In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Martin Schram: Cell-phone radiation concerns remain

Posted by smeddum on July 6, 2008



The author concludes that there should be more independent studies: while that is welcome, what would be more welcome would be due attention given to independent studies already completed.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It was the pop heard ’round the world.

Four pops, actually. Faster than a speeding kernel — YouTube viewers around the planet became eyewitnesses to something that looked like fun-time science.

Here’s what they saw: Four corn kernels on a table cloth, surrounded by four cell phones, lying flat and pointed at the kernels. Four young folks dialed their cell phones. The ringing commenced. Suddenly — pop. . . pop. . . pop. . . pop. Lo, right before our eye-witnessing eyes, the corn jumped and popped into popcorn.

The popping of the popcorn set the blogs buzzing. In English, French, Japanese. The buzzing of the blogs begat the babble of the 24/7 cable news anchors — hey, this was their kind of story. After all, hadn’t a world of cell phone users just seen, with their own eyes, evidence of a scientific truth, at last — proof of the perils of cell phone radiation?

Well, no. It was a hoax.

Not a hoax pulled off by youthful pranksters. It was a hoax pulled off by corporate hucksters. After putting three cell-phony videos on YouTube and letting the buzz and babble build for about a week, the business people who run Cardo Systems, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of wireless Bluetooth headsets, put out the word that it was all a hoax — and they were the proud hoaxsters.

“We wanted to generate more buzz about Cardo Systems,” Kathryn Rhodes, Cardo’s national marketing director, said in an interview, speaking from her cell phone to mine. “We found it tremendously successful.”

They had used some sort of gimmick to make the corn pop. Hot stove under the tablecloth? A microwave beam from above? “We don’t intend to explain it,” Rhodes said. “We’ll keep it a trade secret.”

Then she tossed in one last kernel of corporate corn: “We want to preserve the integrity of the videos.” Say what? For a minute I thought I’d heard a fifth “pop” — only a corporate marketer would think that “integrity” and Cardo’s “videos” belonged in the same sentence.

Before Cardo Systems confessed its sins, this columnist was on the receiving end of just a bit of the buzzing. Friends and strangers sent me the YouTube videos. Because in 2001, I had co-authored a book with Dr. George L. Carlo, entitled “Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age.” Carlo, an epidemiologist (and yes, coincidentally his name does rhyme with Cardo), had been the insider of the cell phone industry. He’d been hired to run a program of scientific studies that the industry figured would prove that cell phones posed no hazard; but when studies began to show that radiation from cell phones seemed to cause some changes in biological cells, Carlo followed the science — and the industry began to discredit Carlo.

Our book contained results of studies that had showed changes in blood cells that had been exposed to cell phone radiation. The cells developed micro nuclei (which are also found in cancerous tumors). The book also noted a study that indicated how far inside a skull radiation can penetrate when a phone is held against the head: Just near the surface in adults, but penetration was said to increase the younger the cell phone user, so that it went quite far into the brains of small children.

Carlo, who now heads the Science and Public Policy Institute and the Safe Wireless Initiative, said this week that a number of recent studies have confirmed the risks posed by extensive usage of cell phones. He noted that a Swedish study by Dr. Lennart Hardell and Dr. Kjell Mild showed a correlation between cell phone use and tumors on the side of the head where the phone is regularly held. And another study conducted in 12 European labs replicated findings of genetic change in cells produced by cell phone radiation — which is not related to the sort of heat that pops popcorn.

Those findings deserve to be major news in a world of more than 3 billion cell phone users. But the sad truth is that the popcorn hoax got far more coverage than any scientific study ever did.

“What the studies are showing is that there is a fundamental disruption of the normal physiology in cells and tissues and organs,” Carlo said. These changes could increase the risk among those who might be susceptible. “Not everyone who is exposed to pollen sneezes and not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer,” Carlo said. “But those who are more susceptible are at greater risk.”

The risks are real. They were discovered not by hoaxes but by science. That’s why we urgently need more industry-independent studies.

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