Over the past 10 years, towns have been trying to regulate where cell phone towers are located. The towers can exceed 250 feet in height and are often placed in residential areas or in the middle of a scenic view. There are expected to be over 100,000 towers in the U.S. within a few years.
Although at first courts made it difficult for towns to stop cellular towers from being built, municipalities are now having increasing success.
Experts say that the Third Circuit's decision is the latest in a series of cases to establish the power of local zoning authorities over the placement of towers.
"The pendulum has swung back to the middle. The courts seem to be striking a better balance between municipalities and the needs of the industry," says John Wilson of Rochester, N.Y., who successfully represented a municipality in a recent Second Circuit case. (Sprint Spectrum, L.P. v. Willoth, 176 F.3d 630; 99 LWUSA 521; Search words for LWUSA Archives: Cross and Yesawich.)
"There was a time when the industry would roll over city councils and say, 'The Act permits us to put up towers at our convenience,'" agrees municipal lawyer Fritz Knaak of Vadnais Heights, Minn. "This case shows that courts now better understand the arguments and are willing to defer to a municipality's judgment."
The decision should give towns more leverage in negotiations with phone companies.
"Municipalities clearly have the upper hand," says attorney L. Steven Emmert, who successfully represented Virginia Beach, Va., in a recent Fourth Circuit case. (AT&T Wireless PCS v. City Council of Virginia Beach, 155 F.3d 423; 98 LWUSA 745; Search words for LWUSA Archives: Gibson and Golembeck.)
"Providers are becoming more conciliatory at the zoning board level because the risks of litigation are less clearly tipped in their favor than they originally thought," agrees Wilson.
Attorneys for cellular phone companies complain that the courts are making it too difficult for their clients to get towers approved.
"This case follows the trend of courts raising the bar on what a provider needs to prove in order to get a site developed," says Kenneth Baldwin, who practices in Hartford, Conn. "I don't understand how any provider can really meet the burden imposed by this court."
The town in this case passed an ordinance restricting cell towers to light industrial areas. A cell phone company requested a zoning variance permitting it to erect a 160-foot tower in a residential district. When the board denied the variance, the company sued under the Telecommunications Act, arguing that the denial had "the effect of prohibiting the provision of wireless services." (47 U.S.C. Sect. 332(c)(7)(B)(i)(II).)
But the court disagreed.
"[T]he [Act's] 'effect of prohibiting' clause [does not] encompass every individual zoning denial simply because it has the effect of precluding a specific provider from providing wireless services...To do so would provide wireless service providers with a wildcard that would trump any adverse zoning decision...
"[A] provider whose application has been denied...must show two things. First...that its facility will fill an existing significant gap in the ability of remote users to access the national telephone network... The provider's showing on this issue will...have to include evidence that the area the new facility will serve is not already served by another provider...
"Second, the...applicant must also show that the manner in which it proposes to fill the significant gap in service is the least intrusive on the values that the denial sought to serve."
In a second case decided a few days later, the court applied the same two-part test, but remanded the case for additional findings as to whether the proposed tower would fill a "significant gap."
Lawyers say requiring companies to show that a proposed tower will fill a "significant gap" in service imposes a difficult new restriction on cell phone towers.
"The case establishes an awfully high threshold for providers who claim that a municipality is prohibiting wireless services, because they have to show that there's no access to the national telephone network by any provider" in that area, says Nancy Essex, a municipal attorney who works in Raleigh, N.C.
In effect, the court is saying "that a municipality's authority to deny a provider's application becomes greater when it is beaten to the punch by another provider," says Ted Kreines of Tiburon, Calif., a consultant to local governments on wireless planning and editor of the newsletter PlanWireless.
In addition, "the factual inquiry about 'least intrusive alternatives' is going to make these cases much less susceptible to summary judgment," says Emmert.
The result, say defense lawyers, will be slower development and increasing costs.
"We're going to need more coverage, not less, in the future, and the tougher it is to get towers erected, the slower the system develops," says Baldwin.
Companies will be forced to design cell phone towers which are disguised as trees or flagpoles or worked into existing structures, says Stoneham, Mass., attorney Greg Higgins, who represents phone companies. "The downside is these technologies cost two to five times as much as standard development costs - and this translates into higher prices for the consumer."
What Towns Should Do
Experts say there are a number of things municipalities can do to make it more likely that their zoning decisions will be upheld. A front-page article on this issue appears at 97 LWUSA 529; Search words for LWUSA Archives: Dam and Linder.
* Preempt problems.
The best way to handle conflicts over cell towers is to try to avoid them altogether.
Towns should bring in consultants before the issue arises, says Knaak. That way, a list of available sites can be compiled in advance and it won't look like the town is intentionally trying to keep towers out.
Working out problems early in the process can benefit companies, too, says Essex. "This case shows that it's in a provider's interests to come to a local government early and get a whole network approved, because when the provider needs one last tower to complete a pattern and fill a gap, the fact that there's only one available site isn't going to be enough to justify a tower."
* Don't forget the details.
Although courts are becoming more likely to reaffirm local zoning authority, municipalities still need to be meticulous about observing procedural proprieties, says Essex.
"A lot of the challenges to municipalities have been on a procedural basis. Make sure that an order rejecting an application contains the grounds for the decision, and that decisions are made within a reasonable time," she cautions.
Also, it's vital for towns to buttress their case with supporting documentation and testimony.
"The most important factor when you're in court is to have a full record developed below," says municipal attorney Kirk Wines of Seattle. "If you build a careful record at the hearing level, the court is more likely to back you up."
* Hire experts.
Another step that more and more municipalities are taking is to counter companies' use of expert testimony with their own. "Be sure to retain your own experts," says Philip Lope of Zelienople, Pa., who represented the town in the Third Circuit case.
Municipalities should consider getting an expert to testify on such issues as "the quality of service, the nature of the gap in service, other feasible, less intrusive alternatives to the proposed tower, and whether other providers are able to supply service without requiring a zoning variance," suggests John Pestle, a municipal attorney from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Other useful experts might include a radio frequency engineer who can challenge the company's technological assertions and an appraiser to testify about effects of the proposed tower on property values, says Wines.
* Ask for alternatives.
Cities and towns should take advantage of the burden placed on companies by challenging them to show that no less intrusive alternatives are available, says Wilson.
In this case, "the court said that there are alternatives to every cell site - no court has ever come right out and said that before. They've danced around it, alluded to it, but here the court says, 'Don't just bring us one option,'" says Kreines.
But towns shouldn't get overconfident without having the facts to back up the assertion that less intrusive alternatives are available, warns Emmert.
"If localities abuse their position, the courts are going to stop giving them deference and say, if you really think there is a less intrusive alternative, prove it," he says.
To order a copy of either opinion, call 800-933-5594.
© 1999 Lawyers Weekly Inc., All Rights Reserved.
Millions of the migratory birds, which yearly travel through Chicago from as far north as Canada to as far south as Peru, are being killed off by rapidly rising cellular telephone towers and new digital television antennas blocking their paths, wildlife experts say.
High-definition television towers can climb to heights of 1,000 feet and are the latest threat to songbirds, which typically fly at 5,000 feet but descend to much lower levels during overcast evenings, said Albert Manville, a wildlife biologist with the office of migratory bird management for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
``We're looking at an impact of between 4 [million] to 5 million birds killed each year just from the cellular telephone towers; we know that towers are going up at an unprecedented rate,'' Manville said. ``HDTV towers are a train wreck we want to avoid. ... The concern is it's yet another impact [on birds].''
Manville and other experts are so worried about the newly installed digital television or HDTV towers that they led a symposium recently at New York's Cornell University to draw attention to the issue.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, 48,642 cellular telephone towers at least 200 feet in height were in operation last year. Digital towers recently went up as television stations prepared for the advent of HDTV broadcasts.
The antennas went up this month, at the end of the birds' second migration.
The birds typically migrate twice a year, traveling north during the spring months from March to early June and south for the winter months from August to December, said David Willard, collection manager in the bird division of the Field Museum.
The birds use stars as navigational tools, but during overcast evenings they fly under the cloud cover. They are then drawn toward lights on towers and buildings, Willard said.
Several hundred different species of songbirds fly through Chicago. While many of those birds, including warblers, sparrows and orioles, are abundant, others such as the bobolink are so scarce that they're at risk of being placed on the nation's endangered species list.
