A six year research porgramme set up by the UK government reported on Tuesday that the evidence so far does not link mobile phones to harmful effects on human health or biology. However, the report said the the vast majority of available evidence relates to short term use, and further research is needed before one can be certain of longer term effects.

The programme is called the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme and was set up in 2001 with a budget of 8.8 million pounds in response to the independent government commissioned “Stewart Report”. The funds came from government and industry sources and are managed on behalf of MTHR by the Department of Health.

The MTHR Programme comprises 28 research projects, based mostly at UK universities. 23 of the projects are now complete and have published their findings in various peer reviewed journals. More papers are in the pipeline.

The MTHR is managed by a committee of independent experts, mostly senior university academics. The current chairman is Professor Lawrie Challis, OBE, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Nottingham University. He spoke of the report in a prepared statement:

“This is a very substantial report from a large research programme. The work reported today has all been published in respected peer-reviewed scientific or medical journals.”

“The results are so far reassuring but there is still a need for more research, especially to check that no effects emerge from longer term phone use from adults and from use by children,” he added.

“We cannot rule out the possibility that there’s an association for exposures for more than 10 years; the numbers appeared to show some slight hint. Although that is, in no way convincing, it’s a faint suggestion that needs to be followed up,” said Challis.

The Report 2007 gathers evidence from the time of the 2000 Stewart Report and more up to date knowledge. It includes findings from MTHR projects and research done elsewhere and suggests likely future directions for science to investigate.

According to the MTHR Report, with respect to short term exposure:

  • There is no association between short term mobile phone use and brain cancer.
  • Studies on volunteers found no evidence that brain function was affected by signals from mobile phones and emergency service signals (TETRA).
  • The MTHR management committee does not see the need to support more research in this area.
  • The Programme included the largest and most robust research studies on electrical hypersensitivity and mobile phone use in the world.
  • They found no evidence that unpleasant symptoms reported by people with electrical hypersensitivity are caused by exposure to signals from mobile phones or base stations.
  • In terms of cell biology, there is no evidence that mobile phones alter cells and tissue apart from heating them.
  • The MTHR management committee does not see the need to continue to research this area.

Regarding long term exposure, the Report says the situation is not so clear cut. There is only a small number of people who have been using mobile phones for 10 years or more that have been participating in studies.

The MTHR committee recommends more research into the long term effects of mobile phones on adults and children.

Other projects in the Programme have investigated the signal strength of base stations (micro cell and pico cell) at various public places such as airports, shopping malls and train stations. The results show them to be well within international guidelines.

And another group of studies found that using a mobile phone while driving, whether hands free or hand held, had the same effect on reducing performance as other in-car distractions, but there were indications that the demands on cognitive and thinking processes may be greater from using a mobile phone.

Click here for the full MTHR Report 2007 (PDF).

Written by: Catharine Paddock