Rachel's Precaution Reporter #67
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

From: Strategy+Business ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
November 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: As new studies implicate cell phones in health problems, the wireless industry has an opportunity to exercise foresight and adopt a precautionary approach.]

By Lavinia Weissman

Mobile phone manufacturers are today where cigarette makers were in the early 1950s: facing risks that may -- or may not -- redefine the reputation of their industry.

The mobile phone industry, which had been one of the world's fastest- growing industries until recently, has begun to slow down. Its saturated market -- 610 million phones in use as of 2004 -- has yet to hit the once-projected high of 2 billion phones. To pump up sales, suppliers and network operators have put their energies into creating new designs and promoting the use of multimedia features for entertainment, messaging, and voice and data access. Companies have also focused on new markets -- children in the U.S. and the general public in Asia, particularly China and India.

But the industry is missing one of its greatest opportunities and the chance to forestall a potentially debilitating threat. No cellular phone manufacturer has developed a strategic response to the growing number of disquieting studies of potential health hazards from the electronic magnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by mobile phones. Pointing to the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission, which hold that cell phones' effects on human health are neither significant nor harmful, industry leaders have thus far publicly shrugged off EMF risks. The reaction of a Disney Mobile spokesman as quoted in a Business Week story in June 2006 is typical: "Safety concerns 'really [haven't] been an issue here in the U.S. for quite some time now.... Disney is relying on the FDA.'"

This strategy of duck-and-cover might work in the short run. But smart players in the mobile industry would be wise to proactively provide consumers with designs that minimize exposure to EMFs, thus reassuring consumers and hedging against bad news in the future.

What, EMF Worries?

Over the past decades, a number of studies have pointed to the risks inherent in cell phone technology. Michael Kundi, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Health at the Medical University of Vienna, has stated that since 2000, 17 epidemiological studies have suggested that cell phones, held close to the head, can cause brain tumors and cancer. "Never before in history," Kundi writes, "has a device been used that exposes such a great proportion of the population to microwaves in the near-field and at comparatively high levels." In 2005, another research team (Balkisi et al., published in the journal Pathologie Biologie) showed statistical evidence that long-term users of mobile phones may suffer from headaches, extreme irritation, forgetfulness, and decreased reflexes, among other complaints. A different study (S. Lonn et al., 2004) suggests that the use of mobile phones over a 10-year period might increase the risk of acoustic neuroma (a nerve tumor in the ear) threefold. And in October 2006, American scientists warned that men using cell phones for more than four hours a day might damage their sperm.

To be sure, the significance of these studies is inconclusive. Louis Slesin, publisher of Microwave News, a monthly journal that has tracked the issue for 25 years, told Business Week: "There is plenty of data showing that we may have a serious problem on our hands, but at this point no one really knows for sure."

William Stewart, the chairman of the U.K. Independent Expert Review Group that studied the impact of mobile phones in 2000, explains the quandary: "In relation to radiation, it often takes a long time for things to become obvious." The epidemiological effects of chemicals and other toxins are difficult enough to establish with certainty, but EMF is even more perplexing; it cannot be seen or tasted, and its effects on tumors, cancer, and allergies (for example) are extremely difficult to isolate from other environmental factors. Nonetheless, concerns about the data have prompted a number of groups of physicians and researchers to write to the European Parliament, urging members to heighten the precautionary approach and stressing the need for the adoption of new safety standards as well as full and independent review of scientific evidence pointing to the hazards of EMF exposure.

In his book Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (Doubleday, 2003), Art Kleiner, editor-in- chief of strategy+business, observes that the mobile phone industry could very well be at the crossroads the tobacco industry once stumbled across. Starting when the first definitive studies linking smoking to lung cancer were published in 1953, Kleiner writes, cigarette companies denied the health risks of smoking. Their decision "to deny, market, obfuscate, conceal and fight" worked for the short term. But by refusing to take the moral high ground and go public with the information (and, consequently, not repositioning the cigarette business by, say, marketing the concept of smoking in moderation), tobacco companies ultimately faced skyrocketing legal fees and fines, as well as a public reputation as "merchants of death."

The Proactive Path

The mobile phone industry could avoid that fate. Taking cues from the cigarette industry's mistakes and being proactive, the smart cellular phone manufacturers might manage to build market share and increase user loyalty. Mark Anderson, who publishes the online newsletter Strategic News Service, suggests a proactive plan for cellular phone executives:

** Make sure your engineers and designers are the most exposed, aware group in the industry.

** Design cell phones for health first, in all segments. "Guess what," says Anderson. "If you can position your company on this high ground before anyone else, two things happen: First, you get lots of business, and second, all your competitors look bad and lose share. It is a win-lose, and you win."

