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Worry About Your Wireless?

Friday, May 26, 2000
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

Prepared by Burrelle’s Information Services, which takes sole responsibility for accuracy of transcription.
BARBARA WALTERS, ABCNEWS Good evening and welcome to 20/20 FRIDAY. It is a frightening possibility that refuses to go away. Could the cell phones you and your children use be a danger to your health? A new British study just out says that while there is not enough evidence to prove harm, children should restrict their use of cell phones. And we’ll tell you more about this later. But this isn’t the first troubling development. Last fall, we brought you a report from our chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, looking into a possible link between cell phones and your brain. What he discovered could change the way you and your family use your cell phone.

BRIAN ROSS, ABCNEWS (VO) From Los Angeles to London, few people spend more time on the phone than the flamboyant British billionaire Richard Branson.

RICHARD BRANSON Hello, this is Richard Branson.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The man who created the Virgin Records and Virgin Air business empires, the man who four times tried to go around the world in a hot air balloon, Richard Branson has become rich and famous by taking lots of risks. But one risk he says he won’t take is with his cell phone.

BARBARA WALTERS You do not put your phone up to your ear because it could fry your brain.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Branson won’t put a cell phone anywhere near his head, using a small headset contraption instead.

BARBARA WALTERS There is the phone, there’s the earpiece. And you just keep the—keep the phone away from the body and put the earpi—put the earpiece in either ear. And—and you’ve got the little microphone here, and you can talk.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) It’s something he’s done ever since a close friend, who was a heavy user of cell phones, died from brain cancer.

BARBARA WALTERS (Unintelligible)…bye.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The $200 billion-a-year cell phone industry maintains the scientific evidence doesn’t support any such fears. But it turns out Richard Branson is not alone in his belief that cellular phones can no longer be presumed to be safe.

DR GEORGE CARLO I’m on this thing every day.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) In fact, even the man who, six years ago, was brought in by the industry to quell such fears, Dr. George Carlo, is now prepared to publicly say that has been the case all along.

GEORGE CARLO You cannot guarantee that cell phones are safe. That’s absolutely true, but that has always been true.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) When cell phones first came out, it was widely assumed there couldn’t be a risk because the power or radiation they produce was so low. But now that assumption is very much being called into question by several new scientific studies, which, while still preliminary, are regarded by some scientists as quite troubling. The cell phone transmits a microwave signal from the antenna to a base station or tower, often miles away. The farther away from the tower, or if the phone is inside a building or a car, the more power this phone is told by the tower to send out to make or keep the connection. Depending on how close the cell phone antenna is, as much as 60 percent of the microwave radiation is absorbed by and actually penetrates the area around the head, some reaching an inch to an inch and a half into the brain.

DR ROSS ADEY And if I hold it to my head like this, there is no way that I can avoid getting a sizable amount of that energy in my head and my hand.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Dr. Ross Adey, at the University of California Riverside, is widely regarded as one of, if not the most, respected scientists in the field, a man who has worked for industry and government for decades studying microwave radiation.

ROSS ADEY This is the first generation that has put relatively high-powered transmitters against the head day after day after day.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Choosing his words carefully for this interview with 20/20, Dr. Adey says the body of research, while still far from conclusive, raises the possibility of some very serious harm from extensive exposure to cell phones.

ROSS ADEY The picture that’s emerging is that, over the lifetime of the individual, you may see changes that could be considered health effects or potential health risks.

BRIAN ROSS Including?

ROSS ADEY Including leukemia and brain tumors.

BRIAN ROSS Those are scary words—brain tumors, leukemia?

ROSS ADEY I understand. And I think, responsibly, one has to bring those into the forefront.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Which may come as quite a surprise to the more than 80 million Americans and some 300 million more around the world who use cell phones…

1ST MAN Just thought I’d check in for messages.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) …and who heard similar concerns six years ago dismissed as unfounded scares.

2ND MAN Hi. Happy birthday.

THOMAS WHEELER I believe that the cellular phone is safe.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Thomas Wheeler is the president of the cell phone industry’s trade group in Washington, DC.

THOMAS WHEELER Our industry has gone out and aggressively asked the question, ‘Can we find a problem?’ And the answer that has come back is that there is nothing that has come up in the research that suggests that there is a linkage between the use of a wireless phone and health effects.

