Mobile phones no health risk, says German study
Berlin -- One in four Germans who worry that mobile phones and their transmission towers are health hazards can now relax a little following studies coordinated by the Berlin-based Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS).
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that more than 50 studies in the German Mobile Telecommunications Research Programme (DMF), conducted from 2002 to 2008, had found no evidence that mobile phones and transmission towers posed a health risk within the required limits for electromagnetic radiation.
The programme was funded with 17 million euros, a small sum compared with the billions of euros that the German government collected when it auctioned licenses for slices of Germany’s UMTS airwave spectrum in 2000. Though the country’s four mobile network operators provided half of the research funds, the BfS told critics that DMF procedures had ensured the objectivity of the studies.
Research focused on the functioning mechanisms of high frequency electromagnetic fields in mobile telephony, the fields’ effect on humans and animals, and the amount of electromagnetic radiation to which the German public is exposed.
Several studies looked at possible effects on what is known as the blood-brain barrier, a kind of filter that prevents harmful substances in the blood from reaching neurons in the brain. According to the BfS, the studies found no conclusive evidence that radiation from mobile telephone use significantly weakened the blood-brain barrier.
Three studies dealt with the 1.5 percent of Germans who describe themselves as "electrosensitive" and blame various health problems on electromagnetic fields.
Since the ailments are typically things like headaches and sleep disorders, which could have many causes, establishing a link to electromagnetic radiation is very difficult.
The studies found that some people were quicker to sense electromagnetic fields than others, and that health complaints were not necessarily connected with radiation. Test persons were asked to speak up as soon as they felt exposure to electromagnetic fields. Those who considered themselves electrosensitive sounded the most false alarms.
The BfS concluded there was no proof that electromagnetic fields caused the health problems named by electrosensitive people.
The research programme also included a number of epidemiological studies (epidemiology is a branch of medicine that investigates the causes and control of epidemics) aimed at determining whether mobile phone users contracted certain kinds of cancer more often than non-users. The BfS said there was no evidence of this whatsoever.
Despite the studies’ reassuring results, the "all clear" signal comes with a caveat: Mobile telephony is safe as far as we know, but we still do not know everything. "What concerns me is that we know little about the effects on children and juveniles," remarked Rolf Buschmann, an environmental expert at the North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Centre in Dusseldorf. There are no suitable scientific models at present for studies involving children.
The effects of long-term mobile phone use — 10 years or more — have not been sufficiently studied either, which is not surprising considering the recent development of the technology. For Bernd Rainer Mueller, an engineer and measurement technology specialist for the Berlin-based environmental protection organisation BUND, this is reason enough to demand lower legal limits for the electromagnetic radiation caused by mobile telephony.
"I’m afraid that otherwise half the population will have health problems at some point," he said. Mueller’s fears are based in part on the justified assumption that mobile phone use will increase in the years ahead.
For its part, the BfS also sees the need for more research on long-term mobile phone use as well as on the effects on children and juveniles. And it continues to advise consumers to use mobile phones as little as possible, to buy low-radiation models, and to make sure that conditions for reception are good.