** Make sure that all cell phones are sold with head sets or ear microphones in the box. Make these accessories easy to use and ergonomically appealing.

** In fact, sell children's cell phones that will operate only when a head set or ear mike is attached. Include extra ear mikes in the box. Make them easy to replace.

** Since your lawyers won't let you say why you are including these devices, just say that "smart users use them."

** In the end, it might be necessary to invest more in researching the health impact of non-ionizing cell phone radiation. The technological underpinnings of cell phones might need to be redesigned.

"None of this bad news is going to go away," Anderson warns, "but the first one to become proactive might take serious market share away from the other hundred companies still in complete denial."

Carl Hilliard, president of the California-based nonprofit Wireless Consumers Alliance, counts at least 20 patents that suggest promising advances in reducing EMF exposure. Hilliard, who was an attorney for AirSignal before it was acquired by Cellular One, says: "If I were still advising clients in the industry, I'd suggest that they look into doing research on the near field" -- the health effects located close to the source of transmission. "We don't know what goes on in the near field," he explains. "What happens there is tumultuous." In the meantime, Hilliard says, he too would urge including head sets or ear mikes in the packaging. "I always use a hands-free phone," he notes.

Failing to be proactive might lead the mobile industry down Tobacco Road. In the United States, the number of class-action suits is growing. Hilliard counts eight lawsuits specifically related to the health hazards of cell phones currently making their ways through the courts. Last year, he successfully represented a woman who claimed that a brain tumor was caused by radio-frequency radiation at her job; a California judge awarded workers' compensation of $30,000 plus approximately $100,000 in health and related damages.

"I think claims against the wireless industry will follow the same long path that you saw in the cigarette industry," Hilliard adds. "There is a significant difference, however: The cigarette companies kept making the cigarettes more addictive and stronger, despite mounting scientific evidence of the risks. Cell phone companies are already trying to reduce power levels in cell phones by increasing the number of towers. It's a Hobbesian choice."

Although the United States offers no precautionary guidelines, Britain's advisory body on radiological hazards, the Health Protection Agency has urged parents to limit their children's use of cell phones, recommending that younger children use cell phones only in emergencies. In Europe, the Vienna Doctor's Chamber has warned expressly against excessive mobile phone use, especially by children. "If medications delivered the same test results as mobile phone radiation," chided a spokesperson for the chamber, "one would have to immediately remove them from the market."

The June 2006 Business Week article titled "A Phone Safe Enough for the Kids?" detailed the growing marketing of cell phone service aimed at kids and their parents by Cingular Wireless, Verizon, and, most recently, Disney Mobile. After reviewing the scientific studies, the article concluded: "So far, there has been no public clamor over the new services like Disney's. Does this mean phones are safe for kids? Or is the U.S. hooked and in collective denial? For now scientists concerned about cell-phone safety say the only thing protecting kids from possible danger is their parents."

Where children are concerned, the consequence of uncertainty is magnified. Effects might include diseases that are deadly, such as leukemia; diseases that are difficult to diagnose, such as autism; and diseases that don't appear for decades, such as Alzheimer's. Exposure to EMF could also alter a person's DNA, which would make it possible for that person to transmute genetically based diseases to his or her offspring.

By taking the high road, designing safety features before they are legally required, cell phone manufacturers can help protect and reassure their customers. This approach means managing this short-term risk effectively and innovatively, and turning it into a long-term competitive advantage: the beginning of a reputation as a visionary, not a villain.


Author Profiles:

Lavinia Weissman (lavinia@workecology.com) is the director of WorkEcology, an online community for practitioners of organizational learning and related theories. She focuses on innovative practices for the workplace. Recently, she has been examining trends on the prevention of chronic disease. She is a frequent contributor to the SuccessFactors blog and Hospital Impact.

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Additional resources:

"A Phone Safe Enough for the Kids?" Business Week, June 19, 2006: The cell phone industry sees a hot new market, but critics are worried.

Dr. Elizabeth Cullen, "Report to the Joint Oireachtas Committee, Dail Eireann," February 2005: Sums up research on EMF as presented to the Irish Doctor's Environmental Association.

Gregor Harter and Steffen Schroder, "Start-Ups in a Time of Upheaval for the Mobile Industry," Booz Allen Hamilton white paper, 2006: This white paper studies 3,000 startups and finds slowing growth, increasingly saturated markets, and difficult challenges ahead. PDF download.

