By John Richardson
PORTLAND — Cellphone users may be in more danger from low-level radiation than they’re being told, researchers and public health advocates said Monday during a presentation at the University of Southern Maine.
“Our greatest concern is that we’re setting ourselves up … to have an epidemic of cancer in the future that should be prevented right now,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany. “In my judgment, the weight of evidence is so strong now” that there should be stronger warnings about the risks.
Carpenter, who spoke through a teleconference connection, was one of several advocates for more aggressive precautions who spoke to a group of nursing students as part of a public health seminar. USM’s School of Nursing and the Environmental Health Trust arranged the seminar and invited the public.
There is no proof that cellphones cause cancer, according to government scientists and agencies.
“The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cellphones with any health problems,” according to a Maine Center for Disease Control statement provided by a spokesman Monday.
The National Cancer Institute has posted a similar statement on its website: “Although there have been some concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.”
Scientists around the world continue to study the possibility of a link. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, recently classified cellphones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Maine was one of the first states to consider requiring warning labels on cellphones, although the bill was voted down.
Speakers at Monday’s forum urged cellphone users to take simple precautions, such as keeping phones and other wireless devices away from their heads, out of their pockets and off their laps. Headsets that attach to cellphones don’t emit the same levels of radiation, they said.
“Distance is your friend,” said Lloyd Morgan, senior research fellow for the Environmental Health Trust.
Researchers for the trust, a nonprofit that investigates and warns about health risks, published an article Monday in the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine that says the federal government is underestimating the danger of cellphone radiation, especially to children. The authors argue that the government uses the model of a man’s head to test radiation levels, even though children’s smaller heads and thinner skulls make them more vulnerable to the radiation.
Another speaker at the forum, Stuart Cobb of Portland, said he is convinced it was his cellphone use that caused him to have a brain tumor, which was removed two years ago.
Cobb and his wife, Kristen, might never have made the connection, they said. But when he was diagnosed, his doctor asked if he used a cellphone, which led the couple do some research.
Now, Cobb said, he also is convinced that doctors and government agencies should be warning phone users of the health risk before there are a lot more cancer patients to prove it.
“I think this is the tobacco of the 21st century,” he said.
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