Health fears still surround handsets - after 20 years of research

At least 30 studies have been conducted into the possible health problems that mobile phones could cause. These include in-depth investigations by the World Health Organisation (WHO), numerous government agencies and other highly reputable scientific bodies.

The remarkable result has been, seemingly, no firm conclusion. But this doesn't stop recent headlines appearing in the national press claiming that 'mobile phone users face brain tumour pandemic'.

This latest scare follows extensive criticism of the decade-long Interphone study--which was positioned to comprehensively answer the question, and has promoted campaigners to warn that the danger to heavy mobile users is 25 per cent higher than was suggested in the Interphone report.

The Interphone study, which was established by the WHO and involved 13 countries, concluded that making calls for more than 30 minutes a day could increase users' risk of developing brain cancer by as much as 40 per cent.

Regardless that those involved with the Interphone project seemed mired in politics and scientific infighting, another investigation has been launched with the aim of recruiting 250,000 mobile phone users across five European countries. This time the study is set to last 20 to 30 years with the target (again) of providing a definitive answer to the health issues surrounding mobile phones. This new study, Cosmos--the cohort study on mobile communications--would appear to have a wider breadth than previous attempts and involves more than assessing the likelihood of handsets causing brain cancers, but the possibility of also causing skin cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, headaches, tinnitus, depression or sleep disorders.

Interestingly, Cosmos will have the brief to look into the possible impact of Wi-Fi, DECT phones and the use of baby monitors by participants, as well as mobiles, to obtain a comprehensive picture of exposure to all types of electromagnetic radiation.

There are also other studies being launched, this time by the EU, that are designed to investigate the risk of brain tumours from mobile phone use in childhood and adolescence. I guess one conclusion is that there is not, and perhaps never will be, a totally definitive answer to mobile phone health concerns. Measuring it over a 20 to 30 year period might prove something, but the way we use mobile devices and the technology will have changed massively during this period.

While the campaigners calling for the more robust examination of the potential issues must be given appropriate airtime, twisting statistics to serve a particular argument doesn't move the debate forward.

And, after 30 studies over the last 20 years, it's time to move this discussion away from the 'man with a grudge, theory or vision' seeking his 15 minutes of fame and put this debate onto a more responsible footing. - Paul