New batch of brain-cancer lawsuits to be filed this week

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WASHINGTON--The mobile-phone industry today is expected to get hit with a new wave of brain-cancer lawsuits, a development that ratchets up the stakes in a legal battle that most likely will play out in grand style later this month in Baltimore federal court as wireless firms go up against high-powered trial lawyer Peter Angelos.

A source close to the plaintiffs said four or so lawsuits should be filed today in the District of Columbia Superior Court, the first batch of about a dozen lawsuits that will be filed against industry in the next three weeks. After that, the source said, another dozen lawsuits could be filed. The cases are seeking billion in damages from industry.

Baltimore lawyer Joanne Suder and Michigan attorneys Meyer Morganroth and Sheldon Miller are pursuing the new suits, which will name top wireless carriers and manufacturers and industry standards groups as defendants. In November, the team of lawyers filed a $1.5 billion lawsuit on behalf of former Motorola Inc. technician Michael Murray. Murray also has filed a worker's compensation claim in Illinois.

Another former Motorola employee, engineer Robert Kane, is appealing a brain-cancer lawsuit he lost in Illinois state court. All plaintiffs claim cell-phone use caused their brain tumors. Kane is represented by Ben Barnow, who is pursuing a health-related privacy lawsuit against the wireless industry in connection with an industry-funded epidemiology study.

Other cancer-mobile-phone suits are pending in Nevada and California.

The lawsuit that most concerns the wireless industry is about to go to another level.

On Feb. 25, a federal court in Baltimore is expected to hold an unprecedented hearing to determine what scientific evidence and expertise will be admissible in court in an $800 million case litigated by Angelos. Angelos' firm represents 42-year-old neurologist Christopher Newman. The case represents the biggest legal challenge yet for the wireless industry on the health front. The case is overseen by U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake.

Blake also is handling a handful of class-action lawsuits seeking to force wireless carriers to supply headsets with phones and to compensate consumers who have already purchased radiation-reducing devices. A Feb. 15 hearing could determine whether the cases should be sent back to state courts in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Louisiana.

While health litigation against the wireless industry is on the rise, plaintiffs face a tough burden to prove causation. The industry has not lost any of the handful of cancer lawsuits it has faced in last 10 years. Federal regulators do not consider cell phones a health threat to the nation's 130 million wireless subscribers, but they caution that more research is needed before phones can be declared completely safe.

There is very little research in this area in the United States compared with other countries, something several Vermont lawmakers want to change.

The mobile-phone industry insists scientific research has yet to link mobile phones to brain cancer. But others point to experiments that have found DNA breaks, genetic damage, eye cancer, memory impairment, increased cancer in rodents and various neurological disorders from cell phone radiation.

A study published last week in the Bioelectromagnetics Journal determined that "under extended exposure conditions, RF [radio frequency] signals at an average SAR [specific absorption rate] of at least 5.0 W/kg are capable of inducing chromosomal damage in human lymphocytes."

While the SAR level in the study is higher than the maximum 1.6 W/kg limit for cell phones, it falls easily within the 50-fold safety cushion that is built into the FCC safety standard. Moreover, power levels of phones vary and remain virtually unregulated because there is no measurement standard or enforcement mechanism for compliance. The FCC is working to craft such a standard.

Epidemiologist George Carlo, who oversaw the newly published study as part of a $28 million research project underwritten by mobilephone firms, iinfuriated industry by announcing the results before they were published.

Carlo defends his actions to this day, and is sharply critical of industry for making him the issue instead of responding swiftly to protect consumers after learning of positive results two years ago.

"This underscores how inappropriate it is to delay getting this information to consumers," said Carlo.

A debate is raging in the scientific community about whether non-thermal radiation from cell phones can cause adverse health effects. Some critics, like the EMR Network, argue radiation exposure guidelines do not take into account non-thermal bioeffects from cell-phone radiation. The group continues to challenge the FCC's radiation safety standard, which has been upheld by the courts.

PHOTO (COLOR): Angelos

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By Jeffrey Silva

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