Lawsuit Raises Questions On Safety Risks Of Over Using Cell Phones
Journalist: Patrick Ryan
April 23, 1999
A lawsuit taken by a former telecommunications engineer has again focused world attention on possible health risks from mobile telephones. Stephen Corney, 39, spent 10 years with British Telecom (BT), and he charges that his short term memory loss, which makes it impossible for him even to shop for groceries, was caused by radiation from cellphones used for hours daily at work.
Although some studies show that mobile telephones emit up to 42 times the “safe” level of whole-body radiation, research has failed to uncover any evidence to prove that they damage their users’ health. This month scientists at Bristol University released test results showing, once again, that exposure has no detrimental effects to users’ health.
Corney’s lawyers, who took the case on a “no win, no fee” basis, seek a minimum of $140,000 compensation from BT. They argue that his condition worsened when the company switched from analog telephones to digital units, which left him “punch drunk.”
Today BT controls about two-thirds of the British market for mobile networks and telecommunications equipment (amounting to about $30 billion).
When a technical panel called Group Speciale Mobile (GSM) was established in the 1980s to develop specifications allowing cellphones to be used across European frontiers, it chose the more secure digital system over the analog standard. Digital also allowed more callers to use the limited bandwidth simultaneously, and its silicon-based technology made possible smaller, cheaper digital phones with greater clarity. (GSM now claims 50 million subscribers worldwide, with more than 2,000 Americans signing up per day.)
However, new digital phones, which emit a series of 546 µ radiofrequency (RF) pulses at 217Hz, expose users’ brain waves to constant radiation strong enough to cut out an FM radio signal, and the human skull may absorb half of this energy.
The Corney case is being watched with interest by scientists, who say that artificial electromagnetic radiation (EMR) poses health risks, an argument strenuously denied by BT, its mobile wing Cellnet, and Vodafone, Britain’s largest cellphone firm.
In an attempt to end health concerns, BT encouraged fellow giants like Cegetel of France, Germany’s Viag Interkom and other major players to contribute substantially toward a $10 billion investigation by the World Health Organization into an issue which divides scientists.
Britain’s independent National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), the agency responsible for advising government and protecting the public, recommends maximum “specific absorption rates” (the radiation absorbed averaged over one gram of tissue) of 10 milliwatts, although it is suggested that new European standards may be one-tenth of this. A recent NRPB statement read: “At present, the international consensus in the worldwide scientific community is that there is no demonstrable evidence of a health risk.”
Many disagree. Led by Professor Madeleine Bastide, scientists at France’s University of Montpellier conducted tests last summer which indicate that pregnant women need to exercise caution with mobiles. Research on 6,000 chick embryos, which have some biological similarities to humans, showed that those heavily exposed to cellphone emissions during incubation were five times less likely to survive than the microwave-6.00 control group.
But while the debate over health risks rages on, for people like former phone engineer Stephen Corney, the time for talking is over.