The Kirtland's warbler, which calls the grasslands of Michigan home, is so scarce that only about 2,000 pairs remain alive, Willard said.
Along their routes, birds typically encounter hazards such as large picture windows, high-rise buildings and towers with guy wires that help secure the antennas.
``Because of the other kinds of hazards for birds, people are wondering how the [new towers] could not cause similar kinds of problems; those kinds of structures have already been shown to be hazardous to birds,'' Willard said.
Along with the towers, experts also are pointing to the proposed ``stick building'' in the Loop as another problem for the birds. The building is to be the world's tallest skyscraper.
Tiny bird carcasses line drawers in the Field Museum as examples of those that have struck buildings and other hazards in the area.
For reasons scientists haven't been able to explain fully, the birds are drawn to red lights and radio signals, which might disrupt the birds' navigation systems. The lights can be found at the top of the towers and many buildings. The birds routinely circle around the lights to regain their orientation but then hit guy wires holding up the structures, said Vernon Kleen, an avian ecologist for the Department of Natural Resources.
``There are some [wires] that have killed as many as 1,000 birds a night, maybe more,'' Kleen said.
Songbirds, which tend to be smaller than other varieties of birds, fly at night, while most other birds fly during daylight. The birds choose night to avoid larger predators and also use stars and ground lights as navigation tools, Kleen said.
``Smaller birds fly at night to hide under the cover of darkness,'' he said.
The research, to be released this week, firmly links the power lines with childhood leukaemia and other forms of cancer. The levels recorded in some areas were two times higher than the legal maximum allowed for adult nuclear power workers - the group permitted maximum radiation exposure.
Its most serious implication is that more than 23,000 homes built under or near power lines are unsafe, especially for children. The effect of the fields can extend more than 100 yards either side of the lines.
Professor Denis Henshaw, of Bristol University's human radiation effects group, showed three years ago that there was a theoretical mechanism whereby power lines could increase human uptake of the radioactive gases produced naturally in the soil and also of traffic pollutants. His latest study quantifies this effect in the field and shows that power lines are indeed linked to childhood leukaemia and other cancers. Henshaw took 2,000 field measurements to support his research.
A university insider described the findings as dynamite. "The study has serious implications for the electricity industry, which could face huge compensation claims and pressure to move its pylons."
Children are especially vulnerable to radiation and pollution damage because they have more growing and dividing cells than adults. Such cells are far more prone than adult ones to become cancerous when exposed to hazardous substances.
The research will be published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology. Its editor, Professor Gordon Steel, said it was a comprehensive study of how electric fields of the kind generated by power lines and, to a lesser extent, domestic appliances, could increase the uptake of radioactive gases and pollutants by humans. Details will be revealed at a press conference at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London on Wednesday.
The study, funded by the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council, is backed by another carried out by Sir Richard Doll, due for publication in The Lancet on Friday. Doll, who discovered the link between tobacco and lung cancer, has collated details of every childhood leukaemia case in the past four years to try to find common causes, including links with electric fields.
Childhood leukaemia has long been seen as a target for such studies since it occurs in clusters, suggesting a common cause that is probably linked to local environmental factors. Clusters associated with power lines have been noted for years but the electricity industry has insisted such associations were too weak to be significant.
Three years ago Henshaw discovered the complex interactions between the alternating electric fields surrounding power lines and the radioactive breakdown products of naturally occurring radon gas. His theory was dismissed by the electricity industry and, more importantly, the government's National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).
Henshaw is understood to have shown that in some areas children living near power lines could receive doses of 95 millisieverts of radiation a year, compared with the maximum for homes of one millisievert. Nuclear workers are allowed a maximum dose of 50, soon to be reduced to 20.
Henshaw was unwilling to comment on the study before publication but said: "It is clear that if there is radon gas or traffic fumes in the air near pylons, then people living nearby will suffer increased exposure because of the electric field."
The National Grid and electricity distribution companies could find themselves in a difficult position. A spokesman said it was too early to comment.
The findings will be welcomed by victims and their families, some of whom have tried to sue for compensation. Ray and Denise Studholme, of Bolton, launched the first legal case of its kind in Europe in 1994, when they took Norweb, the electricity supplier, to court after their son Simon, 13, died from leukaemia in 1992. They had to drop their action in 1997 after an American study, now criticised as flawed, raised doubts over a link. This weekend Ray, 51, said he would consider restarting legal action in the light of the new evidence.
The panel of independent experts, formed in April by then Health Minister Tessa Jowell, held the first of five planned hearings across Britain by taking testimony from other experts and ordinary mobile phone users alike.
Other hearings will be held in Liverpool, Cardiff and London, panel members said.
The 10-member panel, which includes physicists, doctors and a specialist from the World Health Organisation, will put together a report on the safety of both phones and transmission masts by late March or early April. ``This is the most extensive public consultation in Britain to date on the safety of these devices,'' William Stewart, the British government's former chief scientific adviser, told Reuters.
``We wanted to make this as wide-ranging a study as possible -- to look at the vast amount of evidence that's coming in.''
Some medical experts have suggested that microwave radiation absorbed by the brain from heavy use of mobiles could cause brain tumours as well as other serious side-effects, including headaches, nausea, tiredness and sleep problems.
But to date there has been no consistent medical evidence showing there is a health problem from mobiles, and one study earlier this year showed they could even have a positive effect on people's reactions.
Stewart said he was making no assumptions about the safety or otherwise of the increasingly ubiquitous devices.
``Do I have a mobile phone? Yes. Will I continue to use it? Yes. But I have children and grandchildren, and I think all of us just want to make sure that the public is as safe as it can be,'' he said.
Despite occasional fears about the effects, global mobile phone sales zoomed ahead by 51 percent to 163 million last year, according to U.S.-based market researcher Dataquest.
Intelligence documents have been censored to hide the fact that Western governments have long been aware of the deadly danger of microwaves.
Yet when it was announced earlier this week that Swedish scientists have conducted similar experiments showing mobile phone use could lead to an increased risk of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases their finding were again dismissed.
Today, Alasdair Philips, a leading researcher into the effects of microwave radiation, will reveal to a London conference into mobile phone adverse health effects that he has uncovered copies of the original papers which back up claims made by the Swedish team.
Mr Philips, who runs Cambridge-based consumer group Powerwatch, said: "It is mind-numbing that people are still trying to claim there is no scientific evidence that mobiles could be harmful."
"People need to be given the full facts so that they make up their own minds and take precautions to guard against harmful effects." But vital paragraphs had been removed when American Defense Intelligence Agency Documents into Soviet microwave radiation research were published earlier this year in Tim Rifat's 'Remote Viewing' study.
Later, when a campaigner in Northern Ireland applied for a copy of the document DST-1810S-074076 as evidence in the battle against mobile phone masts in schools, she was sent a sheaf of virtually blank pages.
The uncensored documents reveal that Soviet military scientists has successfully used microwaves of the type used by mobile phones to weaken the blood brain barrier. This is meant to protect the brain from harmful substances in the blood.
According to Dr Louis Slesin, editor of American specialist journal Microwave News, US army scientists had succeeded in duplicating the Soviet experiments by 1977 - eight years before mobile phones became generally available in Britain. But Britain's 17 million mobile users have been told repeatedly by the industry and Government-funded bodies that there is no scientific evidence that mobiles can cause harmful effects.
Dr Allan Frey, who carried out some of the earliest American research, believes there is "significant evidence" against mobile phones. Dr Frey's own papers reveal that the US Defense Department withdrew funding after three studies had confirmed these effects.
Swedish researchers found that microwaves from mobile phones disabled a safety mechanism in the body that protects the brain from toxic substances in the blood.
Once the toxins were released, there was a high chance of developing brain illness. A second study, conducted in the United States, concluded that mobile phones also caused memory loss.
The findings are certain to increase anxiety about the effects on health of mobile phones, which have proliferated in Western societies at an astonishing rate.
They also cast doubt on World Health Organisation guidelines for using mobile phones, based on minimum radiation heating levels.
The new study by scientists at the University of Lund, near Malmo in Sweden, exposed rats to microwave impulses similar to those emitted by mobile phones. The exposure broke the blood-brain barrier within two minutes, exposing the brain tissue to proteins and toxins.