DR LOUIS SLESIN Nonsense, in a word. Simple nonsense.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Dr. Louis Slesin is the editor of Microwave News, a widely read and influential trade newsletter which tracks the cell phone business and frequently criticizes what Slesin says is the industry’s attempt to ignore or spin troublesome scientific findings.

LOUIS SLESIN This is about PR, not about science. There’s research from Australia, there’s research from England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, all pointing in a direction Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want to look. Essentially, we have reports of headaches, of cancer, of changes in blood pressure, changes in sleeping patterns.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Among the most recent work, that of this Swedish doctor, Lennart Hardell, who studied phone habits of brain tumor patients. While Dr. Hardell found no increased risk of cancer overall, he did find that those who used the phone on the left side had a predominance of tumors on the left side. Those who use the phone on the right side had a predominance of tumors on the right.

LENNART HARDELL This is an important indication and, as a manufacturer, I would be actually worried.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) His pilot study was nowhere near big enough to be scientifically conclusive but enough for Dr. Hardell to recommend that cell phone users take steps to minimize their exposure and be especially cautious about children using cell phones.

LOUIS SLESIN There is no smoking gun, we don’t know that they are unsafe, but there is tons of information from all over the world showing a problem.

BRIAN ROSS But there’s no sign the cell phone industry sees it that way.

1ST OFFSCREEN VOICE (From cell phone commercial) A whole new way to use your wireless phone…

BRIAN ROSS (VO) If anything, the industry’s current ad campaigns encourage consumers, even children…

BOY (From cell phone commercial) Hey, dad, I need a ride home.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) …to use cell phones much more than they do now.

2ND OFFSCREEN VOICE (From cell phone commercial) Talk all you want. Your family.

THOMAS WHEELER I’m a big bucket guy.

BRIAN ROSS Using it how much, you say?

THOMAS WHEELER I mean, I buy the—the big bucket of minutes, which is, what, 1600 minutes? And—and then go beyond that.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The industry’s Thomas Wheeler says there’s no reason to cut back cell phone use, and that the focus in studies like Dr. Hardell’s should be on the positive findings.

THOMAS WHEELER Dr. Hardell in his study says that he could not find a link between the use of wireless phones, epidemiologically, and brain cancer. What he did find was an interesting handedness issue…

BRIAN ROSS Interesting.


BRIAN ROSS He says, based on his findings, he would recommend people use cell phones as little as possible. And I—my question to you is, would you agree with that advice?

THOMAS WHEELER I think that—that it is—there is a preponderance of evidence that there is not a linkage between the use of wireless phones and health effects.

BRIAN ROSS This is hardly the first time health concerns have been raised about cellular phones.
(Beginning of videotaped deposition)

REPORTER Can you recognize this as being the phone you used?


REPORTER Is this the phone?

(End of videotaped deposition)

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Six weeks after this videotaped deposition in 1993, Suzy Reynard of Tampa, Florida, died of brain cancer, her husband David claiming his wife’s cancer was caused by her cell phone.

DAVID REYNARD The tumor was exactly in the pattern of the antenna.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) David Reynard went on to almost singlehandedly create a national scare when he filed a lawsuit and went public with his allegations.

DAVID REYNARD (From “Larry King Live”) Well, we’re—we’re suing the carrier, we’re suing the manufacturer.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) There was great alarm on Wall Street, and even though Reynard’s lawsuit was later thrown out by a judge for a lack of reliable scientific evidence, it left the cell phone industry with a huge public relations problem.

3RD MAN And so what our industry is announcing here today…

BRIAN ROSS (VO) And led to the announcement of a $25 million industry research program to be run by Dr. George Carlo, a public health consultant, who was labeled then by some as a kind of scientific shill for the cell phone industry.
(OC) Do you think they thought they had bought you?

GEORGE CARLO I—I hope that they didn’t, but I think that they probably did.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) And, now, after six years of running the industry’s research program, Dr. Carlo has come to a surprising conclusion, forcing him, he says, to break ranks with the industry to add his voice to those increasingly concerned about the safety of cell phones.

GEORGE CARLO We’ve moved into an area where we now have some direct evidence of possible harm from cellular phones.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) In a revealing interview with 20/20, Dr. Carlo said he felt he had no choice but to blow the whistle on what he says has been going on behind the scenes.

