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Lawsuits put cellular safety on front burner

By Reuters
April 20, 2001, 5:40 p.m. PT

The U.S. cellular telephone industry came under renewed legal attack on Friday, in a series of class-action lawsuits claiming that cell phones pose a series of health risks ranging from infections to brain damage.

A 58-page legal complaint filed in Maryland state court in Baltimore alleged that cell phone service providers and equipment makers not only know their products generate unsafe levels of microwave radiation but have sought to suppress scientific evidence pointing out the dangers.

Two lawsuits, naming more than 20 defendants including household such as names Motorola, Nokia, Verizon Communications and Sprint PCS, were filed in Baltimore and New York late on Thursday. A similar complaint was expected in state court in Philadelphia early next week.

Many of the corporate defendants declined to comment, saying their legal departments had not seen the suits.

Verizon spokeswoman Nancy Stark noted that safety standards for cellular phones are set by the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. “The FDA has stated that the available scientific data doesn’t indicate any adverse health effects,” she said.

The lawsuits contend that wireless handsets held to the temporal lobe of the brain emit microwave radiation at levels capable of damaging DNA, altering cell function and affecting basic brain activity.

But rather than claiming actual injuries, the suits demand money to pay for headsets that could mitigate exposure to allegedly damaging radiation. They also seek unspecified punitive damage.

Previous cases dismissed

The $53 billion wireless telephone industry denies that its products pose any danger to its 113 million U.S. customers. There are an estimated 625 million cell phone users worldwide.

The industry already has been subject to more than a dozen liability lawsuits filed in the United States, China and other parts of the world since the early 1990s. Most cases have been dismissed, and none has gone to trial.

Studies published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Medical Association have found no evidence that cell phones cause brain tumors in the people who use them.

But previous lawsuits claim the ill-health effects of radio frequency radiation (RFR) have been recognized by scientists since the early 1960s.

“It was equally known in the scientific and medical community by that time that an antenna is the most efficient means of depositing RFR into the human body and penetrating human tissue, and that the temporal lobe of the brain was the most sensitive area of the body,” a Maryland lawsuit says.

The complaint said the industry has acted to “suppress, discredit and/or minimize this emerging science…to ensure that they would be free to manufacture and mass market wireless hand-held telephones to the consuming public, free from the constraints of any reasonable and necessary safety standards.”

Story Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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