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Study Could Boost Cell Phone Lawsuit

Sep 10, 2002 | MSNBC.COM

In what could bolster an $800 million lawsuit against Motorola and major cell phone carriers, a recent study found a possible link between older cell phones and brain tumors.

Although many studies have found no cancer risk from cell phone use, the research published in the latest European Journal of Cancer Prevention said long-term users of some old-fashioned analog phones are at least 30 percent more likely than nonusers to develop brain tumors.

The lawsuit against cell phone manufacturer Motorola was brought by Christopher Newman, a Maryland doctor stricken with brain cancer. A federal judge is expected to decide by month’s end whether the case should go to trial and if so, whether the study can be used as evidence.

“From our perspective, and from a public health perspective, the court should just be aware of what’s out there,” said Newman’s lawyer, John Angelos, whose firm has made millions suing asbestos and tobacco companies.

If the case is allowed to go forward, it could open the door to other major lawsuits against the wireless communication industry. So far, no similar claims have been successful.


Swedish oncologist Dr. Lennart Hardell looked at 1,617 patients diagnosed with brain tumors between 1997 and 2000, comparing them with a similar control group without brain tumors.

He found that those who had used Sweden’s Nordic Mobile Telephone handsets had a 30 percent higher risk of developing brain tumors than people who had not used that type of phone, particularly on the side of the brain used during calls. For people using the phones for more than 10 years, the risk was 80 percent greater.

“Our present study showed an increased risk for brain tumors among users of analog cellular telephones,” the study said.

Hardell testified against the company in evidence hearings in February.

Motorola attorneys have asked the judge to dismiss Hardell’s study, saying it doesn’t find a significant correlation between phones and tumors. Motorola spokesman Norman Sandler questioned the author’s theory that tumors are more apt to develop near the ear that touches the receiver most often.

“His testimony raises significant questions about recall bias,” he said. “Do people who used the phones 10 years ago really remember what side of the head they used?”

Newman’s lawsuit names Motorola, Verizon and other wireless carriers. He claims the analog cell phones he used from 1992 to 1998 caused him to develop a cancerous brain tumor behind his right ear. The tumor was removed, but Newman is blind in one eye, suffers memory loss and slowed speech and can no longer work, his lawyers say.


Hardell’s findings differ from other major studies published in recent years that found no harmful health effects from cell phones. Most notably, a study conducted by National Cancer Institute researchers found no link between brain cancer and the gadgets. Animal studies have produced conflicting safety results.

Cell phones, used by 97 million Americans, generate radio waves at a frequency between microwave ovens and television signals but are non-ionizing, making them less dangerous than other types of radiation. By contrast, ionizing electromagnetic energy, such as is found in X-rays, is known to permanently damage tissue.

Newer digital phones emit less radiation than older analog models like the ones in Hardell’s study; Newman’s attorneys say he used phones with a similar range of radiation.

By the time cell phones exploded in popularity in the late 1990s, most of those sold used digital technology. It’s too early to draw conclusions about the newer, more popular digital phones, said Kjell Hansson Mild, professor at the National Institute for Working Life and co-author of the Swedish study. “These are tumors that develop very slowly, and GSM (the widely used digital phone network) does not have users who have been using for 10 years,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cell phones along with the Federal Communications Commission, declined to comment about the Hardell study because of Newman’s lawsuit.

But the agency’s Web site supports more research: “The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones. There is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe.”

W. Ross Adey, a professor of physiology at California’s Loma Linda University School of Medicine who is not involved in the Baltimore case, believes there is evidence that long-term or even intermittent exposure to cell phone radiation might damage brain tissue.

He said much more study is needed on the possible long-term effects, and hopes the Baltimore lawsuit reignites interest in new independent research on the subject.

Such studies not funded by the cell phone industry are almost entirely being conducted in Europe only, he said.

One government that has decided to err on the side of caution in its cell phone policy is Britain, where half the population uses them. It advises that children be discouraged from using the handsets.

For its part, the U.S. wireless industry requires mobile phone makers to disclose information on radiation levels produced by their handsets.

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