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More Static About Cell Phone Safety

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WebMD Health News

July 18, 2000 -- The static about cell phone safety has prompted the wireless industry to take action. Cell phone makers will soon be required to disclose information on radiation levels produced by their phones. The new rules were issued by the wireless industry's top trade group, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA).

All new cell phones submitted for certification by CTIA members will be required to follow the guidelines. While the majority of wireless handset makers belong to the association, manufacturers in other countries could issue other policies. Radiation levels are expected to appear on packaging by this fall.

The guidelines require cell phone makers to enclose specific information regarding phone radiation emissions, which are measured by "specific absorption rates," or SAR. That number indicates the amount of radiation absorbed by the body while using a cell phone. Whether the phone is analog or digital, the frequency at which the call is transmitted, the phone's design, and other factors all determine the SAR rating.

However, because the SAR rating is inside the box, consumers will have to do some investigative work in order to learn which brand has the best number.

The guidelines come on the heels of numerous studies regarding cell phone safety that all produced conflicting evidence. The FDA announced in June that it will collaborate with the CTIA over the next three to five years in a study investigating mobile phone safety.

WebMD was unable to reach the CTIA for comment on these new guidelines.

To summarize the latest studies on cell phone radiation:

  • According to news reports, a study by the American Health Foundation found a link between cell phone use and a rare type of brain cancer. Another, conducted by Integrated Laboratory Systems in Research Triangle Park, N.C., found that DNA in human cells breaks down when exposed to large doses of cell phone radiation, possibly changing the genetic structure of the cells and leading to cancer.
  • A recent report by the Royal Society of Canada concluded that under normal use, there is no evidence that radiofrequency fields -- the electromagnetic waves sent out by sound devices such as cell phones -- pose a health risk. But, the report says, the existing scientific evidence is inadequate to rule out the possibility that cell phones could cause adverse health effects.
  • A study from Finland shows that using a cell phone may actually improve certain aspects of your memory. "We didn't study the health effects of cell phones," says lead researcher Mika Koivisto from the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. "We studied the short-term effects on brain function and cognition. "We found that response times were speeded up when the phone was on. But not all response times benefited," he says, only those for more complex tasks.
  • Another study, this one from England, showed a very small improvement in brain function after people were on the phones for half an hour. Published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, this study concluded that radiation from cell phones has no effect on the brain besides warming it up slightly, which seemed to slightly increase reaction times in the study participants.

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