Cancer scare hits cellphone industry

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The Independent Online
THE CELLPHONE industry and the promise of a 'wireless' future have suddenly been challenged by allegations that high-frequency radio waves can cause brain cancer.

The scare first emerged in the US before Christmas when a Florida man, David Reynard, sued Japan's NEC and GTE, owner of the local cellphone network, charging that his wife's brain cancer was caused by her constant use of her portable phone. The speculation hit fever pitch last week when Reg Lewis, chief executive of Beatrice, the food giant, died unexpectedly of the disease, and another, Michael Walsh of Tenneco, was diagnosed with it.

It is unknown whether either businessman relied heavily on cellphones, but thousands of worried users deluged operators with calls after Mr Reynard appeared last week on a popular cable television show, Larry King Live.

The coincidence helped cause a sell-off of mobile communications shares last Friday, which continued again yesterday. At least one telecoms analyst, John Bauer at Prudential Securities, advised his clients to sell their shares of McCaw Cellular, America's largest independent cellphone operator, as rumours of a brain-cancer connection spread.

A spokesman for McCaw dismissed the scare, comparing it to the fears that surrounded microwave ovens when they were first introduced. And Motorola, the world's leading manufacturer of hand-held cellphones, held a news conference to counter the spreading rumours, offering a wide range of scientific testimony that found no danger from radio waves.

Cellphones operate at very low power levels, between half a watt and about three watts. Some industry research has shown that the human body does act as an antenna, and that cells respond to transmissions at such close range.

But Dr Ross Adey, a California researcher who has been funded in part by Motorola, said there is no evidence that the waves are damaging brain cells or initiating the growth of tumours.

Mr Reynard acknowledges that his wife's doctors are not convinced that her cancer was caused by her cellphone. One industry spokesman also said he had been told that Mr Reynard was once in the conventional two-way radio business and was put out of business by cellular, but this could not be independently confirmed.

In the UK, the Government is conducting a study of the effect of radio frequencies. A spokesman for Cellnet, one of two mobile telephone operators, said the telephones used on the company's network fell well within British and EC safety standards.