UK’s Heath Protection Agency says keep calm and carry on connecting …but the devil’s in the detail

The UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) in April published its report into the safety of mobile phones. But if observers were finally hoping for some helpful answers, they have been left disappointed.

The report confused more than it clarified. Its conclusion – that there is “no convincing evidence” of harm from mobile radiation– is contradicted by the research findings presented in the body of the report. You get the impression that the conclusion was penned well before the ink on the detail was dry.

The detailed discussion presents a much more mixed picture, with some of the studies ringing alarm bells.

It is these details that newspapers have picked up on (‘Mobiles may cause cancer’ said the Daily Telegraph; ‘Restrict your child’s mobile use until risks known’ instructed the Times). The Independent and Express also highlighted the efforts, not just by the mobile industry but by the government, to play down the emerging evidence on risks. And they pointed to the mobile manufacturers’ own health warnings in phone instruction booklets. 

Unconvinced…or unconvincing?

So what does the HPA mean when it says the evidence isn’t ‘convincing’? Convincing to whom…and on what criteria? It doesn’t explain its conclusion, which is left sounding more like opinion than science.

And though some journalists picked up on the fact that the HPA isn’t giving wireless gadgets a clean bill of health, that is not apparent from a quick look at the HPA’s website, which encourages us to keep calm and carry on connecting.

It omitted to mention many important studies showing health effects or to discuss the World Health Organization’s landmark classification of mobile radiation as a possible carcinogen. Neither did it mention the Council of Europe’s resolution that preceded it. Perhaps more importantly, it ignored how both should be given practical effect.

Senior scientist and columnist Prof Dariusz Leszyzynski regarded this as an inexcusable omission.

We sent the Health Protection Agency a detailed list of criticisms.

Hidden warnings

Despite the report’s many thousands of words, it failed to propose any measures to publicise safety information. There is a brief reference to the HPA’s advice to limit the use of mobiles by under-16s, yet no recommendation of how to inform the public of that advice.

Meanwhile, those kids and teens go on blithely phoning, texting and downloading, oblivious to any potential health impact.

It is a feeble response at a time when we need bold policies, like those France, Israel, and San Francisco are delivering. 

Recent research suggests children absorb up to 10 times more radiation into some parts of their heads than adults.

So brushing the issue under the carpet with opaque language to justify the status quo is unhelpful, not to say irresponsible.

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