New concerns over cell phone radiation

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by Diane Moca

MILWAUKEE -- For years, scientists insisted there was no connection between cell phones and cancer, but now some credible experts are re-evaluating that position.

A nurse who works in the brain injury unit of a physical rehabilitation hospital said, in the past year, she is suddenly seeing more people coming in with brain tumors and noticing the patients are younger and younger.
   
It was enough to make her discuss with the other nurses how they could change their ways, but the message isn't always welcomed.

"I don't think people want to know; I don't think they want to face that, because they're too addicted. If you go anywhere now, everybody is holding their phone," said nurse Laura.

She said trying to break her own technology addiction is rough but worthwhile.

"I got an old fashioned corded phone and plugged it into the computer," she explained, adding that she insists her older children limit their phone use and never keep their cell phones in their pockets.

She also stopped putting her cell phone under her pillow or on her nightstand, started using speaker instead of holding it to her ear, and even cut back using Wi-Fi -- another device that emits non-ionizing radiation.

Milwaukee attorney Randy Rozek wishes his deceased friend had been given such advice.

"He developed brain cancer on the side of his head where he typically used the cell phone," noted Randy.

He said his friend was a salesman who spent hours a day holding a cell phone next to his head for 20 years before his fatal tumor.

It's another example of anecdotal evidence possibly connecting cancer and mobile phone radiation.

Such "evidence" is disregarded by a top expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

"There is some data that suggests it might be a carcinogen. The bulk of the data says it's almost certainly not," insisted Dr. John Moulder, professor of radiation oncology and director of radiation biology at the college.

But consumer advocates say that data is changing.
   
First, the World Health Organization re-classified cell phone radiation as a "possible carcinogen similar to car exhaust."

"The World Health Organization study looked at 10 years of research and dozens of people that have been affected, and they concluded that cell phone radiation can cause brain tumors," summarized attorney Randy.

"They're saying, yeah, it's possible. There's some data that points that way. But it's not probable," countered Dr. Moulder.

Then this spring, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it's reviewing outside studies to decide if it should adjust current limits on how much radiation cell phones are allowed to emit.

Randy says the FCC will likely issue new warnings later this year.

"I think the FCC may be the primary factor in tipping the scales," he enthused.

The last time the agency reviewed a "safe" level of exposure was 17 years ago, long before smart phones became a daily part of life for millions and before international studies reported a link between cell phones and cancer.

Those studies are mentioned on the National Cancer Institute website, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's more generally accepted in Europe and overseas that there is a link," noted attorney Randy.

Dr. Moulder added that such a link would be apparent in a rise in cancer cases. "Brain cancer levels in the Western world have been pretty steady in the last 20 years," he said.

But attorney Randy explains: "What's interesting about the majority of studies that did find a link between the radiation and the cell phone use is that the cancerous tumor would appear on the same side of the brain where they typically would use their cell phone."

Randy said other lawyers are pursuing class action suits.

"I'm not one of them. I hope the industry steps up, and there's no need for class action suits," he said.

Even scientists who refute the link between phones and tumors admit that cancer may take decades to appear.

"Most carcinogens take a long time to cause cancer, by a long time, meaning decades, not years," explained Dr. Moulder.

Both sides acknowledge that cell phones have not been in widespread use, especially among kids, for decades, so scientists in the United States say they have relied for years on laboratory studies involving animals. The professor said he doubts the results of the international studies showing a link and puts his faith in the U.S. studies.

"I know many of the scientists involved, and I don't believe they would all be lying," commented Dr. Moulder.

"They're basically relying on literature produced by scientists working for the cell phone companies. This is very similar to what we had with Big Tobacco; they funded the studies that refuted the link between cancer and smoking," offered attorney Randy. He says just like the tobacco industry, the telecommunications firms are "funding their own studies, and they're marketing to kids."

But Dr. Moulder does think entrepreneurs are deceiving the public, by selling products like the Bodywell Chip, which the makers say is guaranteed to reduce radiation absorption.

"That is a wildly implausible claim that anything stuck on the phone is going to reduce your exposure," laughed Dr. Moulder after examining the company's website, literature and research.

"We did three tests," noted Dr. Nachaat Mazeh, biomedical physicist at Beaumont University and researcher for the Bodywell Chip. "These tests are established by the FCC. They show the card (chip) blocked the radiation."

The Bodywell Chip claims to lower the SAR -- or specific absorption rate -- of cell phones. The company's researcher says the chip lowers the radiation without affecting phone performance.
   
The Better Business Bureau warns consumers that such products may not provide any benefit, especially since they have not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration for any claims of protecting health.

Dr. Mazeh said the company is planning to apply for FDA approval after its patent is approved, but the researcher did admit he cannot prove a link between mobile phones and tumors.
   
The creator of the company says the device is like a seat belt, an extra precaution in case of harm, and $30 is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Dr. Mazeh said he works for the company as a consultant, but that did not influence the results of his research testing the Bodywell Chip. "I'm a very honest scientist," said Dr. Mazeh. "I have my credibility at stake."

The company's website says: "Our most recent study (January 2013) shows the SAR lowered by over 65% on the iPhone 5 and 80% on the Galaxy S3, with no effect on the cellphone's reception."

Cell phone companies include recommendations in the small print of their instruction manuals to keep the phone at least 15 mm away from the body.

Experts agree you will reduce your exposure to radiation if you follow a few simple steps:
1. Use an ear piece
2. Use speaker phone
3. Hold your phone away from your head
4. Text instead of calling
5. Don't use your phone when you have a weak signal
6. Don't put the phone to your ear until after the call connects
7. Don't put your phone in your pocket
8. Don't put your phone on your belt loop,
9. Don't give a cell phone to young children, even to play with, because they are most vulnerable to radiation.  

"The skull is not fully formed, and the radiation affects children differently," noted attorney Randy.

The Medical College professor did call cell phones "a big risk" -- to people talking or texting while driving or walking.

You can find out the surprising number of adults using their phones in this dangerous way in John Couco's special report next week.  

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, send an email to dmoca@cbs58.com.
 

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