Inquiry into mobile phone health risk

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of 18 volunteers will start tests soon to see whether using mobile phones can affect short-term memory, decision-making and reaction time.

The trials at the Bristol Royal Infirmary are part of a pounds 100,000 investigation by the Department of Health to try to establish whether the microwave radiation emitted by hand-held phones could cause cancers or other illnesses.

The study also involves tests on rats at the Chemical and Biological Research Centre at Porton Down to examine whether mobile phone radiation causes "learning deficits". Dr John Tattersall, who is leading the research, will also carry out parallel research to evaluate the public's attitude to the risk posed by mobile phones.

The first fears over mobile phone technology were triggered by a 1993 US lawsuit on behalf of a women who claimed to have developed a tumour behind her left ear after using a mobile phone. Since then, a number of similar multi-million dollar lawsuits have been filed in the US; none has succeeded.

Between 1979 and 1991, the latest year for which full figures are available, the incidence of malignant primary brain tumours increased by 20 per cent in men and women in England and Wales - from about 5 to 6.2 per 100,000. But David Secher of the Cancer Research Campaign said: "The majority of that rise is among the over-70s, who we might assume are not mobile phone users."

Alan Preece, the medical physicist who will be overseeing the tests at Bristol, said yesterday: "I would be quite surprised if there was any effect on the brain from using a mobile phone. I wouldn't expect the small amount of energy that gets absorbed by the brain to do anything but heat it up slightly, and that would be dissipated just like any other warming."