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Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 17:16:56 -0500
From: Robert Weissman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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Subject: Cell phone nightmare
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CELL PHONE NIGHTMARE
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Ready for a real scary Halloween story?
Remember the Larry King Live show in 1993 on cell phones? David Reynard
was the guest. He had filed a lawsuit against NEC, a cell phone operator,
and other companies, alleging that his late wife's brain tumor was caused
in part by her use of a cell phone.
The Reynard's lawsuit was dismissed in 1995, but Reynard's appearance on
the show created nationwide concern. At the time, there were 15 million
Americans using cell phones.
The day after the Larry King Live show, the Cellular Telecommunications
Industry Association (CTIA) went on the offensive. Industry executives
said that there were thousands of studies that proved that wireless phones
were safe. In fact, there were no such studies about cell phone safety.
But CTIA understood the basic reality of the situation, and so it decided
to spend $27 million over the next six years on health studies.
They hired George Carlo, figuring he would be a perfect fit. Carlo is a
public health scientist, who had a good track record as an industry
researcher. Most of his clients over the years have been industry clients,
and few have been disappointed with his work.
In 1994, Carlo began conducting studies to determine whether cell phones
pose a health risk to consumers. Four times a year, Carlo would trudge
over from his Dupont Circle office in Washington, D.C. to the offices of
CTIA to debrief the CEOs of the major telephone and electronics firms that
make up the $40 billion a year mobile phone industry. And things went
well, until 1995.
In 1995, Carlo found that digital phones were interfering with cardiac
"We then conducted about $2.5 million worth of research to quantify that
problem, and as a result, I had somewhat of a falling out with the
industry," Carlo told us this week. "They didn't like that finding." The
industry cut off Carlo's funding.
But through a process of negotiation, Carlo got back in. The industry
would again fund his studies, but only if he agreed not to research the
questions of defibrillators and digital phones, and of cell phones and
automobile safety, and he could no longer work on a very extensive program
to standardize the methodology for testing whether or not cell phones met
Carlo said that it took him two months to decide that he needed to
continue the work, even under CTIA's conditions, and so he did.
What he found may prove to be the cell phone industry's worst nightmare.
He found that the risk of acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor of the auditory
nerve that is well in range of the radiation coming from a phone's
antennae, was 50 percent higher in people who reported using cell
phones for six years or more. Moreover, that relationship between the
amount of cell phone use and this tumor appeared to follow a dose-response
He found that the risk of rare neuro epithelial tumors on the outside of
the brain was more than doubled, a statistically significant increase, in
cell phone users as compared to people who did not use cell phones.
He found that there appeared to be some correlation between brain tumors
occurring on the right side of the head and use of the phone on the right
side of the head.
And, most troubling, he found that laboratory studies looking at the
ability of radiation from a phone's antenna to cause functional genetic
damage were definitely positive, and were following a dose-response curve.
Carlo said that he has repeatedly recommended that the industry take a
pro-active, public health approach on the issue, and inform consumers of
his findings. He says that he uses a cell phone, but only with a headset.
"Alarmingly, indications are that some segments of the industry have
ignored the scientific findings suggesting potential health effects, have
repeatedly and falsely claimed that wireless phones are safe for all
consumers, including children, and have created an illusion of responsible
follow up by calling for and supporting more research," Carlo wrote in a
letter to top industry CEOs this month. "The most important measures of
consumer protection are missing: complete and honest factual information
to allow informed judgment by consumers about assumption of risk, the
direct tracking and monitoring of what happens to consumers who use
wireless phones, and the monitoring of changes in the technology that
could impact health."
Carlo is also troubled by a recent agreement between Elizabeth Jacobson,
the person in charge of cell phone regulation at the Food and Drug
Administration, and Thomas Wheeler, executive director of the CTIA. Under
the agreement, CTIA will fund the FDA to do additional safety studies.
Carlo says that in 1994, Jacobson refused such a cooperative research
agreement, because she didn't think she could both collaborate with the
industry and regulate it. (Jacobson, through a spokesperson, denies taking
"This arrangement is wrong, plain and simple," Carlo told us. "The FDA's
behavior is appalling to me. The FDA seems to be more than willing to jump
in bed with the industry. It is a blatantly arrogant attempt to join in a
relationship that is a conflict of interest on its face. The reason it has
not been criticized is that people don't know about it. Consumers are
being left out to dry."
The FDA's Russell Owen says that the FDA has not regulated cell phones
because "we don't have sufficient evidence to determine that there might
be adverse health effects from cell phones."
Sorry Mr. Owen, but in this instance, we agree with the industry's guy.
(That's a scary thought.)
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999; http://www.corporatepredators.org)
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
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