Art Kleiner, Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (Doubleday, 2003): This book about "core groups" of organizations contains a chapter on fulfilling the noble purpose of great organizations.

Michael Kundi, "Mobile Phone Use and Cancer," Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2004: Overview of the epidemiological evidence, the resulting uncertainties, and a call for more focused study from a member of the medical faculty of the University of Vienna. An audio presentation by Kundi is also available.

S. Lonn, A. Ahlbom, P. Hall, and M. Feychting, "Mobile Phone Use and the Risk of Acoustic Neuroma," Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, November 2004: Medical journal article.

Nancy McVicar, "Court Victory Is a First for Programmers," South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 2, 2005; reprinted on EMF-Health.com: Woman awarded workers' compensation for radio-frequency radiation exposure on the job.

Ian Sample, "Warning to Male Mobile Users: Chatting Too Long May Cut Sperm Count," The Guardian, Oct. 24, 2006: A summation of the research.

Microwave News: Includes a collection of studies regarding the potential harm caused by EMF exposure.

Strategic News Service: Weekly newsletter about technology and business, regularly covers emerging news and implications of mobile phone health hazards.

Vienna Doctor's Chamber: Offers guidelines for limiting contact with mobile phones.

Wireless Consumers Alliance: This nonprofit organization site contains references to class-action lawsuits against wireless carriers.

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Copyright 2006 Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. www.bah.com


From: Time ...............................................[This story printer-friendly]
December 3, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: San Francisco's ban on toxic toys -- including such classics as the rubber ducky -- highlights the lurking danger of plastic contaminants.]

By Margot Roosevelt

They line the nursery section of children's toy stores like brightly colored candies: rubber duckies for bathtime, chewable rings for teething, soft-covered books for pawing and mouthing. Parents shopping for their babies can be forgiven if they assume that everything on those shelves is 100% child safe. So why did the city of San Francisco issue a ban last week on the sale of certain plastic toys aimed at children under 3? And why are activists warning holiday shoppers in the most alarming terms against buying them?

"Sucking on some of these teethers and toys," says Rachel Gibson of Environment California, a nonprofit, "is like sucking on a toxic lollipop." At issue are contaminants in plastics used to make the toys. Environmentalists have long argued that some of these chemicals can leach out and harm children, pointing to animal studies that link the substances to birth defects, cancer and developmental abnormalities. Those warnings are hotly disputed by the chemical industry and toy manufacturers, which cite stacks of scientific studies that have found the plastics to be safe at federally approved levels. But the issue has gained traction on the strength of new evidence from independent and university-sponsored studies. The European Union has banned some chemicals in toys since 1999, and now half a dozen state legislatures are considering similar laws.

The controversy centers on a family of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced "thalates"), which are used to soften vinyl, and on bisphenol A (BPA), a substance used to make clear and shatterproof plastic. Most are known to be so-called endocrine disrupters, capable of interfering with the hormones that regulate masculinity and femininity. Several hundred animal studies have linked phthalates to prostate and breast cancers, abnormal genitals, early puberty onset and obesity. More recently, they've been shown to affect humans as well. In a paper published last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several universities found that boys born to mothers with higher phthalate levels are far more likely to show altered genital development, linked to incomplete testicular descent. Harvard School of Public Health studies report that men with higher phthalate levels have lower sperm counts and damaged sperm dna.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents manufacturers such as ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical, says the crackdowns on toys are not justified by the science. "The E.U. aims to ban products that show adverse effect at very high doses in rats," says the acc's Marian Stanley. "Many essential products are made from starting materials that can be quite toxic at high doses. This does not mean that the final consumer products are toxic." As for recent phthalate studies on humans, she says, they are either preliminary or "overhyped." Meanwhile, toy companies are relying on a 2001 review by a Consumer Product Safety Commission panel that found "no demonstrated health risk" in toys made with dinp -- one of the phthalates used in vinyl. Critics fault the panel for failing to examine the effect of dinp when combined with other phthalates.

The focus on bpa is new. Its use is widespread -- it's found in dental sealants and the epoxy linings on food cans as well as in baby bottles. Studies in animals over the past five years have found that the substance, which mimics the human hormone estrogen, alters brain structure and chemistry as well as the immune system and reproductive organs. Some of these effects show up at extremely low doses, in some cases 2,000 times below the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety guideline, according to Frederick vom Saal, a University of Missouri endocrinologist. Chemical companies say the findings are not applicable to humans, but the federal National Toxicology Program has launched a reassessment of the safety standard. "The literature around bpa is very controversial," warns epa scientist Earl Gray. "Next year's review should clarify things."

