A new US government funded study into the health effects of wireless devices is beginning just as a similar investigation in the UK comes to an end.
A number of US Senators have this week come out in support of further research into the safety of microwave energy emitted by the increasing number of wireless devices used as a part of daily life, from mobile phones and wireless computer networks (Wi-Fi), to games consoles and portable gagdets such as mp3 players.
The US National Toxicology Program is beginning a study designed to simulate the microwave radiation exposure experienced when using a mobile phone (or 'cell phone'). The research was commissioned by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who felt the subject warranted investigation given the publics' widespread to wireless signals, according to associate director of the program, John Bucher.
Giving details of the study, Bucher explained "The thing we're concerned about is chronic effects after long-term use, things that may take many years to develop. He went on to say that as a result children may potentially be at greater risk of ill effects.
Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin said that more research was needed to determine whether mobile phone use harms people's health and that a growing number of experts were raising concerns.
At a hearing into mobile phones Harkin said that a growing number of researchers believe that low levels of radiation from mobile phones may cause cancers of the brain and central nervous system.
Harkin is chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
The stance was supported by Sen. Arlen Specter, a survivor of Hodgkin's disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. He said that possible health effects associated with mobile phone use are a serious question, and a serious question ought to get a serious answer.
Mast Sanity, a UK-based charity, will be hoping the US study lives up to its promise of looking at chronic health effects from long-term exposure to wireless radiation, after issuing a press release this week criticising research conducted by the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA). The press release states that the HPA study failed to look at any long-term health effects at all, only finding that radiation in school classrooms from wireless routers was not powerful enough to cause short-term effects due to the microwaves heating tissues, as a microwave oven would.
The charity says the research was worthless as it only took measurements that had already been gathered in several previous studies and failed to look for biological changes (measured using blood samples, heart rate monitoring, and EEG readings) or symptoms in school children already exposed. It also criticised the study for looking at measurements only in relation to outdated and flawed exposure guidelines that only protect against short-term heating effects and not against long-term effects that may become apparent as a result of mechanisms unrelated to heating.
Several health agencies and authorities in Europe have already taken a cautionary approach. Germany in particular is leading the way in this regard. The German government advises its citizens to use wired internet connections instead of Wi-Fi, and landlines instead of mobile phones. Several regional health authorities, including those of Salzburg, Frankfurt, and Bavaria, have banned the use of wireless networks in schools and nurseries. Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the EU's European Environment Agency has said that, it would be prudent for health authorities to recommend actions to reduce exposures, especially to vulnerable groups, such as children.
Hopefully the US study will provide much needed answers as to the long term health effects of wireless radiation exposure; if not we may be sitting on a technological time bomb just waiting to go off.