The relationship between mobile phones and health is the focus of many research programs currently underway throughout the world. Some of these initiatives are described below.


The WHO International EMF Project

This project was launched because of concerns about possible health effects from exposure to EMF sources in everyday life. It is not in itself a research program, but is designed to facilitate a global approach to research. The project started in 1996. Funding is provided by contributions for WHO member states and non-governmental organizations approved by WHO.

The Project is to assess the health and environmental effects of exposure to static and time varying electric and magnetic fields in the range of 0 Hz to 300 GHz. This range includes static (0 Hz), extremely low frequency (ELF, >0-300Hz), intermediate frequencies (>300 Hz -10 MHz), and radio frequency fields (>10 MHz-300GHz) and includes EMF from power lines, transportation systems, telecommunications, radio and TV antennae, mobile phones, microwave ovens, radar, medical and industrial equipment.

The objectives are to:

  1. provide a coordinated international response to the concerns about possible health effects of exposure to EMF,
  2. assess the scientific literature and make status reports on health effects,
  3. identify gaps in knowledge needing further research to make better health risk assessments,
  4. encourage a focused research programme in conjunction with funding agencies,
  5. incorporate research results into WHO's Environmental Health Criteria monographs, in which formal health risk assessments of exposure to EMF will be made,
  6. facilitate the development of internationally acceptable standards for EMF exposure.
  7. provide information on the management of EMF protection programmes for national and other authorities, including monographs on EMF risk perception, communication and management, and
  8. provide advice to national authorities, other institutions, the general public and workers, about any hazards resulting from EMF exposure and any needed mitigation measures


WHO is collaborating with a large number of other agencies in the EMF project:

  • ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection)
  • IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer)
  • ILO (International Labour Organization)
  • EC (European Commission)
  • ITU (International Telecommunication Union)
  • IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission)
  • UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme)
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
  • Over 40 governmental agencies

A Research Agenda was established in 1997, and has been updated from time to time. The most recent update was in October 2005, and was devised by an ad hoc committee of scientific experts. High priority needs and other research needs were identified in a number of areas - Epidemiology, Human and animal studies, Cellular studies and mechanisms, and Social issues.

Further information can be obtained at the Project's web site:www.who.int/peh-emf/project/en. On this site there is a database of completed and ongoing research throughout the world. Its purpose is to give information about global projects that examine the effect of electromagnetic field exposure on biological systems. It contains information on studies conducted in humans (epidemiologic and laboratory provocation), animals (in vivo), and in cultured cells and artificial systems (in vitro). It also contains engineering studies that characterize and quantify EMF exposure in these systems, and theoretical studies that consider feasible mechanisms for EMF energy interaction. The database contains studies spanning the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is divided into two sections, a Project Database and Citation List.
The direct link to this area is www.who.int/peh-emf/research/database/en/index.html .

The Project Database attempts to be as comprehensive as possible and contains completed studies as well as recently initiated projects and follow-on work that is ongoing and not yet published. It is searchable on a variety of categories (e.g. frequency range and sub-range, study type and sub-type, funding agency, investigator name) and each entry includes a condensed summary description of a project from a given laboratory or group. As of September 14, 2007 , there were 1294 studies in the Database in the radiofrequency range.

The Citation List provides the complete reference and is searchable by a more limited number of categories (e.g. frequency range and sub-range, study type and sub-type, investigator name, reference key words, and date of publication). As of September 12, 2007, there are 3040 studies in the radiofrequency range.

The two databases are linked (forward and backward) so that identifying a project will immediately provide access to all relevant publications, and vice-versa.

Finally, a study chart function has been provided to view a specific study category(s) in terms of number of ongoing projects, projects reported but not published, and published studies. On september 14, 2007, there were303 ongoing projects listed, 116 reported but not published, and 2228 published. The categories are:

Engineering and Physics,
Epidemiology,
Human/Provocation,
In vitro,
In vivo,
Literature review, letter, book chapter, and report,
Plant studies.

Each study chart entry is further linked to the Project Database and Citation List for additional information.

 

International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC)

This agency is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control.

IARC is coordinating a series of multi-national case-control studies (the Interphone study) to assess whether RF exposure from mobile phones is associated with cancer risk. Other potential environmental and endogenous risk factors are also being examined. The types of cancer studied are acoustic neuroma, glioma, meningioma, and tumours of the parotid gland.

Participating countries are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the UK. The study may also be extended to the USA. Results are expected in 2004. It is expected that the studies will include about 6,000 cases of gliomas and meningiomas, 1,000 cases of acoustic neuroma, 600 cases of parotid gland tumours, and close to 10,000 controls. It will be the largest epidemiological study to date and should help resolve some of the questions about an association between cell phones and cancer. Results from the study are being published in a series of papers.

More information can be obtained at "Research Programs - Interphone study", and www.iarc.fr - follow the links to "IARC Scientific Structure" and "Radiation Group".

European Commission

The European Commission supports an initiative called EMF-NET - "The Effects of the Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields: From Science to Public Health and Safer Workplace". It aims to provide a framework for the coordination of the results of the research activities related to the biological effects of electromagnetic fields, as well as potential risks from EMF exposure in the workplace. There are 41 participants in the project. As of May 2006, there were 240 research projects in 13 countries, with total funding of about $53M(US).


European Cooperation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research (COST)

COST is not a funding agency, but coordinates research. There are a number of strategies within COST that are involved with telecommunication research. One of these, COST 281, deals with Potential Health Implications from Mobile Telecommunication Systems. There are 23 countries involved in this action.


Australia

The Australian Government has provided $4.5 million over four and a half years for the Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy Program, which will support research into and provide information to the public about health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone base stations and other communication devices and equipment.

The program has three elements:

  • An Australian research program. This includes a replication of the study by Repacholi et al. (1997), and studies on the effect of GSM radiofrequency on neuropsychological processes.
  • Continuing participation in the WHO EMF Project
  • Public information program

More information can be obtained at www.arpansa.gov.au/eme_pubs.htm


Finland

Finland has a national program that is coordinated by Professor J. Juutilainen of the University of Kuopio. Seven projects are being conducted in the areas of:

  • Enhancement of cancer
  • Hypersensitivity symptoms
  • Methods for testing the relationship between bioeffects and modulation parameters
  • Exposure systems for animal and cell culture studies
  • Simulation methods for electromagnetic exposure


France


COMOBIO is the acronym for the French Research Program on Biological Effects and Certification of Mobile Phones. It is part of a larger Program, the National Network for Research on Telecommunications, funded by the Ministries of Industry and Research. There are 8 subprojects that are complementary to other national or international research activities such as those developed within the Fifth European Framework Program. Fifteen groups are involved in dosimetry, animal and human studies.


Germany

The German Mobile Radio Research Program is under the auspices of the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Office of Radiation Protection. Mobile service providers contribute to the financing. Four areas of research are included - Biology, Dosimetry, Epidemiology, and Risk Communication. The epidemiological studies include a cohort study of workers highly exposed to RF EMFs; a case-control study that is part on the INTERPHONE study; a cross-sectional study assessing health risks due to base stations; two studies of child cancer; and others.


Japan

In 1997 the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications established the Committee of the study on human exposure to EMF. A number of studies are underway.

United Kingdom

The Department of Health in the UK allocated $ 10 million (US) for the "Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme ", which was established in response to the report by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones. Sir William Stewart, Chair of the Expert Group, was appointed chair of a Programme Management Committee. The current chair is Professor Lawrie Challis.

Research applications were to be submitted by March 30, 2001, in the following areas:

  • Effects on brain function;
  • Consequences of exposure to pulsed signals;
  • Improvements in dosimetry;
  • Sub cellular and cellular changes induced by RF radiation and their possible impact on health;
  • Psychological and sociological studies related to the use of mobile phones;
  • Epidemiological and human volunteer studies including the study of children, and individuals who might be more susceptible to RF radiation.

Eighty outlines of research studies were received and about 30% of these were invited to submit full proposals by June 28, 2001. Fifteen research awards, worth a total of 4.5 million pounds, were announced in January 2002. Since then adjunct funding has been received from government and industry. Research projects include:

  • Two studies examining possible effects on blood pressure and brain function in volunteers.
  • Three studies investigating whether the use of mobile phones can affect the risk of developing brain cancer or leukaemia by studying mobile phone users.
  • On study investigating whether residence close to mobile phone base stations affects cancer incidence in young children.
  • Two studies investigating the effects of mobile phone signals on a variety of symptoms reported by some users. A third study is investigating the effects of signals from base stations on symptoms reported by those close to them.
  • Three studies examining the mechanisms by which mobile phone signals may be able to produce biological effects in model systems in vitro and in vivo.
  • Four studies investigating the interaction of radio signals with the body in order to characterize how much energy is deposited and where.
  • A study to evaluate a new personal exposure meter that may make possible epidemiological studies of adult diseases in relation to exposures from base stations.

More details can be found at www.mthr.org.uk .


United States: FDA/CTIA Research Agreement

In June 2000 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the USA signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). The FDA provides research recommendations and oversight and the CTIA provides funding. The initial work is planned to focus on two topics - genotoxicity and epidemiology. The research will be done over 3-5 years.

In June 2001, three contracts were signed with research institutions in the USA, Italy, and Germany to explore various aspects of micronucleus formation.

Further details can be seen at the FDA web site www.fda.gov/cellphones.



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