HELSINKI, Finland, February 4, 2012–Environment & Human Health, Inc (EHHI) just released its “Cell Phones” report.
A quick look shows a nicely designed, colorful report with numerous photos of children using cell phones. It is easy read too, with issues presented in bullet-points consisting of just a sentence or two.
The first impression is good. However, like with every report, there are both good and bad points.
On the positive side, the report attempts to present a comprehensive look at the cell phone issue, starting with the ever changing exposures and human health risk and ending with the recyclability of old phones.
The negative side is that because of the “comprehensiveness” of the report, the health issues are presented in very brief and unconvincing way.
This makes the health risk message of the report “easy prey” for anyone with an opposite view and allows detractors to portray the report as yet another selectively formulated alarmist report.
The health risks section of the report is only 16 pages (p. 23 – 38) of this 72 page report. The authors did not review many original publications but rather relied on what others said in review articles and on various websites. It means that the authors present already “digested by others” information.
The presentation of cancer as a possible health risk evolves only around the Interphone and Hardell studies, known for their limited usefulness because both rely on people’s recollection of their phone using habits. This is supplemented by a few review articles.
The report fails to mention the study by the Danish Cohort. Any expert wishing to undermine the report’s findings can do so by just mentioning the no-effect findings of the “missing” studies. Environment & Human Health, Inc. should have mentioned and evaluated the Danish Cohort report.
The validity of the studies concerning effects on nervous system can be also easily dismissed. In the report, the authors quote (p.29) a review by Regel and Achermann as follows: “The lack of a validated tool, which reliably assesses changes in cognitive performance caused by RF-EMF exposure, may contribute to the current inconsistencies in outcomes.” This quotation means that any observed effects on cognition are unreliable, as they are. It also means that evidence presented in the report is similarly unreliable.
Genotoxic effects (DNA damage) are only briefly mentioned in 5 bullet-points. Authors bring attention to the controversy surrounding studies published in REFLEX project. The rest of the information refers to review article. Such presentation of this important topic is not convincing.
The issue of electromagnetic sensitivity received even less attention — just 2 bullet-points on page 35. The report states only that some people complain and that few studies have been performed.
The effects on children get a “three-pages-attention”. Two epidemiological studies are presented. The Hardell study, which was a conference presentation and cannot be evaluated by peers, and CEFALO study, heavily criticized for its inability to show anything are cited.
There is also mention about the impact of use of cell phones during pregnancy on the behavior of children. The studies suggest that children of mothers using cell phones have more behavioral problems or increased heart rate.
However, the study fails to isolate cell phone use as the cause of the problem. Are these effects caused by radiation or by the behavior of mothers themselves? Like leading a more “busy” and “stressful” life associated with the 24/7 availability for others. The suggested link between radiation and offspring behavior might be just an overstatement that is not supported by the study’s evidence.
Careful reading shows that the important part of the report, health effects, is presented in a somewhat biased format with references selected to support the claims of health effects. Such presentation will help those wanting dismiss the report and its recommendations.
The report does not present any convincing evidence concerning action by regulatory agencies. The report repeats, in a much abbreviated form, what other reports have said.
Although the intentions of the report authors are to press for new precautionary regulations, the “totality” of the approach might turn also against the recommendations.
If some agency would like to follow the recommendations of the report, it can pick one topic, follow it and neglect the others. Nevertheless, the agency will be able to state that the recommendations of the report are followed.
The authors forget to mention that the primary reason for recommending precautionary action is not what we know but rather what we do not know because we did not study it. The authors do not mention that it is the first time in the history of human kind that people put an radio transmitter/receiver directly to head and expose the brain. Other known exposures happen from a distance. And they forget to mention that there are no studies proving that cell phone radiation affect humans in the first palce.
Currently, we have variety of indications of possible health effects but we are missing the “smoking gun” and this report does not provide it and does not make a solid case why we should still look for it.
Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” at http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com Dariusz is a Research Professor at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.
Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP
Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the STUK - Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.
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