The problem for retailers -- and parents -- is that the U.S. does not require manufacturers to disclose ingredients in most consumer products. How can you tell which contain the contaminants when chemical companies guard the information as proprietary? "Stores have products stacked to the ceiling for the holidays," says Daniel Grossman, ceo of San Francisco's Wild Planet Toys. "They have no idea what has phthalates and what doesn't."

They may soon find out. The San Francisco Chronicle recently had 16 toys tested in a private lab. One rubber ducky contained the phthalate dehp at 13 times San Francisco's allowed level. A teether contained another phthalate at five times the limit. Meanwhile, a rattle, two waterproof books and a doll contained bpa, which is prohibited by the city at any level. Although the products comply with U.S. law, some toymakers, including Goldberger Doll, are cutting out phthalates. Richard Woo, owner of a local store called Citikids, estimates that he might have to pull a third of his items off the shelves. Next month manufacturers will go to court to block the new law. Whatever the ruling, parents will be left wondering how safe their children's toys really are.

Copyright 2006 Time Inc.


From: American Legislative Exchange Council ..............[This story printer-friendly]
November 14, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The chemical industry wants to continue exposing children to toxic chemicals, specifically phthalates and bisphenol-A, which are used in soft plastic toys like teething rings for infants. Here is their reasoning.]


Pthalates are polycarboneate plastics are used in a wide array of products. Phthalates give nail polish and perfume desired consistency and longevity. They also give necessary flexibility to vinyl and soft plastics, and have been used in baby bottles and reusable water bottles for decades.

Environmental activists increasingly seek to ban or severely restrict the use of phthalates, and especially the phthalate known as bisphenol A, asserting that phthalate exposure poses risks to the development of male reproductive organs. Phthalate legislation often targets children's products specifically.

Scientific evidence refutes the assertion that phthalates pose a risk of harm to children or anybody else. While laboratory rats fed megadoses of the phthalate DBP have shown some reproductive development problems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports the doses correlate to a safe human intake of 300 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. By comparison, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the average daily human exposure is less than 1 microgram per kilogram of body weight per day.

Biomonitoring of bisphenol A shows even less real-world human exposure, with human exposure being 1 million times below the levels where no adverse health effects were observed in laboratory animals.

Moreover, a September 2006 study showed that when phthalate DEHP was fed to marmoset monkeys -- which are far more similar to humans than laboratory rats -- there were absolutely no negative health effects, even when fed to the marmosets in "astronomical" doses.

The very minimal risk of negative health effects associated with phthalates is especially remote considering the lack of human exposure. A 2005 test by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority measured bisphenol A migration from baby bottles to human subjects. The study found that none of the 22 new baby bottles tested allowed any migration of bisphenol A. Only 3 of the 20 old bottles allowed any bisphenol A migration, and such migration occurred at only trace levels.

As a result of these and numerous other studies showing no adverse human health effects associated with bisphenol A exposure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined as recently as November 2005 that "based on all the evidence available at this time, FDA sees no reason to change its long-held position that current uses with food are safe."

Talking Points

* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors the latest scientific research regarding phthalates such as bisphenol A. FDA has rigorously analysed numerous contemporary studies and concluded that there is no scientific justification for restrictions on phthalates such as bisphenol A.

* Even the notoriously risk-averse European Union has echoed the U.S. FDA determination that human exposure to phthalates poses no health concerns. For example, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (known as the BfR) has determined that "The BfR does not recognize any health risk for babies that are fed from baby bottles made of polycarbonate."

* Phthalates have shown adverse health effects in laboratory rats only when the rats have been given megadoses of phthalates that correlate to unimaginable real-world human exposure. Moreover, marmoset monkeys -- which are far more similar to humans than laboratory rats -- showed absolutely no negative health effects even when fed "astronomical" doses of phthalates.

Additional Sources:

"Are Polycarbonate Bottles Safe for Use? New Information on an Old Scare Story," BisphenolA Website, May 5, 2006

"'Astronomical' Doses of DEHP Show No Adverse Effects on Reproductive Organs of Juvenile Marmosets," Phthalate Information Center, September 6, 2006

"Biomonitoring Studies Confirm Human Exposure to Bisphenol A is Very Low -- Low Exposure Supports Low Risk to Human Health," BisphenolA Website, May 4, 2005.

"EPA Raises Safety Profile for the Phthalate Used in Nail Polish In Review Draft," Phthalate Information Center, September 12, 2006

"EU Risk Assessments," Phthalates Information Center


Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

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