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Electromagnetic fields generated by mobile phones and base stations don't cause cancer or have adverse effects on health - yet.

That's the finding of a government-appointed expert group which examined the issue in detail, taking into account the fields generated by electricity lines as well as those emitted by mobiles and phone network masts.

The report from the expert group included the former co-ordinator of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) radiation and environmental health unit, Dr Michael Repacholi, and Dr Eric van Rongen, scientific secretary of the Health Council of the Netherlands. It could allay some of the public's fears surrounding the siting of mobile phone masts and the use of the phones in general.

"So far no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the radiofrequency (RF) signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. RF signals have not been found to cause cancer," the report concluded.

However, the report did point out that more research was needed into the effects of RF fields on children and adolescents.

"There is no data available to suggest that the use of mobile phones by children is a health hazard. However, in Sweden and the UK, the authorities recommend a precautionary approach to either minimise use (essential calls only) or minimise exposure (by using a hands-free kit)," it said.

"In the Netherlands the use of mobile phones by children is not considered a problem. No research has found any adverse health effects from children using mobile phones, but more research on this issue has been recommended by WHO."

Mobile phone use was identified as a risk factor for only one section of the population; drivers. "The only established adverse health effect associated with mobile phone use, (both hand-held and handsfree) is an increase in traffic accidents when they are used while driving," the report said.

The expert group also looked at the condition known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). The symptoms presented include headaches, sleeplessness, depression, skin and eye complaints, and are attributed by sufferers to EMF exposure. While the report authors acknowledged that the symptoms were real, debilitating and required treatment, they could not establish a definite link between EMF exposure and the occurrence of EHS symptoms.

Monitoring the health effects of EMF in Ireland is currently the responsibility of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources, but this will transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government from 1 May, 2007.

The government is in the process of establishing a single state agency to deal with ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation, with the statutory powers of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) due to be extended to not only cover ionising radiation, but the also non-ionising variety too.

Ionising radiation, such as that produced by X-rays, can occur naturally, as can non-ionising radiation, such as optical radiation, which includes ultraviolet (UV), visible, infrared, and electromagnetic fields.

A national research programme is also being set up to look into the health effects of exposure to EMF.

Copyright © 2007, ENN

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