SCMP Saturday, August 5, 2000

Hands-free mobile kits 'cut radiation by 92pc'

JO BOWMAN


Hands-free kits for mobile phones can reduce users' exposure to radiation by 92 per cent, according to research released yesterday which contradicts the findings of a recent British study.

The Australian Consumers' Association said the amount of radiation absorbed by tissue in the head was significantly lower when ear-pieces were used.

In the latest issue of its Choice magazine, the association urged the use of hands-free kits, saying tests on two digital handsets and one analogue phone found a 92 per cent drop in radiation at the head. But levels recorded at the waist were still high when the handset was clipped on a belt and used in hands-free mode.

In April, the British Consumers' Association said its tests showed hands-free kits acted like an aerial and could send three times as much radiation to the brain as a normal handset.

There is no proof radiation from mobile phones is harmful, but medical studies have suggested it is linked to brain tumours, genetic damage and Alzheimer's disease. Inconclusive research has linked mobiles to premature ageing, headaches, nausea and memory loss.

More than 70 per cent of adults in Hong Kong have at least one mobile phone, and the use of hands-free kits is growing. Under new laws in force since July 1, motorists caught using a hand-held mobile while driving face a $2,000 fine.

Australian Consumers' Association spokesman Charles Britton said the latest study measured the specific absorption rate of electromagnetic radiation, whereas the British tests had been of radiation field intensity.

He said this amounted to the Britons testing physics, and the Australians testing biology, and that the latest results did not mean the British findings were insignificant. "We're not dismissive of that - we're saying yes, there's uncertainty and that characterises the mobile phone issue in general," Mr Britton said from Sydney.

"While [the British study's] methods have attracted criticism and the basic recommendations of its study conflict with ours, its results serve to emphasise the need for ongoing study. So on that basis we continue to advise people to use their mobile phones as tools, not toys."

Hong Kong Consumer Council spokesman Kenneth So Wai-sang said joint studies on mobile phone safety were being planned with consumer groups in Europe.

Motorola's Pacific spokesman, Russell Grimmer, said it made no difference to users' health whether or not a hands-free kit was used. "We've had many, many years of extensive in-house and sponsored external research and we say our phones and products are within the global and national safety standards," he said.

In the United States, a neurologist this week filed a US$800 million (HK$6.2 billion) lawsuit against Motorola and eight other companies claiming his malignant brain tumour was caused by mobile phone use.