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Limit Cell Use: Health Officer
Toronto Star, July 12, 2005
by Tyler Hamilton and
phone risks aren't yet known, says agency head WHO conference looking
at global `precautionary' approach
country's top public health officer says Canadians should consider
moderating their use of cellphones — and their children's — until
science overcomes nagging uncertainties about long-term health effects.
David Butler-Jones, in opening remarks yesterday to a three-day
conference hosted by the World Health Organization, told more than 100
academics, public health officials and scientists from around the world
that constantly changing technology has created a moving target,
leaving scientists playing a game of catch-up.
technology has passed our ability to understand what biological effects
are positive or negative," said Butler-Jones, who heads the new Public
Health Agency of Canada, often described as the Canadian equivalent to
the United States Surgeon General.
would be the message? The message would be that moderation is a good
thing," he said in an interview after his presentation. "Talking for
two hours every night on cellphones, would I advise that? No."
said use of the devices in childhood could also have an impact on
obesity and the way children interact socially with family and friends.
comments, the first he has publicly made on possible health risks
related to cellphones, follow a weekend Toronto Star investigation into
the wireless industry's new marketing focus on children and what some
scientists view as potential health effects that might take decades to
prove or disprove as a problem.
the new crop of child-targeted phones already on store shelves or on
their way are devices branded with such popular images as Barbie,
Disney characters and Hilary Duff.
conference, held in partnership with the University of Ottawa, is
looking at the merits of what's often called a "precautionary approach"
to public health policy.
idea is to develop an international framework that member countries can
adopt in cases of scientific uncertainty about potential health risks,
such as cellphone frequencies or radiation from power lines.
just good public hygiene to be precautionary," said Dr. Michael
Repacholi, head of the radiation and environmental health unit of the
World Health Organization. "Is there something we should be saying that
Canada has remained quiet on the issue of children and the potential
health risks of cellphones even as several European health experts and
authorities have issued precautionary statements and messages to
parents.Magda Havas, a professor of environmental studies at Trent
University who has studied the impact of low frequencies on human
health, said many in the scientific community outright dismiss studies
that have shown biological effects on lab animals and cell cultures,
effects that may hint at possible health risks.
think once again the health authorities aren't looking at the science,
the same way they didn't with tobacco and asbestos," she said at the
conference yesterday. "My concern is that this is actually going to
hurt the cellphone industry. If they don't clean up their act ...,
they're going to produce a generation that's so sensitive to these
frequencies they won't be able to use the product."
said evidence is already growing that certain people have "electrical
Tickner, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell
and an international expert on the precautionary approach, was
scheduled to speak at the conference but backed out, saying the agenda
has been watered down.
is controversial; the cellphone industry doesn't want to hear about
it," said Tickner, adding the industry doesn't want to be constrained
from marketing its products. "As long as there's uncertainty in the
science, we wait and don't do anything, which is unfortunate."
Barnes, chief executive of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications
Association, says his industry's products are safe, and no links have
been proven between the devices and health effects. He says all
cellphones sold in Canada "meet or exceed" all emission standards set
by Industry Canada, which acts on the guidance of Health Canada
overwhelming majority of readers who contacted the Star in connection
with the series said Health Canada should publicly state the potential
risks to Canadians, and industry should back off from its new marketing
focus on children.
"Health Canada's minister and bureaucrats should be in the
business of protecting the health of us taxpayers who pay their
salaries rather than nesting in the hip pocket of the cellular
communications industry, whose primary business is selling mobile
phones," said Jane Holmes, who lives in Brighton, Ont.
resident Matt Keefer said the wireless industry is "crossing the line"
by marketing to children.
needs to step in and protect the interests of our youngsters by making
it illegal for companies to qualify them as consumers."
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