Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (488)

Gay Mitchell


603 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has considered reports of possible health dangers from mobile phones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1646/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

My Department closely monitors all developments in the area of wireless telephony and non-ionising radiation, including their possible health effects. The report by the independent advisory group on non-ionising radiation published earlier this month in the UK appraised all technical, scientific and medical literature dealing with mobile telephony and health that had been published since the earlier report of the independent expert group on mobile phones — the Stewart report — in 2000. This latest advisory group report concluded:

In aggregate the research published since the Stewart report does not give cause for concern. The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse health effects from exposures to RF fields below guideline levels, but the published research on RF exposures and health has limitations, and mobile phones have only been in widespread use for a relatively short time. The possibility therefore remains open that there could be health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline levels; hence continued research is needed.

The earlier Stewart report also found no evidence of harm to human health from mobile phones. It recommended further research and a precautionary approach and that children's use of mobile phones should be kept as low as possible. Other recent statements from national and international health advisory authorities have been reassuring. The US National Cancer Institute found no association between use and certain brain tumours. The American Medical Association in its Journal reported that a four year study found no link between use and brain cancer, although it recommended further work. The Royal Society of Canada found no evidence of health risks, but accepted that small biological changes may be a cause for concern. The Danish Cancer Society in a study of 420,000 Danish users found no sign of increased risk of brain or nervous system cancers.

The World Health Organisation, WHO, has concluded:

Present scientific information does not indicate the need for any special precautions for use of mobile phones. If individuals are concerned they might choose to limit their own or their children's RF exposure by limiting the length of calls, or using hands-free devices to keep mobile phones away from the head and body.

At present major international research projects on the possible health effects of mobile phones are being co-ordinated by the WHO international EMF project and by the EU through its COST281 Action: Potential Health Implications from Mobile Communication Systems.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, is the WHO agency co-ordinating the INTERPHONE study. This is an international epidemiological study that will compare the association between a number of head and brain cancers and the intensity of mobile phone use. INTERPHONE involves 13 countries in four continents. Some 10,000 cases of cancer will be investigated. The first results are expected from Scandinavia towards the end of this year.

The COST281 action was launched in 2001 and promotes collaboration among European research groups working on mobile communications and health. Research initiatives are underway or at an advanced planning stage on such topics as mobile phones and children, health effects of emerging wireless technologies, health effects of phone masts, mobile communications and the brain, and mobile phones and sleep disorders.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources participates fully in the WHO International EMF project and in the COST281 action. In May 2003, I hosted a major international meeting in Dublin of COST281 on the topic of phone masts and health. Members of my staff are currently assisting WHO on the development of exposure standards and the application of the precautionary approach to non-ionising radiation.

Question No. 604 taken with Question No. 588.