mobile phone use especially by children. The reasons for this conclusion are the results from the large EU funded 'Reflex Study'. As a consequence, the Doctor's Chamber (ärztekammer) drew up a list of guidelines, which stipulates specific rules of behaviour for the use of mobile phones, which include "A mobile phone in the trouser pocket and also the sending of SMS messages under the school desk can influence fertility and should be completely avoided. Also to play no games on the mobile phone." (This is likely to involve long periods of time on the phone).

In April 2008, the Russian National committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection released a statement which included "Electromagnetic fields affect not just human health in general, but also the processes of the higher nervous system, including behaviour and thinking". Their Ministry of Health insist that people under the age of 18 should not use mobile phones. They believe that young mobile phone users are likely to suffer from memory disturbance, attention problems, reduced learning and cognitive abilities, increased irritability, sleep problems, a greater incidence of epilepsy and general stress. They believe the risks of developing these health problems are "not much lower than the risk to children's health from tobacco or alcohol."

In January 2009, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) recommended restricting the use of mobile phones by children. The Authority says radiation from mobile phones could pose a health risk but that details of possible side effects remain unclear. Children should be encouraged to send SMS messages rather than make calls; parents could restrict the number and duration of calls; encourage the use of handsfree units; and avoid speaking in areas with poor reception, such as in cars or on trains.

We do wonder who the Welsh assembly officials consulted and employed to produce this leaflet. We call for it to be withdrawn and only re-released when greatly improved.

Welsh Leaflets - New Welsh Assembly Leaflets

Additional links

Some UK News Media coverage on the Interphone re-analysis

Telegraph - Telegraph
Daily Mail - Daily Mail
Daily Express - Daily Express

The new Morgan et al re-analysis

Interphone re-analysis - Interphone re-analysis by Lloyd Morgan et al

Two summaries of the Interphone studies can be found at

PW Interphone report - Powerwatch Interphone main news report
Microwave News Interphone report - Microwave News Interphone news report

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