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Back To Vidyya More Information Necessary To Establish Health Effects Of Mobile Phones

WHO Issues Revised Recommendations On The Use Of Mobile Phones

In many countries, over half the population already uses mobile phones and the industry predicts that there will be as many as 1.6 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide in the year 2005. But there is still some uncertainty about the health effects of radiofrequency fields (RF) which mobile phones and their base stations emit.

Following a recent international conference on the possible health effects of mobile telephones conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the release of key national reviews in Canada and the United Kingdom, WHO has updated its recommendations on this topic. The information is published today in Vidyya WHO Fact Sheet No. 193 on mobile telephones and base stations.

"There are a number of important recommendations," said Dr Michael Repacholi, Coordinator of WHO's Occupational and Environmental Health Unit and manager of the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project. These include:

  • The need for new studies to confirm recent findings that mobile phones may cause changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns;
  • Motorists should be strongly discouraged from using mobile phones while driving;
  • National authorities should adopt health-based EMF guidelines;
  • If, because of public concern, authorities want to introduce additional precautionary measures to reduce exposure to RF fields, they should not undermine the science base of the guidelines by incorporating arbitrary additional safety factors into the exposure limits;
  • Precautionary measures should be introduced as a separate policy that encourages, through voluntary means, the reduction of RF fields by equipment manufacturers and the public;
  • If individuals are concerned they might choose to limit their own or their children’s RF exposure by limiting the length of calls, or by using "hands-free" devices to keep mobile phones away from the head and body;
  • Scientific evidence does not indicate any need for RF-absorbing covers or other "absorbing devices" on mobile phones.
  • While RF field levels around base stations are not considered a health risk, siting decisions should take into account aesthetics and public sensibilities.

"All the information we have to date shows no adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones," emphasized Dr Repacholi. "However, most studies have examined the results of whole body exposure to RF fields at levels far higher than those normally associated with wireless communications. With the advent of such devices as walkie-talkies and mobile phones, it has become apparent that few studies address the consequences of localised exposures to RF fields to the head."

Health conditions which have been ascribed to the use of mobile phones include some types of cancer and changes in brain activity. But no studies on humans have yet supported these claims.

WHO is also conducting RF research. A large epidemiology study is being co-ordinated in over 10 countries by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – a specialised cancer research agency of WHO – to identify if there are links between use of mobile phones and head and neck cancers. The study is anticipated to be completed in 2003.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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