HARBORSIDE - We depend on elected officials to carry out committee assignments responsibly, especially in matters of public health, but we witnessed abysmal dereliction of duty recently in Augusta when cell-phone safety was debated.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and one of a six persons testifying against L.D. 1706, the others telecom industry lobbyists or supporters -- undoubtedly had the greatest influence on the final decision to reject a warning label.
Here are the experts who came before the Health and Human Services committee urging precautionary action -- scientists with illustrious credentials whose advice the committee disregarded:
• Om Gandhi, professor of electrical engineering at the University of Utah, specializes in making models showing how far cell-phone radiation penetrates into the brain (in adults 2 inches, in children much deeper, varying according to stage of growth). He finds that standards set for cell-phone safety are inadequate.
• Franz Adlkofer, biologist and professor of internal medicine at the Foundation for Behavior and Environment in Munich, points to damaged DNA strands, causing mutations that lead to cancer, as a result of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones.
• Martin Blank, professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University, conducts experiments on cells demonstrating that they make stress proteins when subjected to electromagnetic frequencies and other stressors. He finds that DNA damage happens before cells heat up from low-frequency radiation.
• Devra Davis, professor of preventive medicine at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York and author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer, cites recent studies of people who have used cell phones for ten years or longer -- studies that show a clear connection to cancers of the brain, salivary glands, and acoustic nerves on the side of the head where cell phones are customarily held, as well as to problems such as reduced sperm count and insomnia.
• Lloyd Morgan, electrical engineer and principal author of Cell Phones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, emphasizes the fact that brain cancer has a 20- to 30-year latency period and cell phones have not been in use long enough for a full body count. Nonetheless, animal experiments show dead neurons after a two-hour exposure to cell-phone radiation.
He points to the absurdity of the often-cited Danish cohort study of 2006, funded by the telecommunications industry, for its claim that cell phones protect from brain cancer. His 15 Reasons for Concern makes clear that the telecom industry has been falsifying science from the beginning of what can only be termed a mass biological experiment.
The problematic Danish cohort study was cited by Dr. Mills when she stood up to testify against L.D. 1706, claiming that experts define no specific risk from cell phones. She did, however, concede that "uncertainty exists about the effects of long-term cell-phone use."
The comments submitted by Mills and the five corporate lobbyists who oppose L.D. 1706 should have been scrutinized closely for the sources on which their opinions are based. The first question to ask is whether studies reflect an industry bias or are conducted impartially.
All the experts supporting L.D. 1706 agree that the FCC exposure standards for allowable levels of electromagnetic radiation are set about 1,000 times too high.
All concur that it is possible to develop safer technology, and all are campaigning for meaningful safety standards.
Instead of a label that would prompt users to think about lessening the time spent on them, to consider using a headset to allow less radiation to be driven into the brain, to consider using cell phones only in an emergency and keeping them always switched off, members of Maine's HHS committee recommended in a minority report that the state CDC issue advisories on its website to educate persons who choose to reduce radio frequency exposure.
They also called for the telecom industry to share information readily with the public.
With those minimal demands denied, a growing number of supporters, led by Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, are continuing the educational campaign begun by the Children's Wireless Protection Act, in preparation for next year's bill.