You see that kind of thing often in the pharmaceutical market. Big companies are more concerned about releasing new products to make a profit than they are about the long-term effects these products may have.
Despite the Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) efforts, the practice of releasing products to the public before their long-term effects have been thoroughly studied, continues to this day.
Take cell phones for example. The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) is supposed to make sure that radiation-emitting products, such as microwave ovens, TV sets, cell phones, and laser products meet radiation standards.
According to the CDRH Web site (www.fda.gov) "the center monitors devices throughout the product life cycle, including a nationwide post-market surveillance system." If that's the case, why are the FDA's only mobile phone studies relatively short term, with absolutely no data available on the consequences of childhood exposure to cell phones?
The majority of published data has been concentrated on a small number of outcomes, especially brain tumors and leukemia. Recently, there have been some studies of residential exposure to radio and television, that have focused on leukemia.
There have also been studies of cell phone users, particularly for brain tumors and less often cancers or other symptoms. These studies have shown no consistent or convincing evidence of adverse health effects from radio frequency field (RFs) exposure, according to the FDA. Not everyone agrees.
Critics of these limited studies point out that they are too deficient to rule out an association. The fact is that very little is known about new technologies using RFs. There haven't been any definitive population studies, but other statistics indicate concern. