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U.K. consumer group: Hands-free phone kits boost radiation exposure

Mobile telephone
Hands-free wiring does not reduce radiation emissions, claims a new study  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Hands-free sets on mobile telephones could triple the amount of rays beamed into the head, says a consumer watchdog.

The British Consumers' Association told CNN.com it was "concerned" by its findings, which directly contradict government research, and is recommending users spend as short a time as possible using their phones.

The association is also calling for the mobile phone industry to fit hands-free sets with a radiation blocking metal/ceramic mix called ferrite.

The CA's principle researcher Antonia Chitty said that even though the hands-free sets appeared to increase the delivery of radiation beams the levels were still below those considered safe by international guidelines.

"(But) if you are worried about radiation levels you should adopt a precautionary approach and limit the length of time you are using the phone."

An initial CA report on the issue was published in April and sparked the British Department of Trade and Industry to carry out its own research.

Its findings, published in August, were that "hands-free kits reduce exposure for mobile phone users."

A DTI spokeswoman told CNN.com: "Apart from this Consumers Association report, no-one has criticized our report." She said the DTI believed the methodology used in the tests by the CA may be throwing up the different results.

But the DTI is taking the new study seriously and says it will consider all the factors. E-Minister Patricia Hewitt's has pledged to provide the public: "clear and unambiguous advice."

The CA tested five different kinds of mobile phone and 10 kinds of hands-free kits including those by Nokia, Ericsson, Panasonic, Philips and BT Cellnet.

It found the critical factor determining the radiation emissions was the length between the earpiece and the mobile phone antenna.

"Although these kits can reduce radiation, they can also increase it significantly, depending on where you position the phone and kit," said Helen Parker, editor of the CA magazine Which?.

"Unfortunately there is no way that consumers can work out the best position to reduce radiation."

The National Radiological Protection Board, which sets safe levels of emissions for the industry to follow, says it is still studying mobile phones and pointed to differences in research methods.

Scientific spokesman for the NRPD, Dr. Michael Clark, told CNN.com: "We would like to see an international standard for the precise measurement of radiation because we feel different scientists are measuring different things."

The NRPD recently agreed to adopt the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection guidelines on radiation emission, which is three watts of phone radiation per kilogram of human tissue.

The actual biological effects of radiation from phones have yet to be determined.

Scientists know that the brain "heats up" from the use of mobile phones, but, said Clark: "You can't stick a thermometer inside a human brain."

Swedish-based strategic press relations officer for Ericsson, Mikael Westmark told CNN.com said the company had not yet had time to digest the report, but it appeared different measuring methods were being used.

"The last time these test were done people were very frightened, then there was a report from the U.K. government which contradicted their findings and people wondered 'what was that all about?' It is very confusing."

Nokia referred CNN.com to the Federation of Electronic Industries for a company comment.

"Hands-free equipment was never designed to reduce radiation emissions, but to allow people to write to type while listening to their phone," the FEI spokeswoman said.

She said the CA survey used different equipment "or parameters" to the DTI tests but the manufacturing industry would be studying the new report thoroughly.

Panasonic spokeswoman Mahafrid Jamooji said she had not read the CA report herself but understood it had used a different methodology to reach its conclusions and advised mobile phone users wanting more information to contact the FEI.

Celenec, the EU body for setting standards on mobile phone usage, is currently working on an international harmonization method for measuring radiation emissions that is to be published early next year.



RELATED STORIES:
Mobile phones to carry radiation labels
August 28, 2000
Cell phones source of radiation fears
July 18, 2000
FDA to participate in study on mobile phones
June 9, 2000
Scientist debates conclusions on effects of cell phones
November 5, 1999

RELATED SITES:
National Radiological Protection Board
U.K. Department of Trade and Industry
Which? Online
The Federation Of the Electronics Industry
Cenelec
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection

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