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Study suggests mobile phone masts don't fry brains

In the mind of the beholder
Wed Jul 25 2007, 17:54
BOFFINS STUDYING the short-term health effects of mobile phone technology reckon symptoms reported by the "electro-sensitive", such as anxiety, tension and tiredness are not caused by the typical emissions from phone masts.

The boffins at the University of Essex tested 44 people who had previously reported symptoms or sensitivity to mobile phone technology, along with 114 people who had not reported any health effects, in a specially-designed laboratory.

The three-year study found that physiological measures such as heart rate, blood pressure and skin conductance were not affected by whether the mast was switched on or off, and did not detect any significant effects in either sensitive or control participants between GSM exposure and no exposure.

The guinea pigs were tested in several different sessions. When both participant and experimenter knew whether the signal was on or off, sensitive individuals reported lower levels of well-being and more symptoms when the signal was on. But when tests were carried out under double-blind conditions, where neither experimenter nor participant knew whether the signal was on or off, the number of symptoms reported was not related to whether the mast was on or off.

Two of the 44 sensitive individuals correctly judged whether the mast was on or off in all six tests, compared with five out of 114 control participants. The researchers reckon this proportion is what is expected by chance and was not increased in the sensitive group.

According to the researchers "sensitive" individuals reported more symptoms and greater severity of symptoms, regardless of whether the signal was on or off. Hence, the range of symptoms and physiological response does not appear to be related to the presence of either GSM or 3G signals, the boffins say.

Principal investigator Professor Elaine Fox said: "It is clear that sensitive individuals are suffering real symptoms and often have a poor quality of life. It is now important to determine what other factors could be causing these symptoms, so appropriate research studies and treatment strategies can be developed."

In other words, it's all in their heads.

Campaigners at, however, say the boffins got it all wrong.

"We question why psychologists are doing this research at all since physical changes to the skin and heart rates have been found in other research. Presumably the psychologists 'believe' this is all in the mind and this is what they set out to 'prove'," they say on their web site.

"Their conclusion was made possible by eliminating 12 of the most sensitive electrosentive volunteers who had become too ill to continue the study. Even a child can see that by eliminating 12 of the original 56 electrosensitive volunteers - over 20 per cent of the group - that the study integrity has been completely breached."

The campaigners note that the study was initiated by the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHR ) and was funded half by the Mobile Phone Industry and half by the Government. Since the mobile phone industry generates an estimated £1 billion every month, a significant proportion of which is taken by the UK Government in tax revenue, should we trust them? they ask. "All in all the Media release of this study has been an exercise in spin and propaganda and a poor one for science. "

The paper, Does short-term exposure to mobile phone base station signals increase symptoms in individuals who report sensitivity to electromagnetic fields? A double-blind randomised provocation study, is today published online by Environmental Health Perspectives here. µ


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