The study showed the damage was caused without emissions heating the rats heads. The neurologist who carried ut the research, Professor Leif Salford, said although it was unclear just how harmful the brain-blood change would be to a person's health, we need to bear in mind diseases such as MS and Alzheimer's which are linked to proteins found in the brain."
The experiment was repeated and came up with identical results. The second study, by Dr Henry Lai, of the University of Seattle, tested memory in rats. In his experiments100 rats were placed in a tank of cloudy water and taught to swim to a platform.
Half the group were then exposed to mobile phone radiation. All of these forgot the way to the platform, whereas the unexposed rats remembered. The study is due to be published in an American electromagnetics science journal The debate on the health risks has increased with manufacturers insisting that microwave levels would not excessively heat users heads.
Nearly 9,000 cancer sufferers in 14 countries - including the UK and USA - will be interviewed by scientists in a £5.5 million study funded by the European Commission.
Researchers want to establish once and for all if there is a link between mobile phones and brain tumours and other cancers. And if there is, it could have disastrous consequences for the £300-billion-a-year industry. France-based Dr Elisabeth Cardis, who is leading the project, hopes to interview 7,000 brain tumour sufferers, 1,000 acoustic nerve cancer sufferers and 800 people with cancer of the saliva gland.
The brain, saliva gland and acoustic nerve centre in the ear are vulnerable to high doses of radiation from mobile phones.
Three UK cancer centres - in London, Edinburgh and Leeds - will take part in the two-and-a-half-year study, which will ask cancer sufferers exactly how much time they spent using mobile phones.
The mobile phone industry and medical research funds are helping pay for the study.
Results from it should be available by 2003 or 2004.
Dr Cardis said: "It is the biggest study of its kind ever conducted. It is very important that any link between mobile phones and cancer is investigated."
Thirteen million Britons, mostly aged 25 to 35, use mobile phones. About 300 million use mobiles worldwide.
Dr.George Carlo found that the rate of death from brain cancer is higher among mobile phone users and the risk of contracting a rare tumour on the outside of the brain is more than double.
In an astonishing attack on the industry for which he once acted as a spokesman, he accused firms of not taking safety seriously.
"The companies are now spending millions trying to discredit me because, basically, they didn't like what I told them", he revealed to The Express last night. "I feel angry and let down".
His research body, which was handpicked by the industry was given £15 million to carry out a six-year study into the health effects of mobile phones. But after presenting its results to the phone companies in February, he claims they failed to take the "appropriate steps to protect consumers". Dr.Carlo, a leading public health scientist based in Washington, said: "They have shown total disregard for mobile phone users".
In a damning letter to the heads of each of the 26 US firms that funded the research, Dr.Carlo wrote of his extreme frustration and concern. His study showed that there "appeared to be some correlation between brain tumours on the right side of the head and use of the phone on the right side of the head." Laboratory studies also looked at the "ability of radiation from a phone's antenna to cause genetic damage". These studies proved positive.
Dr.Carlo said: "Following my presentation I heard by voice vote of those present, a pledge to do the right thing in following up these findings. But since I presented my findings, which they found surprising, they have failed to do anything. In that time there have been another 15 million users in the States and thousands more in Britain. From a consumer point of view the delaying tactic is not good but from a business point of view its great". Alasdair Phillips, of the consumer group Powerwatch, said: "To have someone like him, who has even acted as a spokesman for the industry come out and say this is quite amazing. There is a definite link between mobiles and brain cancer which the companies can't continue to ignore".
In his letter Dr.Carlo said "Alarmingly, indications are that some segments of industry have ignored the scientific findings suggesting potential health effects". He said some companies had "repeatedly and falsely claimed" that mobiles "are safe for all consumers inluding children". His findings add to concern over the safety of mobiles- used by 13 million in Britain alone, with the number rising daily. But a spokesman for the British cellular industry insisted last nigh that it was committed to addressing health concerns.
Dr.Carlo warned of a consumer backlash and said customers should be given all the information they need to make up their own minds about the health risks. He advised people to cut the time they spend on their mobile or use hands-free phones which do not come into direct contact with the ear. Last night the Federation of the Electronics Industry, which represents the UK cellular phone companies, said it understood public concern. "In particular, the industry is supporting and will continue to support independent research in this area, and will share information in an open and honest way. All mobile phones and masts operate on strict exposure guidelines established by expert bodies. The consensus of scientific opinion is that there is no consistent evidence that mobile phones and phone masts operating within these guidelines have any adverse health effects."
Earlier this year British researchers found that mobile type radiation created mysterious hot-spots which could damage children's developing brains. The Government promised a rigorous investigation. Days later a study of 11,000 volunteers, the largest so far, found a link with headaches, dizziness and concentration lapses.
No one from the CTIA, which represents US mobile phone companies, was available for comment last night. But writing in response to Dr.Carlo's letter, president Thomas Wheeler said that when he presented his findings he said "they did not pose a public health threat". He added, "We are certain you have never provided the CTIA with the studies you mention".
The message exemplifies the intense animosity the project has engendered, causing some members to leave the church and souring relations between Follen and its neighbors. 'The level of anger this has stirred up has just stunned us,'' said the Reverend Lucinda Duncan, pastor of Follen, a Unitarian Universalist church whose founder was among the first to speak against slavery in the early 19th century. ''We can't say enough how sad it is that we have alienated good people who are our friends, neighbors, and church members.''
Duncan said at least five people have left the church over the antenna issue. And officials of the neighboring Waldorf School reported last week that students from as many as two dozen families would leave the school due to health concerns if the antennas are installed.
Using church steeples to hide microwave antennas has become, in recent years, a popular way for church congregations to make easy money and communications companies to site equipment without blemishing the New England landscape. But what started out 21 months ago as a seemingly innocuous revenue-raising endeavor for the 160-year-old congregation has turned into a nightmare for the church and its leaders.
It has led to picketing by parents of students from the Waldorf School and people living in the East Lexington community who fear the antennas will create a serious health hazard. It has brought officials of the school to the point of suing the church and the town of Lexington.
It has left church leaders powerless to renege on their antenna agreement with Nextel Communications, which refuses to stop the project despite the animosity it has engendered.
It has pitted two of the town's most liberal institutions against each other, rattling the peace of what has been a quiet, close-knit section of this historic town.
When Nextel approached the church's parish council with an offer to pay $27,600 a year to lease the spire for 20 years, Duncan said the discussion centered on ''whether our little church should get involved with big business.''
The church approved the lease overwhelmingly in April 1998 and then the town followed, granting Nextel a special permit that June.
The public hearings the town held prior to issuing its permit were the first time the church learned it had done something its neighbors didn't like, Duncan said. That's when residents and parents aired their concerns that their children's health would suffer from microwaves coming from the antennas.
''I think these antennas are extremely dangerous to health,'' George Eastman, a spokesman for the Waldorf School board of directors, said this week, expressing fears that have been part of the debate since it inception.
Eastman, who has two children at the school, said the antennas ''emit a low-frequency radio wave which penetrates the fluid organs ... the brain, kidney and spleen,'' and can cause cancer. After these fears were presented to the church leadership, the parish council asked Nextel twice to release it from its 20-year contract.
''They told us politely, `No,''' Duncan said, noting that even in the face of the controversy, a majority of the church's 320 members ''are comfortable with the safety of this technology.'' ''But it is important to us to be good neighbors, so on that basis, we asked to be released from the contract,'' Duncan said, adding that the church ''has a high number of physicists, scientists, and engineers who are comfortable with the technology.''
Patricia McSweeney, a spokeswoman for Nextel, which has a regional office in Lexington, said this week that the company cannot find another suitable location. McSweeney said the vast amount of studies on the emissions that would come from the antennas show there are no hazards. ''Nextel would not do anything to endanger the children at Waldorf School,'' McSweeney said, noting the antennas are focused away from the school.
Still the issue has been so divisive, Duncan said, the church's lawyer pored over the contract to see if he could find a loophole that would let the church out of its agreement with Nextel. ''He concluded there was no possible way for us to break it and that if we did not honor it, each elected lay officer could be sued individually along with the church,'' Duncan said. ''The idea that the church and our other assets could be lost is too high a price to pay, given the church's heritage.''
Waldorf School officials say they have not exhausted their legal options and plan to ask a judge to block the project, arguing the building permit was issued illegally. But in the end, they are hoping the church stops the project on its own.
