The Dilemma Over Mobiles That Menace Our Children
May 12, 2000
New guidance on the safety of mobile phones has left worried parents confused over whether they should allow their children to use them.
The Government-commissioned Stewart Report warns that children are particularly vulnerable to potential risks and should avoid using mobiles unless it is essential. But its authors say they cannot tell parents how long they should let children talk on mobiles or state definitively at what age they should be allowed to use them.
This is the first official report to acknowledge a potential health risk although the committee stresses that the technology is too new for any suspected effect to be proved or ruled out beyond doubt.
It says until there is more research, users and planning authorities dealing with phone masts should take a precautionary approach and not expose themselves or vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly to unnecessary risk.
The team of 12 scientists, led by biologist Sir William Stewart, warned that children are particular vulnerable to potential health hazards until puberty because their skulls are thinner, their brains are still growing so their cells are dividing more rapidly, the electrical activity is still unstable and their life-time exposure will be longer.
But they have avoided suggesting an outright ban, believing many parents may wish to balance a potential health risk with situations where it may be safer for children to carry a phone.
Sir William said: “What we are stressing is that if there are health risks proven in the future, the younger the child the greater the risk. It is unrealistic to give guidelines in terms of how long a child should use a mobile because it depends on the particular phone and how it is held, for example.
“That is why we are calling for as much information as possible to be available so parents will be able to make an informed choice. Mobiles should not be treated as fashion accessories.”
Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper said a comprehensive multi-million pound research strategy was already being prepared. She added: “The Government has accepted many of the recommendations of the report immediately and will be giving urgent consideration to those issues which require more detailed examination.”
Among the principle recommendations is that all mobiles should be clearly labelled with their specific absorption rate or SAR value, which tells the user how much radiation will be emitted into their brains.
The mobile industry has resisted previous calls to allow such measurements to be made public. Britain should also adopt international monitoring group ICNIRP’s emission guidelines which are five times lower than the current ones.
Mike Dolan, of the Federation of the Electronics Industry, which represents the mobile companies, said: “We believe this report is comprehensive and balanced and we will work with the Government in considering its recommendations.”
But privately the companies are furious that the Government allowed the GBP22.5 billion auction for new licences to go ahead before it was published. They fear any concern over health and safety will deter people from buying and using mobiles.
Thousands of people who have campaigned for the removal of phone masts from schools were also celebrating as the committee recommended that no mast should direct its main beam straight into a school building or playground.
The right of companies to by-pass planning procedures will be revoked and councils advised to avoid approving masts on sensitive sites. The committee also recommended an independent audit of all masts to ensure their emissions are within guidelines.
Solicitor Alan Meyer, of Halsey Meyer Higgins, who has acted for more than 50 campaign groups, said: “This is a complete vindication. The precautionary approach is what used to be known as common sense.” Margaret Dean, from a leading anti-mast group, said: “This is like winning the lottery.