EU Assesses Mobile Phones Feb 02


HIGH on the European Union's agenda is research into the public's fear of harmful causes of radiation from mobile phones, phone masts and everyday consumer items found in the home. Radiation from overhead power lines has been under investigation for more than 20 years. In our homes, radiation is pumped out by microwaves, toasters, hair dryers, electric shavers and PCs. Industrial heating systems, electricity transformer substations, and radio and TV transmitters also emit radiation - we are subject to "electrosmog" every day of our lives.


In the past five years, mobile phones have become useful for business and as a fashion accessory, especially amongst the young. Current penetration in the EU is 60% of the population - that's 250 million phones! The mobile phone emits radiation as low as 0.6W (a microwave emits 300-1200W). At short distances, signals from radio and TV stations are a lot more powerful than the signal from mobile phone antennas. Depending on the power, frequency, geometry of the exposed system and type of biological tissue, the health effects of such non-ionising radiation range from growth stimulation to cell death and DNA damage. Luckily, in our everyday lives, exposure typically remains well below what is recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and all mobile phones respect these limits. Significant research on the effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on biological systems has focused on the development of cancer. However, the World Health Organisation, British Medical Association and the European Parliament indicate that exposure to radio frequency (RF) fields under current environmental conditions is unlikely to induce or promote cancer.


What about the ill-effects on hearing, memory, cognitive processes and mental health? How does this affect young children who are still developing their nervous systems and who will have longer life time exposure than adults? There is some evidence to suggest that extensive use of mobile phones and consequent radiation heat can affect the hair cells or the fluid in the inner ear in 5% of users causing headache and transient confusion.


The potential health effects of electromagnetic fields are very high on the European Union's political agenda judging, by the numerous Parliamentary questions to the Commissioners and the reports being discussed in committees. The EU, under the Fifth Framework programme for R&D (1998-2002), has funded 12 million for research on the potential health effects of mobile phones and details can be found on the website: <>.