Back in 1993, Carlo was dubbed ''industry's boy'' by consumer advocates. A public health consultant with strong ties to industry, he won the nation's most lucrative contract to oversee a series of studies that scrutinized the relationship between cell-phone handsets and cancer.
This $27 million, six-year research project was entirely bankrolled by wireless phone companies. Many were not surprised when the industry's trade group picked Carlo to head up the project, which ultimately involved about 50 studies conducted at 16 research labs.
But now that the project is winding down and its final report is due out later this year, Carlo has created a stir by saying that consumers should take some precautions when using cellular phones, even while scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration and elsewhere say that cell phones do not pose any danger to users.
Most of the studies showed cell phones to be safe, but a handful raised troubling questions, said Carlo, who heads the Wireless Technology Research Group, which was established to oversee the cellular phone studies. He says that more research is needed before cell phones can be considered completely safe.
''It's not an all-clear,'' said Carlo, 46, a lawyer who has a Ph.D. in pathology. ''The science is in a gray area.''
In an interview two weeks ago, Carlo suggested that people should keep the cell phone's antenna at least two inches away from the head, and avoid letting children use the phones until more research is done.
While FDA officials and other scientists say Carlo has a sharp understanding of the current science on the subject, they don't share his level of alarm.
Even Joshua Muscat, a New York epidemiologist whose brain-cancer studies have been cited by Carlo as raising public health concerns, thinks Carlo's warnings are extreme.
''At this point, I don't see scientific data that suggests there should be a behavior change for people,'' he said.
The FDA's assessment is similar. ''We do not believe cell phones can pose any health risks to humans,'' said Russell Owen, chief of the radiation biology branch of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
When a person makes or receives a call on a wireless phone, low levels of radio-frequency energy travel between a cell tower and the antenna of a person's wireless phone. Owen is convinced that the energy emitted isn't strong enough to cause any genetic damage, even with the antenna so close to the face.
He said scientists can prove safety hazards only when a certain level of radiation causes an object to warm up, or, in some other yet-unknown way, damages a body's cells.
Owen acknowledged that human cancer can be slow to develop, so it's possible researchers simply don't have enough data now to study the connection between cancer and cell phones. The explosion in cell-phone use is relatively recent - there are an estimated 80 million users now, more than double the number four years ago.
The National Cancer Institute is currently conducting its own study on whether cell phone use can be linked to brain cancer. Results are expected sometime next year.
Thomas Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which funded the project, said he's convinced cell phones are safe. Still, he refrained from any direct criticism of Carlo, saying simply that ''he was expected to be independent.''
Indeed, the six-year endeavor, while funded by Wheeler's group, was designed to be independent; the money was placed in a blind trust, and government auditors set up a system to monitor the distribution of funds. And all studies initiated by Carlo and the Wireless Technology Research Group were peer-reviewed by a panel at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Even FDA officials, who were kept up-to-date on the research, initially blessed the project.
In the project's first couple of years, it helped produce what has been widely regarded as an impressive piece of research on cellular phone interference with cardiac pacemakers. That work led to changes in the manufacture of current-day pacemakers, Carlo said.
He has, however, come under much criticism for failing to produce enough new research on cell phones and cancer risks given the amount of money spent on the six-year project. He has also been faulted for releasing preliminary results before the work and reviews were complete.
Susan Peck, the project manager for the Harvard peer-review panel, which oversaw the research, said some scientists questioned the ''speed and amount of research'' that was conducted given his vast budget. But she believes much of it had to do with Carlo's painstaking planning process, in which he spent a great deal of time selecting labs and experiments.
Peck said that based on her review of the data, she doesn't think Carlo's warnings are out of line.
''I don't own a cell phone,'' she said. ''But if I did and could keep the antenna away from my head, I would.''
Louis Slesin, publisher of Microwave News, an industry watchdog group, said Carlo's call for more consumer protections is echoing something he's been saying for a long time. Slesin remains skeptical, however, about Carlo's ''death-bed conversion'' on cell-phone safety issues, and wonders if Carlo may just be wooing more research money.
''He's suddenly agreeing with what we've been saying for years,'' Slesin said.
But Carlo said his views simply reflect his interpretation of the current science. (He also emphasized that the greatest proven danger of cell phones isn't cancer risk but car accidents.)
He defends his views about the possible biological hazards of cell phones by describing a handful of studies, including these:
Ray Tice, Graham Hook and colleagues at the Integrated Laboratory Systems at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina found wireless phone radiation causes genetic damage in human blood cells under certain conditions. Yet Carlo noted that the same researchers this year conducted four similar tests, and found no genetic damage.
A study by Michael Repacholi of the World Health Organization two years ago showed an increased risk of lymphoma in genetically altered mice after exposure to 900 MHz (cell phone level) of radiation. At the same time, said Carlo, to offer balance, at least seven other studies on radiation in animals showed no DNA or cancer-causing effects.
In studies by Muscat and colleagues at the American Health Foundation in New York this year, there was a statistically significant increased risk of rare human brain tumors, known as neuroepithelial tumors, in patients who used cell phones. Carlo acknowledged that there was no link between this rare form of cancer and the frequency and duration of cell-phone calls. Also, researchers found no association between overall brain cancer risk and cell phone use.
Carlo said he's just ''letting the chips fall as they may,'' even if it angers industry funders.
Wheeler of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, who said he has no hard feelings about Carlo, noted that the industry's future funding efforts will be directed to the FDA or other government-sponsored bodies.
Peck, who headed the Harvard peer-review panel, said Carlo's views are based on his best judgment after having lived with this issue for six years.
''He's not afraid to argue with anybody,'' she said. ''He sticks up for what he believes.''
Greater Glasgow Health Board is recommending a temporary ban on putting masts on council properties until further scientific research has been conducted. It also suggests toughening safety limits on radiation emissions from the masts.
The advice has been given to the six councils in the area covered by the health board. Glasgow city council, the largest, has already indicated that it might ignore the recommendations of Dr Helene Irvine, a public health consultant with the board. East and West Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire and North and South Lanarkshire are all understood to be considering her recommendations.
Irvine, who has carried out a review of existing research into the potential effects of radiation from mobile phone masts on humans, says there is no epidemiological evidence at present to link the transmitter masts with child leukaemia or cancer.
However, she added: "If there are any effects they will not be known for some time and I think it's wrong to say that just because we don't have this kind of evidence at the moment it's all right to put these masts on schools."
Irvine said that continuing to put up masts would be "reckless" given the lessons of previous disease epidemics which were eventually proved to be linked to substances such as tobacco and asbestos.
The public health consultant confirmed that she has met representatives from all six councils to outline her advice and is expected to send written copies of the new guidelines. Her recommendations are being backed by Dr Harry Burns, the board's public health director.
Glasgow city council acknowledged that it had been "in dialogue" with the health board, but indicated that it might choose to reject the advice to adopt a precautionary approach.
"Our position is that we've been carrying out our own survey on all the masts in the city and we are satisfied that any emissions fall well within recommended parameters. The council has therefore made no decision to ban masts as, at this time, there is no definitive scientific opinion to suggest a health problem," said a spokesman.
Glasgow council is thought to earn up to £800,000 a year renting out space on its properties for masts to be erected.
The industry and the National Radiological Protection Board also should cooperate to find ways to design phones that can limit users' exposure to radiation, according to the report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Worldwide growth in the use of mobile telephones has prompted concern that the radiation used to transmit phone signals can cause health problems, such as headaches, nausea, sleep problems and memory loss, in users. Research into the issue has been inconclusive so far.
The danger ``is unclear but there is sufficient anecdotal evidence and uncertainty to justify further research,'' the report said. ``We recommend that the government ensures that a higher priority is given to a research program into the health impacts of mobile phones.''
The committee's report also recommends that the government adopt international guideline limits for microwave exposure ``as a precautionary measure.''
A group of four parents of five pupils at Bedonwell Junior School in Belvedere, Kent, are refusing to let their children go to school because they say radiation from the mast could be damaging.
Mobile phone company Orange pays the school £6,000 a year to have the 30ft mast there, but some parents are growing increasingly worried that it could affect their children's health.
The protest being staged by Bedonwell parents follows action by parents over the issue in other parts of the country.
Earlier this summer it emerged that at Ampthill in Bedfordshire, parents had formed an organisation - called Ampthill Against Aerials - to try to prevent transmitters from being operated next to a school.
