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Company claims device keeps cellphone users safe from radiation

Sharon Kirkey
The Ottawa Citizen

Wayne Cuddington, The Ottawa Citizen / A Canadian company has developed a shield that reduces the amount of radiation that enters a cellphone user’s head. Radiowaves are believed to be a health hazard, though studies are inconclusive.

There’s no proof they cause brain tumours or other health problems, but a Canadian company that’s betting the cellphone debate won’t be switched to “silent” any time soon is selling a shield for wireless phones that claims to cut radiation emissions by up to 89 per cent.

The fingernail-sized SAR SHIELD “absorbs, withholds and dissipates” the electro-magnetic waves from cellphones, without reflecting them back into the surrounding environment, Bob Simoneau, vice-president of product relations for the Montreal-based company, said yesterday.

The tiny silver shield sticks to the base of the antenna. The company says independent studies using Canadian testing standards found the device can reduce the SAR, or “specific absorption rate” — the amount of radiation that enters a cellphone user’s head — by 87 per cent. Another test using European standards logged an 89- per-cent reduction.

“This is significant. It’s a tremendous amount of reduction without any perceptible degradation in performance,” Mr. Simoneau said.

The product, which costs about $30, is hitting stores just as a major study found no conclusive link between cellphones and brain cancer. The study of 891 people, published last month and funded by the industry group, Wireless Technology Research and the U.S. National Cancer Institute, did find a slightly increased risk for a rare type of brain cancer. But the researchers said it wasn’t statistically significant.

Still, the study involved people who used cellphones for less than three years, and critics say it doesn’t answer the question of whether more long-term use is dangerous. Even the researchers agreed more study is needed.

“The fact that there are studies occurring indicates there is concern,” Mr. Simoneau said.

Cellphones, unlike regular phones, contain an antenna inside the receiver, which puts the user’s brain close to the electromagnetic radiowaves the antenna emits. The shield, developed by an Italian company, uses much the same technology as the Stealth aircraft uses to avoid radar detection, Mr. Simoneau said. It blocks the “useless energy” that radiates from the antenna to a person’s head — not the energy that’s radiating from the other side of the antenna that communicates with the cell tower. And it’s this “useless” energy that’s been linked to everything from headaches and memory loss to brain cancer. (A Maryland neurologist is suing cellphone makers for $800 million because, he says, its products gave him brain cancer.)

“We’re not going to say there is a problem with radiation because, quite frankly, we don’t know,” Mr. Simoneau, of SAR SHIELD, said. “But the jury is out.”

According to the company’s press material, depending on how close the cellphone antenna is, as much as 60 per cent of the radiation emitted can penetrate the area around a person’s head, with some getting as close as an inch into the brain. Generally, it’s recommended that the maximum exposure to radiowave emissions be less than two watts per kilogram of a person’s weight, and all cellphones sold have to meet this standard. But the company points to U.S. news shows that found those safety standards can be exceeded, depending on how the phone is held.

He said consumer suspicions about cellphone safety remain, and he noted that, beginning this year, cellphones sold in Canada must include the SAR rating. The industry “wouldn’t be publishing this information if it didn’t feel consumers didn’t want to know, needed to know or had a right to know.”

Given the dissention among experts, Mr. Simoneau said the company wants to give concerned consumers a choice. He said it’s like the bottled water versus tap water debate.

“We’re not saying tap water is dangerous or bottled water is better, but consumers should be given the choice.”

He said other products already on the market that claim to absorb cellular phone radiation are, in many cases, “nothing more than a piece of foil you stick on your antenna.” The most they can offer, he said, is “maybe a placebo effect.”

“Phones sold in Canada have to meet a very strict set of health guidelines set out by Health Canada” in terms of radiowave emissions, association spokesman Marc Choma said.

As many as 46 per cent of Canadians were expected to have access to a wireless phone by the end of last year, up from a mere 29 per cent in 1997. Already, 5.3 million cellphones are used by Canadians every day

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