GEORGE CARLO The industry had come out right after that program and said that there were thousands of studies that proved that wireless phones are safe, and the fact was there were no studies that were directly relevant.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Meaning, no studies directly relevant to cell phone exposure. But there are now, including studies Carlo oversaw and that the industry approved and paid for.

GEORGE CARLO And this simulates exactly the type of exposure…

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Clearly suggesting two potential problems, according to Carlo. Genetic damage, based on laboratory tests involving human blood, and an increased risk of a rare type of brain tumor, based on a study of brain tumor patients, although no overall increase in cancer was found.

GEORGE CARLO The type of tumor is consistent with the idea that it’s—it could be affected by the radiation coming from the antenna.

BRIAN ROSS But if these phones were so bad, wouldn’t we be seeing thousands, tens of thousands, of people with brain tumors right now?

GEORGE CARLO Not necessarily. The—the technology has not been around that long and cancer is a disease that has a long latency period. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for tumors to develop.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The industry, says Carlo who started his own Web site with online sales of consumer manuals about cell phones, is just trying to profit from the statements. And some of Dr. Carlo’s scientific colleagues, including the author on the brain tumor study, disagree with Carlo’s interpretation of the findings. One of them is Dr. Martin Meltz, a scientist at the University of Texas and a paid industry consultant whom the industry said we should talk to.

DR MARTIN MELTZ I believe, from my perspective, that the weight of knowledge indicates safety of cell phone use.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) But Carlo says the new studies, while not proving cell phones are dangerous, do contradict such assurances that cell phones are safe.
(OC) And that’s something the industry knows? You’ve shown them these same slides?

GEORGE CARLO That’s correct.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The cell phone industry also sought to downplay Dr. Carlo’s stunning defection with this formal statement, saying, quote, “The prevailing scientific consensus is that there is no evidence of risk from the use of wireless phones.” No evidence of risk.
(OC) Is that true?

GEORGE CARLO That’s wrong.

BRIAN ROSS That’s wrong?

GEORGE CARLO That’s wrong.

BRIAN ROSS Have you seen this?

GEORGE CARLO It’s actually quite shocking knowing—knowing what has been conveyed to them.

BRIAN ROSS Aren’t you concerned when you hear those possible health effects…


BRIAN ROSS …brain tumors, genetic damage?

THOMAS WHEELER …I have to look at what the responsible scientists say…

BRIAN ROSS They’re alarmed by this.

THOMAS WHEELER …and—and they say that there is not a public health effect…

BRIAN ROSS Who are you sayi—who says that?

THOMAS WHEELER …and—and they say…

BRIAN ROSS Who actually says that?

THOMAS WHEELER This is—this is what they—what the FDA has said.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Not exactly. When we checked the Web site of the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, we found a much more qualified position on cell phones. The FDA says, while the available science does not demonstrate harm from cell phones, nor does it lead to the conclusion that they are absolutely safe.

ROSS ADEY And I have to say to people, ‘Look, I don’t know. There are no answers to what you want to know yet.’

BRIAN ROSS So no one can reasonably say these phones are proven safe?

ROSS ADEY Not at all. Not at all.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The FDA now advises anyone with concerns to cut back on cell phone use or take other steps to avoid exposure.

RICHARD BRANSON It could be like the early days of cigarette smoking, you know? We just don’t know at this stage. And since there’s quite a big question mark over it, we might as well play it safe.

BARBARA WALTERS Does it make a difference what kind of cell phone you use? When we come back, our test of some of the most popular models, and you won’t want to miss the startling results.

ANNOUNCER How much radiation is your cell phone putting into your brain? It depends on how you hold it. Moving the antenna, even a little, can make a big difference.

LOUIS SLESIN Every millimeter counts.

ANNOUNCER Learn what you can do, when 20/20 continues.

(Commercial break) (11:08)
WALTERS: Buying a cell phone requires a lot of decisions. You’re likely to consider the phone’s size and how much it weighs, and, of course, how much it costs. But one thing you probably don’t think about is the amount of microwave radiation that the cell phone is sending into your brain. What should we know? Here again, chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross.

4TH MAN It’s Gary. Any calls?

WOMAN Just wanted to say hi and see how you were doing.

5TH MAN Just wanted to check in with you to see if we’re all set.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Americans love their cell phones.

