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The fda is interested in ongoing research, but its research program is a cooperative venture with the cellular industry. As stated on the fda’s Web site, “The fda and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (ctia) have a formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (crada) to do research on wireless phone safety. fda provides the scientific oversight, obtaining input from experts in government, industry, and academic organizations. ctia-funded research is conducted through contracts to independent investigators.” It should raise some eyebrows that the telecommunications industry is involved in the research, especially since it has a history of controlling what the public knows. Back in 1993 ctia began a six-year, $28 million research program after a lawsuit was thrown at them claiming a woman died of brain cancer caused by using her cell phone. ctia soon hired epidemiologist and pathologist Dr. George Carlo to be program director of the work at his “independent” (ctia-funded) Wireless Technology Research facility. The findings: nothing to worry about.
Or so it was thought until Carlo published his book, Cell Phones (Carroll & Graf, 2001, coauthored with George Schram). Carlo could no longer hide findings that stood the test of peer scientific review: higher rates of acoustic neuroma (a rare, benign tumor of the auditory nerve) among people who used cell phones for six years or more; double the risk of neuroepithelial tumors on the brain surface, more frequent occurrence of brain tumors on the side nearest the cell phone, and genetic damage to cells. He also discovered that digital cell phones interfere with implanted cardiac pacemakers. (Indeed, cell phones interfere with several pieces of medical equipment.)
Carlo says his results were buried by a misinformation campaign, that industry officials and the fda “teamed up . . . to foil the media’s effort to inform the public” of potential health dangers. He has since created the Mobile Telephone Health Concerns Registry, a nonprofit organization operating under the Science and Public Policy Institute and which gathers voluntary information from cellular telephone users about health issues.2
If you look for safety advice outside us agencies—say, the World Health Organization (who)—you’ll read that “current scientific evidence indicates that exposure to rf fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, is unlikely to induce or promote cancers” or “any adverse health consequence.” Yet, “scientists have reported other effects [than cancer] of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns.” But, says the who fact sheet, “these effects are small and have no apparent health significance.” Nevertheless, there’s this warning: “Given the immense numbers of users of mobile phones, even small adverse effects on health could have major public health implications.”
This muddle of statements is from an organization providing recommendations to a global audience. But it’s important (and a little disconcerting) to know that the who fact sheet is not espousing an independent international statement on this issue. Rather, the fda itself says it “has been a leading participant in the World Health Organization International Electromagnetic Fields (emf) Project since its inception in 1996” and “has also helped [who] develop a series of public information documents on emf issues.”
Down and Dirty with the Data
“The topic of cell phone safety is subject to unspeakable politics in this country. They are as dirty as any I’ve ever seen in science journalism.” So says award-winning journalist and science writer B. Blake Levitt. A former writer for the New York Times and author of two books based on her two decades of research into the science, policy, and politics of emr, Levitt has learned that “those within the bioelectromagnetic society are in control of standards-setting process, and are very adept at manipulating the research process and skewing the database with negative studies.”
The fact is that a myriad of studies have found that emr, including the rf that both cell phones and older broadcast technologies (radio and television) use, are not benign at all. Levitt’s book Electromagnetic Fields, a Consumer’s Guide to the Issues and How to Protect Ourselves (Harcourt Brace, 1995) is a fat paperback stuffed with information you might (or might not) want to know about dangers of emr for us and other living things. The book has been likened in significance to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a groundbreaking revelation about something we just don’t get, yet.
Another book of Levitt’s, Cell Towers, Wireless Convenience or Environmental Hazard? (Safe Goods/New Century Publishing, 2001), is an eye-opening collection of talks given by scientists and legal experts at a forum in Litchfield, Connecticut. Dr. Henry Lai’s chapter discusses data from studies with cells, embryos, laboratory animals, and humans that shows that rf radiation levels like those emitted by our cellular technology induce changes in immune function, decrease reproductive function, increase permeability of the blood-brain barrier, do dna damage, increase cancer incidence, change calcium movement in cells, reduce cognition, disrupt behavior, and more. There is also evidence of a cumulative effect of exposure over time—something fcc guidelines don’t address.