Mobile-phone firms hit back over radiation alert

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The Independent Online

The mobile phone industry fought back yesterday over claims that "hands-free" devices emit more radiation directly into the brain of a cellphone user than the handsets themselves.

The mobile phone industry fought back yesterday over claims that "hands-free" devices emit more radiation directly into the brain of a cellphone user than the handsets themselves.

The Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), which represents the main cellphone companies, criticised a report by Which?, the magazine of the Consumers' Association, for failing to use a standard method of assessing radiation risks.

Research commissioned by Which? found the earpieces of hands-free devices emitted up to three times the radiofrequency radiation emitted from handsets.

Radiofrequency radiation is not the same as ionising radiation - such as X-rays, which can cause cancer - but it can result in localised heating at high energy levels.

Graeme Jacobs, the editor of Which?, said: "If you're worried about radiation from yourmobile phone, you shouldn't rely on a hands-free set. The two models we tested tripled the radiation to your brain, though we still don't know for certain whether that radiation is harmful."

The explanation for the apparent effect is that an earpiece attached to a handset can act as a transmitting aerial which could in theory deposit radiofrequency energy directly into the head, causing heating of the brain.

However, the FEI pointed out yesterday that the tests conducted for Which? did not follow the internationallyaccepted method of assessing the health risk by measuring the specific absorption rate (SAR), which assesses how much radiofrequency energy is taken up by the brain over time.

"Tests made by FEI members and also at an independent laboratory have all without exception shown that absorption levels produced when using a handset are significantly less than those produced without a headset," the FEI said.

"Any conclusions on the effects of radiofrequency emissions of mobile phones can only be made on the basis of SAR levels. These are relevant parameters set by safety standards and recommendations for the radiofrequency range around the world."

The Which? tests measured the relative levels of radiofrequency radiation emitted into a dummy model of a head from handsets and earpieces. They did not use these measurements to calculate SAR values, the Consumers' Association said.

"Measurements were made with the phone at the head,with the phone a metre away from the head - to check for a drop in level - and finally with the hands-free kit earpiececonnected and located in the ear," the association said.

Roy Brooker, principal scientist at the Consumers' Association, said it was not the intention of Which? to get involved in the debate over health risks of mobile phones, onlyto assess whether earpieces increase or decrease radiation exposure.

"We didn't think you could actually measure the potential health hazards in the laboratory. We didn't want to enter that debate," Mr Brooker said.

"We know that radiation from handsets is well withinthe international standard, and this is true even if earpieces emit up to three times the levels," he said.

The study also found that cellphone covers sold as radiation shields were next to useless for limiting exposure to cellphone radiation.

"The ones we looked at don't help, so if you're thinking of buying one, don't waste your money," Mr Jacobs said.

The Consumers' Association said there was no firm evidence that mobile phone radiation caused health problems "including cancer or gene damage, but neither has it been given the all-clear".

"International research is ongoing, but until conclusive evidence is available, users could limit their phone use if they are concerned about radiation."

Mobile phone users did not seem unduly worried by the warning yesterday.

David Dales, manager of Phones4U, said: "In the shop the sales have not been affected by any health issues. Scares have been out for ages but people still buy mobile phones."

Susan Ransom, a sales co-ordinator, said: "I use my phone for probably three hours a day and am not really worried about the health issues. I need to use it, so it can't be one of my main worries. I don't use a hands-free set."

Edward Martin, a surveyor, added: "I think this is just alot of hysteria. No one has said concurrently that this isa problem."

David Lynn, who works in finance, said: "I am not actively worried but I do wonder if this is going to be the next tobacco."