6th MAN Ten to 20 calls a day.

4TH MAN Hundreds of minutes a month.

WOMAN I use about 300 minutes a month.

5TH MAN Fourteen hundred and one minutes last month.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) But there’s something about them that is not well known and certainly not advertised by the cell phone industry.

HILLARY CLINTON I’m fine. This is Hillary Clinton.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Each and every model of cell phones sold in this country, including the one used here by Hillary Clinton and the one used here by George W. Bush, has a specific measurement of how much microwave radiation from the phone can penetrate the brain.

GOVERNOR GEORGE W BUSH I hope—I’d like you to vote.

BRIAN ROSS The cell phone industry says every phone it sells is safe and meets government radiation safety limits. But tests conducted for 20/20 and being made public tonight have found that some of the most popular cell phones can, depending on how they’re held, exceed the radiation limit, in some cases substantially exceed.
(VO) But finding out what the radiation measurement is for any given phone is something no one who buys a phone can possibly know without combing through FCC files or doing the tests 20/20 did.
(OC) When you go to the store to buy a cell phone, is there any way to know how much power is coming out of that phone into the head?


BRIAN ROSS (VO) As David Reynard says he discovered after his wife Suzy died of brain cancer, and he set out to make himself an expert on the cell phone industry.

DAVID REYNARD Most of the units these days actually operate like this. And the problem that you have here is that the head is—is absorbing most of the energy that’s coming out of this unit.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Since 1996, each phone manufacturer has been required to test its phones and file the results with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, the FCC. But, according to Dr. Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News, there is no independent verification of the tests.
(OC) So the government’s not testing these phones to make sure they meet the standards?

DR LOUIS SLESIN No. The government is asking the industry to supply them with test results.

BRIAN ROSS So it’s on the honor system?

LOUIS SLESIN Totally, the honor system.

BRIAN ROSS Can they be trusted?

LOUIS SLESIN I—I think you should find out.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) But when we decided to do our own tests, we found out that it wasn’t so easy. We wanted to test these five phones: two Motorolas, two Nokias, and one Ericsson. But none of four American testing labs that we contacted that do such work would agree to do it for 20/20.

LOUIS SLESIN They’ve been better is not ABCNEWS, its the industry (sic). They go do this for you, they’ll be blacklisted.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Which is why we ended up in Europe, outside Dusseldorf, Germany, at the Institute for Mobile and Satellite Technology, a research laboratory which does work for both industry and government in Germany and was on a list supplied by the American FCC.

DR ACHIM BAHR For ABCNEWS, we tested five phones…

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Dr. Achim Bahr ran the tests for 20/20.

ACHIM BAHR …with antenna in and antenna out, and we have measured three different frequencies according to the FCC guidelines.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Following one standard industry method, each phone is placed underneath a phantom head, filled with a fluid that simulates brain tissue. This device then measures the amount of radiation or energy that penetrates from the cell phone underneath into the fluid to give what is known as the SAR, the specific absorption rate. Anything above a measurement of 1.6 watts per kilogram is supposed to be prohibited.
All the phones we tested were in the analog as opposed to the digital mode, and depending on how the phone was placed, four out of the five phones 20/20 tested exceeded the FCC safety standards in at least one position, starting with the Motorola MicroTac Lite XL, the phone members of our staff have used for years. In what is known as the standard touch position, the phone was under the limit, antenna in and out, reaching no higher than 1.52. But we also tested the phone in a second commonly used position, and in that position, the MicroTac Lite XL was over the limit with the antenna extended at 1.83. And with the antenna retracted, substantially over the limit at 3.15.

DR GEORGE CARLO That number is a surprise.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Dr. George Carlo ran the cell phone industry’s research program for the last six years.

GEORGE CARLO If I would be in a position like this, which is 90—90 degrees, straight up and down, that is almost twice the standard.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The phones are supposed to be tested in what is called a normal operating position. But the FCC rules are remarkably vague as to what that constitutes, saying there are several normal positions that can be tested.

GEORGE CARLO Because of the vagueness of the FCC requirements, just about any phone can be approved. The testing that you have done may be uncovering the tip of the iceberg.

BRIAN ROSS Can Motorola argue that the way the phone was tested was irregular?

