As Handy As A Cigarette But May Be More Dangerous

This new item has replaced the cigarette, and it is far more affordable than a car for the adolescent who is trying to show off. 

It places you in touch with “anyone, anytime, anywhere,” – with an electromagnetic wavelength of 300 to 300,000 megahertz (in between radio wavelengths and infrared radiation.) 

Yes, you're getting warmer. 

It is used in radar, broadcasting, and microwave ovens. 

Are you hot enough yet? 

That's right… it’s a mobile phone with a wavelength long enough to penetrate materials. All packaged into a hand-held communication device that is now accessible to just about anyone. 

With 570 million users worldwide, sales are set to rise further as the mobile comes ‘online.’ 

In May of last year, Osman Sultan, chief executive of Mobinil in Egypt, stated that the company was unable to accommodate the growing number of subscribers. It expects to add another 300,000 airwave lines to the current 120,000 by the end of the year. Competition is heating up in Jordan too, with Mobilecom, Fastlink (a consortium of local investors backed by Motorola), and Jordan

elecommunications Company issuing 15-year licenses. 

The problem is that the mobile phone industry and telephone companies never thought that the tiny power output of a mobile phone – typically about half a watt – could do any harm to users. However, there is mounting evidence that the radiation output of the mobile phone is dangerous. 

Although water is known to absorb radiation – for example, with the use of microwave ovens – it is not quite clear how it could be used to reduce exposure during the use of mobile phones. 

Will the increasing number of mobile phone victims quell the mobile madness? 
In Britain, it is common practice as a telephone engineer to be linked up to the head office by mobile phone while on duty. This reassures the company that you are on the job as well as provides a means of communication for workers out in the field. So it was for British Telecom engineer Lawrence Mills. 

His wife says, "My husband used to put up phone lines and spent a lot of time talking to head office as he checked wires. He could be in the queuing system for a long time waiting to talk to someone as he worked in confined spaces. He would have his phone held in the crook of his neck so he could be working at the same time. . . From the time he got ill, he thought it was the phone. Only six months after the phone was issued, the lump developed and it grew to the size of a grapefruit." The treatments of antibiotics and chemotherapy failed; he couldn't stand or speak because his windpipe was pushed to the side, and he died amassed in tumors. 

Mr. Howard, a company director and a mobile phone user for nine years, also developed cancer. Two years ago, he started having headaches and then discovered a lump where he held the telephone to his ear. He has had two tumors removed from his head and a third, which was causing temporary blindness, from his brain stem. He now uses a radiation shield on his phone and is suing Motorola. 

As possibilities for the use of the Internet proliferate, incidences like these do not seem to thwart the increasing use of the mobile. The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones spent eight months reviewing scientific evidence on all aspects of its effects on health. It concluded in May this year that due to the current limited understanding of the non-thermal effects of radiation on human tissue, the government should adopt a precautionary approach.

In experiments on rats conducted in 1998 by scientist John Tattersall, radiation levels similar to those emitted by mobile phones were found to alter signals from the brain cells. Alan Pierce of the University of Bristol speculated, in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, that the improvement in reaction time of subjects to words flashed onto a screen was caused by microwaves speeding up the flow of electrical signals through an area of the cerebral cortex.

David de Pomerai's team at the University of Nottingham experimented with beams of microwaves onto nematode worms. They found that the microwaves sped up cell division. 

Another team led by Henry Lai at the University of Washington (Seattle) found support for the idea that microwaves can trigger biochemical stress at low energy levels. Exposure of rats to microwaves produced endorphins (a natural painkiller), which made the subject more likely to binge on alcohol or react strongly to morphine and barbiturates. There was also evidence of the corticotrophin (a stress hormone) released by microwaves disrupting the activity of acetycholine (a neurotransmitter involved in memory and alertness) in the brain. 

Last year, Tattersall conducted further research using brain slices from the hippocampus of rats, which plays a role in their learning. He found that their exposure to microwave radiation blunted their electrical activity and weakened their responses to stimulation. 

A 1997 study coordinated by Michael Repacholi in Australia that mimicked the emissions of digital mobile phones found that the mice in the study were twice as likely to develop lymphomas as the animals that were not exposed. However, Repacholi used genetically engineered mice that were already susceptible to lymphoma. 

There has been some inconsistency in such experiments as not all of them assume laboratory conditions that can be repeated 100% in subsequent studies – for example, microwave emissions in some studies were shown to interfere with electrodes, which can lead to inaccurate readings. 

Aviation systems, like instrument landing systems that came into service before 1989, have never been tested for resistance to mobile phone emissions and are still being installed in aircraft. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (AA) has confirmed that cell radiation interferes with critical flight electronics, and tests have uncovered that the varying power in the output of cellular phones can lead to fast-changing interference patterns. Newer equipment has been designed to withstand higher levels of interference using screened cables and Faraday cages, especially on fly-by-wire planes like the Airbus. 

Dan Hawkes, head of avionics at the AA's Safety Regulation Group, says, "A cell phone emits more power the further it is from base station. So as an aircraft climbs, the mobile signal increases in power, boosting the interference level at a critical time in flight.” 

New types of mobile phones have been designed to "link-up" to satellite systems; however, they require more power, placing users at an even greater risk. 

Back to earth, however, it has been concluded by the courts that the cause of death in 12 separate automobile accidents was that the drivers were distracted by their mobile phones. An international survey led by the road safety organization, ROSPA, showed that drivers are more likely to have an accident within five minutes of using a mobile phone. 

In September, mobile phone manufacturers in Finland began labeling their products to indicate their levels of radiation emission. Finnish Nokia and Swedish Ericsson are developing a standard for measuring the amount of cell phone radiation that is absorbed by human tissue. And starting this month in Britain, under new government guidelines, mobile phones will be sold with a health warning. 

As well, the Department of Health has published an information leaflet for distribution to shops that sell mobile phones. Of particular concern is the fact that children may be more vulnerable to cellular radiation emissions due to their developing nervous system, a greater absorption of the energy by the tissue in the head, and a longer lifetime of exposure.

Hwaa Irfan is a professional science journalist

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