Swedish study links phones to cancer

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Controversy sparks lawsuits and legislation

WASHINGTON--A new Swedish study links analog cellphone use to brain tumors, a major scientific development that comes as lawmakers prepare to introduce legislation that would earmark federal funds for wireless bioeffects research and repeal a 1996 telecom act provision that bans zoning boards from rejecting tower applications for health reasons.

Meanwhile, brain cancer and other health-related lawsuits are moving forward against the mobilephone industry.

The research, presented last week in London by Lennart Hardell and Kjell Hansson Mild, found that use of analog mobile phones for fewer than 10 years increased the risk of brain cancer by 26 percent. However, the risk jumped to 77 percent for subscribers who operated analog phones more than a decade. The Nordic Mobile Telephone system began operating in Sweden in 1981 at 450 MHz and the 900 MHz system began in 1986.

Among tumors diagnosed in the case control study of 1,617 brain-cancer patients (aged 20 to 80 years), acoustic neurinoma was identified as the likeliest form of cancer to afflict analog cell-phone users.

The epidemiology study revealed brain tumors showed up on the side of the head mobile-phone subscribers used to make and receive calls. Brain tumors did not show up on the opposite side of the head, according to the study.

Hardell and Mild said no clear association was found between the use of newer digital mobile phones and brain cancer, but that such a risk cannot be ruled out. They said digital mobile phone users would need to be observed over a longer period in view of the fact that digital handsets have been on the Swedish market only since 1991.

"We want an opportunity to review it and to see it after it has been published and peer-reviewed," said Jo-Anne Basile, vice president of external and industry relations for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

CTIA last week announced the names of recipients of research grants underwritten by industry and overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. FDA has jurisdiction over radiation-emitting products. Three contracts, totaling more than $1.5 million, were awarded. One went to Dr. Raymond Tice at Integrated Laboratory Systems in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Tice will attempt to replicate experiments he conducted for Wireless Technology Research L.L.C. that found genetic damage to human blood exposed to mobile-phone radiation.

Likewise, Dr. Maria Rosaria Scarfi, of Italy's Interuniversity Center on Internaction between Electromagnetic Fields and Biosystems, will rerun WTR experiments to study the effect of heating on micronucleus formation.

The last contract went to Dr. Bernd Goerlitz, of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute of Toxicology and Aerosol. Goerlitz will study micronucleus formation as part of an existing animal.

CTIA said it followed the FDA's recommendations in making the grants. The General Accounting Office and lawmakers recently said the structure of the industry-government research project is vulnerable to abuse and conflicts of interest. GAO said very little mobile-phone health research is conducted in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world.

Dr. George Carlo, who managed the industry-funded WTR program, said he rejects any notion that heating caused micronucleus formation--a proven biomarker of cancer in experiments previously conducted by Tice. Carlo, noting that probes were used to monitor for heat, questioned industry's motives.

"With serious public-health questions that need to be addressed regarding cell-phone use, it is peculiar that they are spending $1.5 million to see whether a change of temperature of less than 1 degree is meaningful in terms of micronucleus formation. This adds nothing to the need for consumer protection," said Carlo.

Indeed, at least five class-action lawsuits have been filed against the wireless industry to force carriers to supply consumers with headsets to reduce any health risk from mobilephone radiation.

Hardell caused an uproar two years ago when he announced findings of an epidemiology study that found higher risk of brain cancer among cell-phone users.

The wireless industry insists previous scientific studies--including two recent epidemiology studies-affirm the safety of mobile phones. Others point to experiments that found genetic damage, DNA breaks, memory impairment, eye cancer, increased tumors in lab mice and other maladies from cell-phone radiation exposure.

The FDA and other scientific bodies overseas say there is no firm evidence that cell phones cause cancer, but that such a risk cannot be ruled out until further research is conducted.

The new Hardell-Mild study likely will further fuel the cancer controversy, which is also playing out in courts and in Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Reps. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plan to introduce a bill next month that will seek federal funding for cell-phone health research and attempt to overturn a 1996 telecom act provision that bars local officials from factoring health concerns into antenna siting decisions.

So long as mobile-phone carriers comply with the Federal Communications Commission's radiation exposure guidelines, which have been upheld by the courts, health cannot be used as a reason to reject tower construction applications. Some critics argue the FCC standard does not account for non-thermal bioeffects from cell-phone radiation, which has been shown in various experiments.

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PHOTO (COLOR): Leahy

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By Jeffrey Silva

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