And as more masts are erected at schools, public concern about them is growing.
About 500 schools in Britain have had transmitter masts erected, and mobile phone firms offer large cash incentives of up to tens of thousands of pounds as the demand for new sites increases
The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has already called for the siting of masts near schools to be monitored.
He has asked government officials to look into the issue amid growing concern that exposure to microwave radiation from the transmitters is a possible health threat to children.
The Department for Health has said that transmitter masts are no cause for concern, and the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) has said there is no scientific evidence for any health risks from them.
'Pulses could affect brains'
But Dr Gerard Hyland, of the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, has argued that transmitter masts should not be sited near schools because evidence showed they posed a threat to children's health.
He said that although the intensity of radiation from transmitters had been shown in tests to be safe, its frequency had not been.
The frequency of pulses in transmitter emissions, he said, could affect the brains of young children which were still developing up until the age of about 12.
Bexley education authority said in a statement that following parents' concerns it had arranged for a safety advisor from Orange to carry out an electric field survey on the mast, which had been done in the presence of an officer from the council's environmental services department.
It said the survey had shown that the level of transmissions from the mast were extemely low, and that there was no health risk to anyone in the school or the surrounding area.
'No link with health risks'
It said: "Bexley Council fully recognises parents' concerned over the mast at Bedonwell School, but we are assured by Orange that government guidelines as set down by the NRPB have been strictly followed.
"The NRPB's currrent position is that these masts have not caused demonstrable harm. The council will continue to liaise with the NRPB over the forthcoming months."
A statement from Orange said: "Orange takes its responsibilities very seriously and fully complies with all planning, health and safety and environmental regulations.
"Orange is aware that some people may have concerns over the alleged health effects, but there is no current substantiated research that makes a link between radio waves, transmitter masts and long term public health risks."
Morton Bahr, President of the CWA (Communications Workers of America, a national union with a membership dominated by telecommunications workers, personally authorized the filing of CWA's appeal on the FCC rules in late 1997. Mark Wilson, CWA's legal representative, said recently, "The President of CWA is very concerned about protecting the health and safety of our workers who are exposed to this radiation on a daily basis." Jointly briefing the case with CWA was the Ad Hoc Association of Parties Concerned About the Federal Communication Commission's Health and Safety Rules. Briefing separately was the lead petitioner, Cellular Phone Taskforce. Attorney Howard J. Symons represented two of the intevenors in the case, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association and AT&T Wireless Services.
At the hearing, lawyers for the appellants were retained overtime to answer questions from the three federal judge panel, composed of Judges Walker, Newman and Sack. Attorney John E. Schulz, representing the Cellular Phone Taskforce, one of the citizens groups suing the FCC, told the Court that "radiofrequency radiation is the first form of pollution from which there is no longer any escape anywhere on earth.” The Taskforce and other parties that participated in the FCC's public rulemaking process submitted thousands of pages of scientific studies showing how this form of pollution impairs health and the environment.
Joel Marcus, legal counsel for the FCC, said, "The Commission does not have the expertise to make independent judgments on various health effects. That's the responsibility of the federal health and safety agencies." But Schulz and James R. Hobson, arguing for Ad-Hoc Association and CWA, pointed out the FCC failed to ask the expert agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute Of Occupational Safety and Health and, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- to evaluate any of the supporting evidence or public comments. “The FCC, after admitting that it does not have any expertise, nevertheless determined that this massive amount of evidence in the record couldn‘t make any difference,” said Schulz.
During questioning of FCC Counsel, it developed that even resolving complaints about the FCC rules as written has not been effective. Radiation meters cost money and there is little way for citizens to be competent enforcers without spending a lot of money on equipment.
Meanwhile, Congress is considering a bill, S. 800, which would further mandate rapid deployment of wireless technology for public safety reasons. The Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, which passed the House (H.R. 438) in February, contains a provision that preempts State tort laws by granting certain immunity from liability to wireless carriers and manufacturers. The rationale given by industry representatives is that this provision would achieve parity with the same conditions wired services and products now operate under. (For more information, contact the EMR Network at 802-426-3889.)
David Fichtenberg, President of the Ad Hoc Association, is concerned this provision may add to the burden of proof and the liability for citizens. He points out, “It is now scientifically established that there are biological and health effects associated with certain non-ionizing radiation exposure conditions. In addition, the FCC guidelines are hundreds of times higher than public health oriented guidelines such as those Switzerland and other countries are now considering.” Many citizens believe it a more prudent public policy to hold industry accountable for adverse impacts of wireless facilities or RF signals on health, quality of life, the environment, or property values.
The Ad Hoc Association, the CWA and the Cellular Phone Taskforce are also challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, including Section 704 which compels local zoning boards to approve wireless facilities and prohibits them from considering health and environment in making siting decisions. Other issues raised included discrimination against electrically sensitive people and other vulnerable populations; and, arbitrarily drafted federal rules, such as exclusions from routine RF assessments granted for antennas over 10 meters high and for many antennas on rooftops. This creates unsafe RF exposure conditions for high-rises or hillside buildings.
A court decision is hoped for by early fall.
A coalition of citizens will be meeting concerning these public health issues with Members of Parliament in the House of Commons in England June 1999. Libby Kelley, Executive Director of the Ad Hoc Association will be participating in that meeting.
Council on Wireless
Citizens and professionals concerned about responsible use of electromagnetic radiation
An Initiative of the Ad Hoc Association of Parties Concerned about the FCC’s Radio Frequency Health and Safety Rules
936-B Seventh Street, PMB 206, Novato, California 94945
Phone 415-892-1863 Fax 415-892-3108 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, NC, released its final report to Congress on the RAPID research program on possible health effects of power frequency EMFs. In a letter accompanying the report, NIEHS Director Dr. Kenneth Olden concludes that evidence of any health risk from exposures to EMFs is "weak."
Interestingly, also today a team at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children, both in Canada, released results of an epidemiological study that provides perhaps the strongest evidence to date for the existence of an EMF-cancer link among children. Children with the highest exposures to power frequency EMFs were found to have a risk of leukemia 4.5 times higher, after adjusting for various known risk factors, than did children with the lowest exposures. The increase in risk is statistically significant.
The Canadian researchers, led by Dr. Lois Green of the University of Toronto, report their findings in two papers: in the International Journal of Cancer and in Cancer Causes and Control. The study was funded in part by Ontario Hydro, an electric ultility, and by the Canadian Electrical Association.
Epidemiological data provide the strongest evidence for health effects, NIEHS' Olden states, and show associations between EMF exposures and increased risk of childhood leukemia and of acute lymphocytic leukemia in adults. According to Olden, these data show "a fairly consistent pattern of a small, increased risk with increasing exposure." Animal and in vitro research, in contrast, do not demonstrate "any consistent pattern across studies," Olden concludes, although "sporadic findings of biological effects have been reported."
While the evidence is "insufficient to warrant aggressive regulatory concern," according to Olden, he concludes that, "Inexpensive and safe reductions in exposures should be encouraged." Olden "encourages" U.S. electric utilities to measure fields in customers' homes and help them identify sources of high fields. In addition, Olden "suggests that the power industry continue its current practice of siting power lines to reduce exposures."
The 79-page report fulfills a 1992 congressional mandate to determine whether, and to what extent, power frequency EMFs pose a health hazard to humans.
The full text of the NIEHS press release and the full text of the report to Congress is available now on the Internet at www.niehs.nih.gov/emfrapid.
Microwave News will present detailed coverage of both of these important developments in its July/August issue.
In the May/June issue, which will reach subscribers in a few days, Microwave News reports on the latest epidemiological studies that have put a new focus on the possible link betweeen brain tumors and the use of cellular phones. In the same issue, Microwave News reports on another just-published epidemiological study from Canada which, in contrast to the Toronto study, finds little evidence of a cancer risk.
Clearly, much remains unsettled in the EMF and microwave health debates.
Editor, Microwave News
Two of the world's leading radiation experts told The Express that multinational companies tried to influence the results of their research.
Professor Ross Adey, a biologist, had his funding withdrawn by Motorola before completing research which showed that mobiles affected the number of brain tumours in animals. Dr Henry Lai, who has been studying the biological effects of electromagnetic fields for 20 years, was asked three times to change findings on how they caused DNA breaks in rats.
