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Health and Mobile Telephony-Overview

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Mobile phones are part of our way of life.

There are now 89.9 million active mobile handsets and mobile data connections in the UK compared to 9 million in 1997/8. However, this growth has been accompanied by a perception that exposures to radio waves - from mobile phones and base stations - may pose a health risk.

The balance of evidence from research to date suggests this is not the case. However, gaps in scientific knowledge have prompted calls for further study to be conducted. This is happening in the UK and around the world.

UK Response to Public Concern

The Stewart Report

In 1999 the UK Government responded to public concern regarding the rapid development of mobile telecommunications by establishing the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), chaired by Sir William Stewart. The aims of the IEGMP were to:

  • consider concerns about the possible health effects from the use of mobile phones, base stations and transmitters
  • conduct a rigorous assessment of existing research
  • give advice based on the present state of knowledge
  • make recommendations on further work that should be carried out to improve the basis for sound advice

The Stewart Report was published in May 2000 and concluded:
''The balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of international guidelines. However there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in some cases''. (paragraph 1.33)

The report recommended:

''A precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technologies be adopted until much more detailed and scientifically robust information on health effects becomes available'' (paragraph 6.35)

''A substantial research programme should operate under the aegis of a demonstrably independent panel'' (paragraph 5.270)

“The issue of possible health effects of mobile phone technology should be the subject of a further review in three years time, or earlier if circumstances demand it'' (paragraph 5.273)

The full report is available at www.iegmp.org.uk

AGNIR

One of the key recommendations of the Stewart Report was that “ the issue of possible health effects of mobile phone technology should be the subject of a further review in three years time, or earlier if circumstances demand it.” (paragraph 5.273).

In responding to this recommendation, the government asked the Board of NRPB to undertake this further review and the Board requested its independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) to carry this out. Having reviewed the science AGNIR, published its report in December 2003 which concluded:

"Exposure levels from living near mobile phone base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to human health."

"In aggregate the research published since the IEGMP report does not give cause for concern. The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse effects from exposures to RF fields below guideline levels, but the published research on RF exposures and health has limitations, and mobile phones have only been in widespread use for a relatively short time. The possibility therefore remains open that there could be health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline levels; hence continued research is needed."

The Report contained specific conclusions on cellular, animal, brain activity and cognitive function studies and cancer and non-cancer epidemiology.

The full report is available on the Health Protection Agency website at www.hpa.org.uk

NRPB Report

Following the review of the science by the NRPBs Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR January 2004) the Board of the NRPB stated that in mid to late 2004 it expected to review and provide overall advice to the public on mobile phone technologies and health. The NRPB report’s advice
is consistent with the reassuring conclusion reached by AGNIR, when it found that the weight of scientific evidence available does not suggest that mobile technologies operating within international health and safety guidelines cause illness.

The key point made as part of the NRPB’s advice is that: “In the UK, there is a lack of hard information showing that the mobile phone systems in use are damaging to health. It is important to emphasise this crucial point.”

The overall conclusion of the report is that the Board believes that “the main conclusions reached in the Stewart Report in 2000 still apply today and that a precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technology should continue to be adopted.”

WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a long-established research programme on electro-magnetic fields (EMF), called the International EMF Project. As part of its ongoing communication on mobile telecommunications and human health, in 2006 the WHO published a fact sheet, which provides further information on and summaries of health concerns, protection standards, public perceptions of risk and WHO initiatives.

The Fact Sheet concludes: "Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

The fact sheet can be found at www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs304/en/index.html

MTHR Report

In response to the Stewart Report recommendation that ''A substantial research programme should operate under the aegis of a demonstrably independent panel''(paragraph 5.270), the Government established UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme. The MTHR programme is operated by an independent Programme Management Committee, which is totally independent of the research funders, who have no influence on the research funded by the programme or its findings.

A progress report on the MTHR research was published by the Programme Management Committee in September 2007. The overall conclusion of the report is that, “None of the research supported by the Programme and published so far demonstrates that biological or adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones."

The full report can be found at: http://www.mthr.org.uk/documents/MTHR_report_2007.pdf

International Reviews

Since the publication of the Stewart Report in 2000, there have been more than 30 reviews undertaken by health agencies on exposure to radio waves and human health, in the UK and internationally. These reviews, which assess all of the scientific evidence that is available, have all reached the same conclusion – that there is no demonstrable evidence that adverse health effects are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones or base stations operating within international health and safety exposure limits.

Future Research

The UK mobile phone operators take all questions regarding the safety of mobile telephony seriously and we are continuing to support the MTHR research programme. In total, £8.8 million was contributed to the first phase of the MTHR programme from various sources and was used to fund 28 research projects, conducted by independent scientists at universities and research institutions around the UK covering areas of epidemiology, human volunteer studies, biological mechanisms, exposure and dosimetry, and risk communication.

The mobile operators are continuing to fund the MTHR programme, which is now in its second phase. The first project underway as part of the second phase of the MTHR programme is COSMOS (Cohort Study of Mobile Phone Use and Health). COSMOS is designed to look, in greater detail than has been achieved before, for any possible health issues arising from long-term use of a mobile phone. It was successfully piloted in the first MTHR programme and Imperial College launched the main study in April 2010.

Other studies on the TETRA emergency services communications system are also underway as part of the MTHR programme. Further information on the MTHR funded research can be found at http://www.mthr.org.uk/research_projects/research.htm

 

No Established Adverse Health Effects

Mobile phones operate by using radio waves, a form of non-ionising radiation. There is a large body of scientific evidence on the effects of exposure to radio waves because they have been widely used for decades: for example, radio, TV and radar signals are radio waves. The scientific consensus is that, apart from the increased risk of a road accident due to mobile phone use when driving, there is no clear evidence of adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones or from phone masts. (Source: Health Protection Agency, Health Advice on Mobile Phones, May 2010).

A Wealth of Research

A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use. (Source: World Health Organisation Fact Sheet N°193, June 2011).