GEORGE CARLO Well, from a practical point of view, when someone uses a phone, they move it around. People move the phone, they talk, some people hold it on their shoulder. So it—it makes sense to consider all the positions.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) In several long letters, Motorola claims that 20/20’s own tests prove the MicroTac Lite to be fully compliant with FCC guidelines because the phone came in under the FCC standard in the so-called touch position, a position outlined by the FCC guidelines. That, of course, was not the case in the second position our testers used.

GEORGE CARLO It is possible for the industry to submit the findings that are favorable to them and have the FCC only review those. In effect, this industry is regulating itself.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Also over the limit in both positions and at every frequency we tested was one of the top-selling phones in the country, the Nokia 6160, when used in its analog mode and a range from 1.84 to 2.16. An older Nokia model, the 636 made for Radio Shack, also exceeded the limit in three of four tests we conducted, ranging from 1.54 to 2.12. In letters to 20/20, Nokia said all its phones meet or exceed all applicable safety standards and said our tests did not conform to standard industry practice. It turns out Nokia tests its phone with a thicker rubber pad simulating an ear, thicker than the one we used, both standard with the testing equipment, again something permitted under the FCC’s vague testing procedures.

GEORGE CARLO Your tests are good. The results of your test are not good for the industry.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The fifth phone we tested, this Ericsson cell phone, the AH 618, ranged from 1.34 in one position to just above the limit at 1.65 in the second position. Ericsson wrote us that its own tests showed the phone, no longer in production but still for sale, no higher than 1.54, under the legal limit. Given the margin of error in testing, about the same as our result.
(OC) Acceptable or unacceptable?

GEORGE CARLO Too close for comfort.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) The phone that did best in our test was the Motorola Star Tac, designed with the antenna that jets sharply away from the head, no longer than decided to buy.

DAVID REYNARD When the antenna is at this angle and behind the radio, you are getting less energy forced into your head.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) But Reynard says he believes Motorola won’t admit that the newly designed phone could be safer than older models for fear of future lawsuits.

DAVID REYNARD I think they would love to say that this unit is safer than other units.

BRIAN ROSS They don’t advertise it that way.

DAVID REYNARD No, they don’t, because then they’re actually admitting that there’s—there’s a medical or biological problem.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Again, the cell phone industry maintains every phone sold in this country meets federal safety standards and that there is a huge margin of safety built into the standard. The industry also says that none of the radiation coming from cell phones has been proven to have a health effect.

THOMAS WHEELER Clearly, clearly, clearly, there is a signal which comes from the phone.

BRIAN ROSS Can that be a good thing, though, to have that kind of radiation—that power going into the brain?

THOMAS WHEELER The—there isn’t data to show that what is happening has a health effect.

BRIAN ROSS (VO) Even so, a number of phone companies are now marketing earpiece sets, which keep the transmitter far away from the head. The industry says it’s strictly for convenience and nothing to do with safety. But when we tested the Nokia 6160 with an earpiece, the same phone that exceeded the safety standard in every position of our tests easily passed with the earpiece device, producing the lowest figure of the entire range of tests we conducted, as low as .02.

LOUIS SLESIN You’re taking the source of the radiation away from your head. You’re taking it away from your brain, away from your eyes. Those are very important considerations.

1ST MAN Call me on the cell if you need me.

WOMAN Give them my best.

2ND MAN Talk to you later. Bye.

BARBARA WALTERS Brian Ross joins us.
Brian, some of the newer phones—the antenna is in the phone.

BRIAN ROSS That’s right. We didn’t test that newer type of phone.

BARBARA WALTERS I’m very interested in what this panel in Great Britain said about cell phones after they analyzed them.

BRIAN ROSS Well, this independent panel of scientists and medical experts found subtle effects on brain function, and they recommended for children to cut back on use.

BARBARA WALTERS Teen-age children primarily?

BRIAN ROSS Well, we know how much teen-agers use them…


BRIAN ROSS …and certainly under the age of 16, and they…

BARBARA WALTERS Because their brains are still…

BRIAN ROSS That’s right. Still in the formative stage. And they are concerned that there could be a problem there. The industry says the phones are safe for adults and for children.

BARBARA WALTERS But the panel in Great Britain said to restrict the use, especially for teen-agers.

BRIAN ROSS That’s right.

BARBARA WALTERS Thank you very much, Brian. Important information. And if you would like more information about cell phone safety, visit our Web site:

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