Their claims come as two new studies reveal links between mobile phones and brain tumours. Swedish cancer specialist Dr Lennart Hardell found the risk of getting brain tumours was two and a half times higher for people using mobile phones. And Dr George Carlo, heading a multi-million pound research project in the U.S., says that users have an increased risk of getting a rare type of brain tumour.
Last month Health Minister Tessa Jowell announced the setting up of a panel of experts to review research and to determine what future work should be done. She acted after Government-funded researchers led by Dr Alan Preece at Bristol University found that radiation from mobiles does interfere with the functioning of the human brain.
Prof Adey, of the University of California, a former senior Nasa adviser, was paid by Motorola to carry out a series of animal experiments between 1993 and 1996. "The animal experiments were conducted very strictly and in the case of digital phones we found an effect on the number of brain tumours in rats," he said. "It became clear that Motorola preferred we found nothing.
"During our funding there was constant discussion about the wording of abstracts and papers. Funding was suddenly withdrawn in November last year. In recent months, while we were trying to finish writing up the experiments, we have not been paid.
"Basically the industry is not really interested in diligent pursuit of scientific evidence which should be available to the public. All they want is research that supports their claims.
"Control of the research programmes have passed to managers and lawyers. This is exactly what happened in the tobacco industry." Dr Lai, of the University of Washington, Seattle, described the industry's interference as "unpleasant and intolerable".
In 1995 he and his colleague Dr Narendra Singh published their work showing rats' brains exposed to mobile microwaves showed "double strand" DNA breaks. This meant the cells were either dying or going cancerous. He claimed that research money was withheld until an agreed version of his report was reached with sections of the mobile phone industry.
"Their responsibility was to provide the funding and to make sure things are going to schedule, not to interfere," he said. "What we conclude is up to us.
"Any interference affects the credibility of the results. It's a basic principle in research that the investigator has the responsibility of producing and interpreting the results." Simon Best, editor of consumer bulletin Electromagnetic Hazard & Therapy, said: "I find it amazing that proper research was not done before mobile phones went on sale. The telecoms industry should be involved in these studies only in as much as they provide the money because it is they who are making the profits.
"Their attempts to influence scientists in the States is a warning to us that these companies must be kept away from the independence and objectivity of future research."
The Hardell and Carlo studies are highlighted tonight on BBC1's Panorama, which warns mobile phone users to cut down the time they spend on the phone. Panorama investigated levels of emissions absorbed by the brain from different makes of phone. While all seven tested were under the safety limit set by the National Radiological Protection Unit, there was a considerable difference,with some 20 times higher than others.
Albert Brashar, spokesman for Motorola, denied the company halted research because it was not happy with the findings. "Dr Adey left the University of California and as I understand it had no lab where he could work," he said. "We have never argued with him over the effects he found. The research is carried out with rats that are programmed to be especially vulnerable to brain tumours. The work he did showed that exposure to our phones produced no increase in the number of tumours. In fact they had fewer brain tumours than might have been expected."With any contract for research we do it with the clear understanding that the researcher is not only able to publish their findings but it is something they are required by us to do."
Analysis conducted for The Sunday Times by Professor Gordon Stewart, one of Britain's leading epidemiologists, shows there may be a significant increase in the risk of cancers, including leukaemia, associated with masts.
The study revealed an increased incidence of cancer within up to 7km of masts. Subsequent inquiries have unearthed possible clusters in London, Bedfordshire, south Wales and the Midlands.
Stewart, emeritus professor at Glasgow University's public health department and a former consultant on epidemiology to the World Health Organisation, was commissioned to analyse detailed geographical data on cancer rates and has concluded there are grounds for concern. He said: "I would say the leukaemia question is sufficiently suspicious to merit further investigation." He wants the government, which has denied any risk, to commission new research.
Stewart's conclusions are in line with overseas studies. In suburbs near powerful masts in Sydney, Australia, researchers recently found the incidence of childhood leukaemia was 60% higher than in adjacent suburbs. An earlier study in Hawaii also linked cancer with big masts.
One of the sites of concern is around the Crystal Palace mast in London. People in one area near the mast were found to be 33% more likely to suffer from cancer. Last November Barry Pepperdine, 14, a former pupil of Churchfields primary school in Beckenham, was found to have leukaemia. Just a few weeks before, he had won the local interschools 1500m race and dreamed of becoming an Olympic athlete. Lizzie Burningham, a close neighbour, is another former Churchfields pupil. Two years ago, aged 10, she, too, was found to have the disease.
Living across the road is Jack Humberstone, 15. Two months ago his doctor told him he had cancer in the shoulder bone; his arm might have to be amputated. David Carr, 16, lives just round the corner. He is in remission from leukaemia. The four children live in a tiny triangle of streets about a mile from the 1,000ft Crystal Palace transmitter.
Each year there are only 450 childhood leukaemia cases in Britain. The incidence near the south London mast is far higher than would be expected normally, according to the statistics. There was a significant decline in the incidence of all cancers the further residents lived away from the mast.
Stewart examined data for areas around 21 transmitters across Britain. The average level of risk at most was marginal; Crystal Palace, however, is one of only four one-megawatt transmitters in the country; there was a significantly higher incidence of cancer around it and other big masts.
In Wenvoe, near Cardiff, at least eight residents in the tiny parish of St Georges and St Brides have died of cancer in the past five years. In every one of the 10 houses on a residential street close to the Sandy Heath transmitter in Bedfordshire, there has been a cancer death.
Dennis Gray, a former maintenance manager, lost his wife, Lina, to ovarian cancer six years ago. "Every single property down here has had someone either die from cancer or suffer from it," he said.
There has also been a high incidence of cancer near the Sutton Coldfield transmitter in the West Midlands. Dr Henry Slominski, a GP whose surgery is just over a mile from the mast, said he first noticed a high number of specific cancers in the early 1990s.
"We had a practice of about 2,500 patients with about 30 malignancies that were what I class as [blood cancers]. One of my first patients was a man aged 40 with Hodgkin's disease [a form of blood cancer]. Then we were seeing multiple myelomas, then a young man with leukaemia. That's when I started to think, 'I don't like the look of this.' "
The epidemiological figures show that, within 1.4 miles of the mast, the number of adult leukaemia cases was nearly double what would normally be expected.
Mary Hoggins, a receptionist at Slominski's clinic, is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. "There were only 18 houses in our close and 8-10 people were diagnosed with one form of cancer," she said.
In no case is there any specific evidence of a link between the cancer incidence and the television masts, but Stewart said: "There is a problem here that cannot be ignored. There is a possibility of an increase in leukaemia. It is sufficiently suspicious to merit further investigation."
There are also claims that the masts may directly affect the health of engineers who maintain them. One is now suing his former employer for damages over ill-health.
Dr Andrew Wright, a specialist in Bolton who examined 10 engineers, found the men had very low levels of a brain hormone that controls bodily rhythms.
Professor Ted Litovitz, from the Catholic University of America, who has researched the effects of such radiation for the past decade, said: "When you turn on the body's defence mechanism against disease, which the non-ionising radiation does, and you keep turning it on every day, you down-regulate it and it no longer turns on."
The National Radiological Protection Board, which advises the public on radiation issues, insists there is no evidence that transmitters damage health. Bruce Randall, a spokesman for NTL, which has jointly operated the transmitters since they were sold by the BBC three years ago, said that every mast operated well within recommended safety limits.
Some leading scientists are also sceptical of a cancer link. Sir Richard Doll, the eminent epidemiologist who first established a link between smoking and cancer, said no study had yet shown a provable link.
The scientific debate will, however, be little comfort to Barry Pepperdine. His mother, Betty, said last week: "When we found out he had leukaemia it felt like the world was coming to an end. I had not thought about the TV masts being to blame. But if there was a link, I don't think I would move. It's a bit late for that, isn't it?"
The move comes amid mounting concern about the industry's influence on research into the long-term effects of using a mobile.
The London market provides insurance for everything from aircraft to footballers' legs. But fears that mobile phones will be linked to illnesses such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease have prompted John Fenn, of underwriting group Stirling, to refuse to cover manufacturers against the risk of being sued if mobiles turn out to cause long-term damage.
New research published last week by Bristol University scientist Dr Alan Preece showed a 'highly significant' effect from mobile phone signals on brain function. Some previous studies linked mobiles to increased tumours in rodents, but they have been contradicted by other research.
