Human volunteers to be used in cellphone safety study

A UK mobile-telephone task force has been set up to carry out 14 projects looking into potential links between the use of mobile phones and health risks to humans, the UK Department of Health announced last week.

          A UK mobile-telephone task force has been set up to carry out 14 projects looking into potential links between the use of mobile phones and health risks to humans, the UK Department of Health announced last week.

          Though there is currently no conclusive scientific evidence that the use of mobile phones poses any health risks to humans, the research projects are an attempt to rectify that situation, said Yvette Cooper, minister for public health, and Douglas Alexander, minister for e commerce and competitiveness, at the Department of Trade and Industry in a joint statement.

          Human volunteers will be used in some of the studies in the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, the Department of Health said. The program will be jointly funded by the UK government and the mobile-phone industry, to the tune of £7.4 million.

          "This package of research projects will make the UK a world leader in determining whether there are health effects from using mobile phones. We need to fill the gaps in our scientific knowledge as soon as possible so that we can provide people with the evidence they need to make an informed choice about using their mobile phones," Cooper said in the statement.

          There are 40 million mobile phones in circulation in the UK, which has a population of 55 million people, said Christine Jude, a spokeswoman for the Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), a group representing the mobile-telephone industry.

          The study is the result of a warning issued in May 2000 by a UK government-appointed commission, which said a cautious approach of risk management -- especially in relation to children -- should be taken by the government. The report, entitled Mobile Phones and Health, was published by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) and is also referred to as the Stewart Inquiry after its chairman William Stewart.

          Stewart also chairs the Programme Management Committee which will oversee the latest round of studies under the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme.

          The initial Stewart Inquiry report pointed out that some research has suggested that radiation from mobiles can speed up the growth of human tissue and even affect human thought processes.

          The Stewart Inquiry called for further studies on human health and mobile-phone use to be carried out, and led to the UK government issuing a ruling in December 2000 requiring all mobile-telephone handsets sold in the UK to come with leaflets warning of the potential health risks the technology may pose to children.

          In announcing the new studies on Friday, Cooper said that the Department of Health was reiterating that existing precautionary advice on the use of mobile phones.

          The first 15 projects that were named by Cooper have been granted around £4.5 million of the available funding and should mostly be concluded by July 2004, the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme said in a separate statement.

          The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme said there will be:

          - two studies examining possible effects on blood pressure and hearing in volunteers;

          - four studies exploring possible links between the risk of developing brain cancer or leukemia through mobile phone use;

          - two studies investigating the effects of mobile phone signals on brain function and the behavior of exposed people;

          - one study into the ways in which mobile phones affect the performance of drivers;

          - two studies attempting to identify how mobile phone signals could produce biological effects, by looking for evidence of changes in exposed cells, and

          - four studies examining the interaction of radio signals with the body in order to characterise how much energy is deposited and where.

          The original Stewart report singled out mobile-phone use by children, the elderly and the infirm as cause for increased concern. It said that children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure. At the time, Stewart stressed that he would not allow his own young grandchildren to use mobile phones on a regular basis.

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Tags mobile phone safety

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