Good job bringing this to light. People won't realise how huge the problem is and municipalities are woefully ill equipped to...
Agreed; mining can never be sustainable, but then how do you get the metals to make all the things you need in the course of...
Very good piece.
ralph Mills first knew something was wrong with his brain when he lost track of his own garden. As a truck driver, he had navigated his way across Europe; suddenly his own house was a big maze. Baffled, he visited a doctor, and within an hour was hospitalised; a brain tumour, the size of a tennis ball, was diagnosed above his right ear. Mills, from Essex, the uk, wondered whether the tumour was related to his constant use of a cellphone? For 12 years, he had used a cellphone for about an hour-and-a-half each day. He now wants to sue the manufacturers for failing to warn him of the 'health risks'. But the law may not help -- concerns about the ill effects took shape for the first time in 1992, when David Reynard filed a lawsuit; he alleged that his wife's fatal brain cancer was due to the use of a cellphone. The court, ironically, dismissed the case in 1995 for lack of scientific evidence; similar cases since then have been no more successful.
They have, however, raised a number of questions. Apprehensions mainly centre on how high levels of electromagnetic radiation (emitted by the antennas and transmitters of the phones) can cause cancer. The us Federal Communications Commission has set up a radiation exposure limit of 1.6 watts per kilogramme (w/kg) of body tissue, with an average of 1.6 milliwatts per gramme of tissue. European limits are less restrictive, specifying 1.6 w/kg averaged over 10 grammes. Handsets of mobile phones operate at low power levels, but the antenna, which radiates about 600 milliwatts for an analog phone and 125 milliwatts for a digital unit, is placed very close to the head; this pushes exposure levels beyond the regulatory limits.
In many parts of the world, especially in the us (where hardly any cellphone companies are based), scientists have uncovered a number of evidences of the adverse effects. One of those at the forefront of research is Henry Lai, an expert in non-ionising radiation at the University of Washington, usa. He has found that even low-level microwave radiation splits the dna molecules of the brain; such splitting is associated with Alzheimer's disease and cancer.
The industry, but naturally, maintains there is no danger. It has an upper hand as it is difficult to establish the links -- there is no single cause of cancer. Moreover, exposure depends greatly on the exact position of the handset with respect to the head, and on the shape and characteristics of the head.
Despite the uncertainty, the manufacturers try their level best to stifle investigation. Lai is also one of their victims. From March to August 1998, he conducted his research, which was funded by Wireless Technology Research, a body that has received more than us $41 million from mobile phone companies in funding. The organisation never bothered to publish the study. It was sent back to Lai twice with requests for alterations. "They asked me to change my entire interpretation in a way that would make it more favourable to the industry," he asserts.
The fate of most independent researchers is even worse -- in 1999, leaked details of a us study of 469 people with brain cancer and 422 controls showed that cellphones double the risk of one type of brain tumour. When the study was published (The Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 294) it concluded there is no link.
The companies can publicly deny the concerns, but some of their less obvious actions suggest they are worried -- six leading manufacturers have taken out patents for components aimed at reducing health risks. For example, a 1998 Nokia patent for a shield layer states: "...a continuous localised exposure to radio frequency irradiation has been suggested to weaken myelin sheets of cells and to eventually lead to an impairment of hearing capability... irradiation may stimulate extra growth among supportive cells in the nerve system, which in the worst case, it has been suggested, could (lead) to development of malignant tumours...". Such patents have been in the pipeline for more than five years -- suggesting the companies have for long considered the potential hazards. What's more, underwriters from big insurers like Lloyd's and Stirling have refused to cover manufacturers against the risk of being sued.
Is there a way out? Manufacturers can reduce exposure by tweaking handset design. But this means bigger handsets, which are unpopular. The best way out is to let consumers make an informed choice -- mobile phone packs should carry a warning. Beyond this, there is little hope. To many observers, the battle lines being drawn are all too reminiscent of the arguments over smoking and cancer. It seems that another industry has been added to the list of those who believe that what's good for health is not good for the balance sheet.