Cellphone use dangerous for young people, scientists say Canada should play it safe and introduce new standards
By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News Service; with a file from Cheryl Chan March 17, 2009
Children who use cellphones are five times more likely to contract malignant brain tumours, an international group of scientists warned yesterday.
They called on Canada and other countries to bring in tougher safety standards for cellphone use.
“I see us facing a major problem in the future because of the fact that young children are on cellphones constantly, and we may be setting ourselves up for an epidemic of brain cancer, the same thing we did with cigarette smoking and lung cancer,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York State.
The research is published in the forthcoming edition of Pathophysiology.
The findings of 15 studies from health researchers in six different countries, looking at the effects of electromagnetic fields and radio-frequency radiation on living cells and on the health of humans, should jolt government agencies into action as a precautionary measure, said Carpenter, a co-author of the study.
“What stands out is the consistency of the association of exposure and disease. The evidence, as I see it, is sufficiently strong that there needs to be public warnings, there needs to be establishments of exposure guidelines and that the present guidelines — in Canada, the United States or anyone else — are not protective of human health.
Dr. Lennart Hardell, an oncologist from Sweden’s University Hospital, found that after one or more years of cellphone use, there is a 5.2-fold elevated risk of malignant brain tumour in young people who begin using mobile phones before the age of 20. The odds for other ages was 1.4.
“There should be special precaution for children and young persons about the use of mobile phones,” said Hardell.
In Canada, 71 per cent of youth between the ages of 12 and 19 have a cellphone, according to new data compiled by Toronto-based Solutions Research Group. The penetration nears 80 per cent for this age bracket in Toronto and Vancouver.
Marc Choma, a spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said government agencies responsible for compiling and analyzing this body of work — including Health Canada and the World Health Organization — “continue to say that the evidence that is out there, that has been reviewed for years and years and years, that there is no demonstrated risk for human health.” Health Canada issued a statement last summer reaffirming that the department “currently sees no scientific reason to consider the use of cellphones as unsafe.
“There is no convincing evidence of increased risk of disease from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields from cellphones,” it stated.
Local health agencies such as Vancouver Coastal Health do not have a position on cellphone use, but follow the lead of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said VCH spokesman Gavin Wilson yesterday afternoon.
“There’s been a number of studies and a lot of them indicate there is a low or very low risk of increasing the risk of brain tumours,” he said.
Wilson said the agency won’t change its position based on one study, but it will review its findings with the assistance of the BCCDC.
© Copyright (c) The Province