No evidence of mobile phone health risks

There is still no convincing evidence that mobile phones cause any health effects, according to a new review published in Emerging Health Threats Journal. But the authors, Florence Samkange-Zeeb and Maria Blettner from Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, stop short of saying that risks can be ruled out, and debate continues over whether regulators should apply the so-called ‘precautionary principle’ until conclusive evidence becomes available.

The precautionary principle means taking steps to avoid possible harm, in the absence of clear evidence either way. One way of applying it could be to put the onus on telecommunications companies to prove that no health risks exist.

The review examines studies of mobile phone use and finds that most show no significant link to brain cancer or other health effects. However the authors point out that less is known about long term effects, and that usage and exposure patterns are changing as the technology develops. “Little is known about possible adverse effects of mobile phone use on children, especially effects that might appear later in life,” they write.

This uncertainty is still a cause of concern for some scientists, who call for precautions to be taken until the risks are better understood. In an associated feature, Anita Makri reports on the conflicting views among scientists over how cautious governments should be in regulating the technology. There is no consensus over appropriate regulation and experts believe that “when it comes to policy, each group tends to pick the interpretation that suits their interests.”

While many researchers have found no risk associated with mobile phone use, others say the available evidence points to a slightly increased risk of brain cancer, and are concerned about long-term effects, especially in children.

In the middle ground are scientists who agree that the evidence of health risks is unconvincing, but who still urge caution, saying that the possibility of harmful health effects cannot yet be eliminated. The controversy looks set to continue, according to Robert Goble, Research Professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, USA. “I think it prudent to prepare for the possibility that the uncertainties will not be resolved any time soon,” he suggests. “That will require developing practical approaches to ‘coping with uncertainty’.”