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Phone Scare - Firms Hit
The mobile phone industry hit back today over claims that hands-free mobile phone sets significantly increase the threat of channelling radiation to the brain.
Spokesmen emphasise that there is still no reliable evidence that radiation from phones poses any human health threat. However, MPs are today demanding an urgent inquiry, following publication of a Consumers' Association report, which suggests that hands-free sets could triple the volume of radiation transmitted.
Millions of consumers have purchased hands-free sets and shields because they believe these will minimise radiation, after earlier reports which suggested a link between mobile phones and illness, even brain tumours.
Hands-free users employ an earpiece wired to their phones, which keeps a distance between the transmitter and the caller's head. But the Department of Health is now being asked to study research which suggests that the hands-free system conducts more, not less, radiation.
Former Minister for Women Joan Ruddock says she is "astounded" by the Consumers' Association report, and has tabled a series of Commons questions to health and consumer ministers about the new study which suggests that hands free devices could act as conduits of radiation.
A Government-backed investigation into mobile phone safety is due to be published next month, based on the work of a team of independent scientists which has spent the past year studying the risks, after fears were expressed that the country's 24 million handsets could represent a potential health problem.
The report, by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, commissioned by the Department of Health, is expected to study the long term implications and may answer some of the questions raised in today's Consumers' Association report.
However the Carphone Warehouse, whose hands-free sets were tested, disputes the latest findings by the CA, saying they are contrary to its own research. Managing director Charles Dunstone said in a statement: "We are surprised by the Which? report, as are several of the industry bodies that we have been speaking to, as all other research has contradicted their findings."
Carphone Warehouse's Jonathan Hook told the BBC: "There is no specific evidence to support claims that mobile phones are damaging to health."
Ms Ruddock said today: "Millions of mobile phone users will today be extremely worried by this report. These devices were purchased specifically in many cases because they were thought to eliminate the risk of radiation to the head.
"I'm thinking particularly of the young people, including members of my own family, who we have encouraged to use these devices precisely because we thought that they were an added safety measure. We need an immediate investigation now and a statement from the mobile phone companies."
Researchers from Which? tested two hands-free sets, from Carphone Warehouse and BT Cellnet. The results were said to be startling: the sets acted as aerials, channelling three times as much radiation from the phones into users' heads. The Federation of the Electronics Industry, which includes phone industry operators such as Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson, said it was surprised by the results.
A spokesman said: "Tests made by FEI members and also at an independent laboratory have, without exception, shown that the absorption levels produced when using a headset are significantly less than those produced without a headset.
"All mobile phones on the market meet all relevant safety standards and recommendations with or without an approved headset."