The Government has ordered the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) - responsible for monitoring radiation safety standards in everything from Sellafield to sunlight - to set up an independent group to identify possible areas for research.
Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who is pressing for a fuller parliamentary debate on the issue, condemned the initiative as 'a sop to the public and a sop to the industry'. He said: 'I have asked three network operators if they will give insurance against future health risk, and they have all said they cannot.'
The Federation of the Electronics Industry, which represents mobile phone manufacturers and networks, said there was no proven reason for insurers to refuse cover. Spokesman Tom Wills Sandford said: 'I am surprised. I would be confident that there would be people who would cover that risk, because there is no scientific proof of health risk.'
But Fenn said: 'There are people in the insurance market who close their eyes to the issue because they say there is no scientific proof of a problem. If you go back to asbestos, it "wasn't a problem" at one time either.' Asbestos claims helped bring the Lloyd's market to its knees in the early 1990s.
Experts at the NRPB say they cannot give mobile phones a clean bill of health until comprehensive research has been carried out into the non-thermal effects of microwave radiation emitted by handsets.
Until now, the vast majority of research has been funded by the industry: there are 78 industry-sponsored studies under way worldwide, while governments fund only 14.
The Department of Health says a new working group will be established, including industry and consumer group representatives, but its membership has yet to be agreed.
Concerns are increasing about the industry's involvement in research. Some of the NRPB's conclusions have been based on research by Dr Camelia Gabriel, a technical adviser to network operator Orange and head of private consultancy Microwave.
Her colleague, Professor Ted Grant - who, with Gabriel, helped draw up Orange's health and safety brochure - was until recently a board member of the NRPB. There is no suggestion that Gabriel or Grant's findings have been biased as a result of their industry links.
But Willis, who has won the support of more than 108 other MPs, said he was 'extremely worried'. 'The Government needs to fund proper, independent empirical research into the biological, non-heating effects of mobile phones,' he said. 'I am concerned about the potential influence of multinational companies on these studies.'
The NRPB's budget for mobile phone research is currently just £300,000 per year. The Department of Health has not yet indicated how much funding will be made available for future research.
Around the same time, he started developing short-term memory loss. "I'd be in the middle of a sentence and just--bang--forget what I was going to say," he says. "It was getting kind of embarrassing and rather frightening."
Wilson had heard rumours that cellphones, which use microwave radiation to broadcast and receive signals, could cause such symptoms. After doing some research, he decided it was true: Your head, he argues, can absorb up to 80% of the radiation from a cellphone, leading to everything from headaches and distorted vision to brain tumours.
Since he didn't want to give up the convenience of his cellphone, Wilson--a British electronics engineer by trade--began developing devices that would screen out the radiation. In 1993, he patented the Microshield, a leather-and-metal case that slips around a cellphone. Wilson claims the device blocks up to 98% of the radiation from entering the user's head. Wilson's company, Microshield, released the product in the spring of 1996.
Virtually overnight, Microshield ignited a raging debate over the health effects of cellphones. It's particularly intense in Britain, where mainstream papers cover the issue almost daily--and publish stories charging cellphone makers with not only knowing about, but actually covering up, the damage their devices do. In the midst of this rancour, Microshield has sold more than 100,000 of its devices, many in bulk sales to companies. "It's become really kind of crazy," says Louis Slesin, editor of the New York-based Microwave News, an industry magazine.
It's not hard to see why things can get so emotional around the cellphone. Like the personal computer, it is more than just a device--it's a pop-culture icon, and thus comes complete with the obligatory existential hype about liberation and freedom. Witness the florid ads depicting people's lives transformed by portable communications; observe the cellphone as "deus ex machina" in movies and on TV, from The X-Files to Clueless. Moreover, cellphones are fast becoming ubiquitous as prices drop ever further and companies like Sprint urge users to sign up their kids. More than 65 million people in the United States today use cellphones, up from almost none 10 years ago. Many of those 65 million are required to use one for work--whether they're "hotelling" executives or sales agents out in the field.
When a technology moves that fast, it's no wonder we get paranoid about it. The track record on previous enthusiasms too carelessly embraced is positively gruesome. Think about thalidomide or the breast-implant miasma. Think about the cigarette--for years advertised as safe and cool by authorities no less than doctors, prominent athletes, and, in one jaw-dropping TV spot, Fred Flintstone.
Unfortunately, when it comes to cellphones, it's hard to know whom to trust.
On the one hand, people like Wilson have amassed some provocative evidence. He points to studies such as the 1996 research by Henry Lai and Narendra Singh of the University of Washington. They found that the DNA in rats' brain cells was damaged after a two-hour exposure to radiation that was below the levels considered safe by the U.S. government (the safety level is considered 1.6 watts per kilogram of upper-body tissue; cellphones usually operate below that). Wilson also points to a Scandinavian study, released in May, 1998, in which almost 4,000 of 11,000 respondents to a survey of cellphone users reported health problems ranging from headaches to burning sensations in their heads.
And, to add fuel to the conspiracy angle, he notes that several cellphone companies themselves have registered patents on technologies designed to reduce the radiation in phones. "I see this as being the biggest cover-up since smoking," Wilson says confidently.
Cellphone manufacturers, on the other hand, point out--quite correctly--that there is no conclusive evidence showing damage. Moreover, our bodies are bombarded by electromagnetic waves all day long, from sources ranging from power lines to radio waves, yet there has been no provable corresponding up-tick in cancer rates seen. "Don't trust us, trust the regulatory agencies," says Norman Sandler, director of global strategic issues for cellphone maker Motorola. "If there was something wrong, they would have done something."
Sandler also scoffs at the idea that there's a cover-up. On the contrary, he says, companies like Microshield are creating panic merely to sell their products. Here, the battle lines are being drawn; last fall, Motorola threatened legal action if Microshield didn't stop distributing a pamphlet in the U.S. claiming the phones are dangerous (Microshield agreed).
The bottom line, of course, is that it's a classically, unsatisfying grey area. No hard evidence exists either way: No one can prove cellphones are a hazard; no one can prove they aren't. Third-party observers like Slesin at Microwave News note this with chagrin, but point out that, given the number of people complaining about health problems, there's reason to proceed with caution. "This is not a Luddite fantasy," says Slesin. "There are a lot of reasons to be concerned."
As I sit here talking to Slesin on my own cellphone, that is not necessarily something I want to hear. When I bought it, I was aware of the debate, and planned to use the phone only sparingly. Now, an obedient disciple of manufactured desire, I'm racking up 200 minutes a month. Once you've spliced a new technology into your life, it's hard to get rid of it--even when you worry that it's doing you harm. Absent the tumours or headaches, that may be the scariest thing of all.
Clive Thompson can be reached via E-mail at clive@bway. net.
Last week the European Union voted on a series of measures to protect people from electromagnetic radiation, including printed warnings on recommended safety distances on cellular handsets. Member states pledged to monitor research into the long-term harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation.
In South Africa, Health Minister Nkosazana Zuma is to meet cellphone operators, at their request, to discuss ways to limit peoples' exposure to radiation, including possible warning messages. The director-general of health, Ayanda Ntsaluba, said his department was following the debate closely.
"There is not yet sufficient evidence to say that cellphones cause cancer, but there is enough to suggest there is cause for concern," said the Cancer Association's Katherine Everett. "A lot of research is being done to investigate the link at the moment, but it will be years before we know for sure."
In the meantime, the Cancer Association advises cellphone users to take precautions, including:
"Early phone models in the US used eight-watt power," said Laurentious Human of Accord Technologies. "By the time South Africa switched on its cellular networks four years ago handset power had been reduced to two watts, so the phones are generating far less powerful waves than their predecessors."
Further drops in radiation have been achieved through "power down" technology. This means that the closer the cell phone is to a base station the lower the transmission power required by the handset.
"People living in urban areas, who are always relatively close to base stations, are subject to the lowest level of radiation."
Yet he agrees users need to be cautious.
"While the allegations against cellular phones have not yet been proved conclusively, there are studies which indicate that some people can develop electrical sensitivity syndrome' which can make them quite ill.
"And logic dictates that continually bombarding one's body with electromagnetic rays can't be beneficial."
Colin Blakemore, Waynflete professor of physiology at Oxford University, is the most eminent scientist to have spoken out about the potential risks of mobile phones, which are used by 13.5m people in Britain today.
