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The Official Government Stance

Miss Melanie Johnson: On 21 January 2004, I wrote to all right hon. and hon. Members describing the current position as follows:

Mobile phone technology and health issues have hit the headlines again following the publication of a scientific review by the National Radiological Protection Board's Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR). News headlines about such issues tend to raise the levels of people's concern and you may well receive inquiries about mobile phones or mobile phone base stations. I am glad to say that the report confirms the conclusions of the Stewart Report and there is no new evidence suggesting that mobile phone use is likely to cause ill health in the general population. In the words of AGNIR's carefully onsidered report:

"The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse health effects from exposures to RF fields below guideline levels, but the published research on RF exposures and health has limitations, and mobile phones have only been in widespread use for a relatively short time. The possibility therefore remains open that there could be health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline levels; hence continued research is needed."

The rapid expansion of mobile phone telecommunications has brought with it huge benefits to individuals and the business community. Government are however taking seriously the concerns that people have that there might be health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency signals from this technology. It is for this reason that the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) was set up under the chairmanship of Sir William Stewart FRS, FRSE.

Sir William's expert group published its report on Mobile Phones and Health in May 2000. The overall conclusion was that "the balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF (radiofrequency) radiation below guidelines do not cause health effects to the general population." They went on to say that the emerging new technology should be accompanied by appropriate research and that a further review of the evidence for potential health effects should be reviewed in three years or earlier if circumstances demand it. These were just two of the 30 or so Stewart recommendations that have subsequently been acted upon by Government Departments or by the appropriate agencies.

The siting of base stations was identified by the Stewart group as an issue of some concern. When they examined all the scientific evidence they concluded that "there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of guidelines." About 300 measurements undertaken by the Radiocommunications Agency (RA), now part of Ofcom, have confirmed that public exposures are very much lower than the widely accepted guidelines published by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). This information is available on the websites of these organisations: www.ofcom.org.uk and www.icnirp.de.

Although the Stewart Group did not identify any adverse health effects caused by exposures by mobile phones or base stations they were aware that if people are unduly concerned about potential exposures then that in itself may affect their well-being. They made a number of recommendations, therefore, designed to provide more information about mobile phones and base stations. The Department of Health has produced a pair of leaflets and these can be seen on the Department's website. A description of work undertaken by various organisations since the Stewart Report has been written by Dr. John W. Stather of the NRPB entitled "Mobile Phones and Health-an Update". This article was published on the NRPB website in March 2003 and provides more detailed information on the issues.

The sites of base stations in this country are now shown on the Sitefinder location of the Ofcom website. Planning arrangements have been improved and a "Code of Best Practice on Mobile Phone Network Development" has been developed with the aim of providing for more discussions between operators, local authorities and members of the public. The booklet and current planning arrangements (PPG8-Policy Planning Guidance on Telecommunications) can be found on the ODPM website.

Over the last few years a number of groups have assessed the possible health effects of exposure to RF radiation such as from mobile phones and mobile phone masts. These include reports from Canada (1999), the Netherlands (2000), France (2001, 2003) and the British Medical Association (2001). These groups have come to broadly similar conclusions to the Stewart Report and have recommended further research. The new AGNIR review also supports the Stewart conclusions.

Public interest in mobile phone base stations has been quite marked recently and a number of concerted campaigns against mobile phone masts have come to my attention. I am pleased that the AGNIR report has addressed this issue and concluded that:

"Exposure levels from living near to mobile phone base stations are extremely low, and the overall evidence indicates that they are unlikely to pose a risk to health."

Having considered research issues, AGNIR has helpfully made a number of specific recommendations that aim to improve the quality and interpretability of future health-related research and current health research programmes.

The Government, in conjunction with industry, are already sponsoring a £7.4 million research programme in this country on a number of important health related issues identified in the Stewart Report. The research is being carried out under the management of an independent Programme Management Committee. The research is mainly concerned with users of mobile phone handsets as recommended in the Stewart Report but has recently decided to extend its range of studies to accommodate concerns about exposures from base stations. Full details of the research studies and the committee membership can be found on the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research website. This programme represents a significant contribution to a world-wide research effort encompassing the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union, the United States and others.

The Department continues to monitor research largely through the work of National Radiological Protection Board who have a statutory duty to advise on risks from all types of radiation. The AGNIR report was placed on the NRPB website on 14 January 2004.

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