In advance of the publication of a government-funded report which will show for the first time that mobile phones can cause short-term memory loss, Blakemore warned that there was now strong evidence of an adverse effect on "cognitive function, memory and attention".
Blakemore, who uses his mobile phone for less than 10 minutes a day, said he had experienced an effect and warned there could be serious implications if people used the phones while driving.
"It is a transient effect. I have had the feeling that there has been a gap in experience while I have been on the phone and have not been aware of other things going on. This is a much greater worry, especially when people are using the phone while driving. You could turn the brain off, reducing attention to the road," he said.
"The kind of radiation emitted by mobile phones can directly affect nerve cells and where you put the phone is very close to the areas involved in short-term memory."
Blakemore, who is a member of the non-ionising radiation advisory committee for the National Radiological Protection Board, the official body that controls the regulation of mobile phones in Britain, said there was no evidence that the radiation caused cancer.
The latest research was conducted by scientists at Bristol Royal Infirmary using human volunteers for the first time. In the experiments, overseen by Dr Alan Preece, volunteers had transmitters attached to their heads. Half received microwaves identical to those produced by most mobile phones, 915MHz, for half-hour periods and the other half did not.
The volunteers were asked to perform simple psychological tests designed to measure cognitive function and memory. Preece found those who had not been subjected to the radiation performed better.
The Bristol work, to be published next month in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, follows a study conducted by Dr Kjell Hansson Mild on 11,000 mobile phone users in Norway and Sweden, which showed an increase in headaches and fatigue. "It is the proximity to the head that seems to be the problem," said Mild. "When the mobile phone users switched to devices such as earpieces, 80% of the symptoms disappeared."
Mild rarely uses a mobile phone. Other scientists said their concerns over possible health risks had led them to restrict their use. Professor Jim Penman, head of engineering at Aberdeen University, said there were too many unanswered questions on the health implications of microwave radiation.
"I now use an earpiece and microphone with the phone stowed in my pocket - that way whatever else gets fried, it won't be my brains," he said. "I am happy to take some sort of precaution - why subject yourself to additional risk?"
Such earpieces are, however, relatively expensive, costing between L20 and L35 - compared with prices as low as L10 for the phones themselves. Their potential health benefits have never been promoted by manufacturers and few people use them for that reason. So far the main market has been among people who want to use a phone while driving without being stopped by police.
Professor David Howard, head of electronics at York University, said he had reduced the time he spent using his mobile phone as it was known that electromagnetic fields could alter human tissue. "When there is a hint there might be problems, my personal view is to be safe and the scientific jury is still out," he said.
Scientists believe low-intensity microwave radiation emitted by mobile phones affects the way certain message-carrying chemicals move within the brain and inside individual nerve cells. Because many of these key chemicals have electric charges, their behaviour can be influenced by radiation, preventing nerve cells from functioning normally. The cells involved in short-term memory storage are close to the right ear, as are those in the brain stem that are involved in the regulation of blood pressure.
Other studies have revealed that the radiation can weaken the barrier that prevents harmful chemicals from entering the brain from the blood stream. While these conditions appear to reverse soon after the microwave radiation is stopped, there are mounting concerns that repeated exposure may have a more permanent and damaging long-term effect.
Professor Ross Adey, a biologist specialising in microwave radiation who has carried out two large studies on animals for Motorola, one of the biggest mobile phone companies, uses his phone for less than 10 minutes a month and holds it away from his head.
"If it's against my head, then about 40% of the energy will go into my head and into my hand. You should be able to use it in a way that is sloping away from the head to reduce the effects," he said.
Nevertheless, other experts believe there is no cause for concern. Sir Richard Doll, the Oxford University scientist who found the first strong evidence of a link between smoking and cancer, does not use a mobile phone, but said: "There is no evidence of a risk and they are useful if one is held up in traffic," he said.
Superior Court Justice Jeannine Rousseau ruled that cabinet decrees in early 1998 that paved the way for the power line were illegal, that work on the $104-million project must stop and that the citizens' group that has been fighting the project for a year be awarded $70,000 to help cover its legal costs.
Hydro-Quebec refused to comment yesterday, but the Val-Saint-Francois citizens' coalition and their Montreal lawyer were elated by their David-vs.-Goliath victory.
There was no official government reaction to the ruling yesterday. Neither Resources Minister Jacques Brassard nor his predecessor, Guy Chevrette, would speak to reporters after a cabinet meeting. Aides to Brassard and Premier Lucien Bouchard said the ruling will be studied and comment will come later.
But Liberal resources critic Natalie Normandeau hailed the ruling as a victory for the people of the Eastern Townships, and a repudiation of the government's steamroller tactics. "This decision is important for citizens, because it sends a very clear message to the government that laws have been violated, and that it won't be allowed," she said.
The residents' joy was tempered somewhat by the fact that a large portion of the project - 98 of 145 kilometres of high-voltage transmission line - has already been completed. That first phase of the project involved erecting hydro pylons along an 80-metre-wide swath from Des Cantons hydro station near Windsor, north of Sherbrooke, to Saint-Cesaire, west of Granby.
Phase 2 was to continue the line from Saint-Cesaire to the sprawling Hertel power station on the South Shore, near Prairie. Phase 3 was the construction of a massive transformer station, to be called Poste Monteregie, at Sainte-Cecile-de-Milton, east of Saint-Cesaire.
Hydro had pressed hard for the line after last year's ice storm revealed how vulnerable the power grid serving the Montreal area could be. "The people of the Monteregie region suffered terribly during the ice storm,'' Hydro official Jean-Claude Lefebvre said yesterday. "Some people were without power for up to five weeks. This was supposed to give them better protection, more reliability."
Last May, Hydro president Andre Caille said completion of the 735-kilovolt line was essential to the safeguarding of Montreal's power supply.
Accordingly, in January and May of 1998, the provincial cabinet quickly passed a series of decrees to bypass normal environmental and zoning processes. In one case, the commission governing the protection of farmland provided an opinion on the suitability of the project in just 24 hours.
Running roughshod over the rules using the excuse of an emergency situation was out of line, Rousseau said in issuing a permanent injunction against the project. "The government must act in conformity with the laws," she wrote. "It cannot itself declare a crisis situation in order to ignore them. "It is the same for Hydro-Quebec."
Marilyn Thompson, of the 20-member Val-Saint-Francois citizens' group, was ecstatic, despite the damage that has already been done and despite the fact that 246 power pylons have already been erected, 18 of them within sight of her rural bungalow. "The fact that they were wrong and we have proven that they were wrong - that's the important thing," she said.
The citizens' protest blossomed because of the haste of the process and the lack of consultation with local governments and residents.
But this judgment has not necessarily killed the project. "This judgment is aimed at the (cabinet's) decrees,'' Hydro's Lefebvre noted. "It does not question the appropriateness of the project." The government and Hydro have a number of options, including going back to Square One, working through the normal process of environmental assessments and zoning approvals.
Franklin Gertler, the lawyer representing the residents, said the government might have the National Assembly pass a special law to clear the way for the line's completion. But Gertler said the project is so complex and the necessary approvals so numerous that there is no guarantee the project would be approved if Hydro were to go back to the beginning. And, he said, there are also questions about what can and can't be approved retroactively, once declared illegal.
He said he had not been approached by either Hydro-Quebec or the government, or by his clients, to try to negotiate a settlement to avoid further legal action, which could go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The province, or Hydro-Quebec, has 30 days to appeal Rousseau's judgment.
Gertler said her decision could have an effect on landowners who have had property expropriated and who may want to file civil lawsuits against Hydro-Quebec.
He said the Val-Saint-Francois coalition's legal bills exceed $70,000, but would not say by how much. In court proceedings last month, the coalition had sought $100,000 to cover its legal costs. In awarding the residents legal costs, Rousseau ordered that $40,000 should be paid by the government and $30,000 by Hydro-Quebec.
Thompson spoke with sadness of the damage to trees and property that has already been done. "The Nelson farm has been massacred," she said, referring to William Nelson of Kingsbury. "They've cut first-growth trees. The scars that are there will be there forever."
Devoting 50 weeks of her life to the cause has been worth it, she said. "We're just a bunch of people who are concerned. We're not professionals. The fact that we have been justified in our year-long battle is just amazing."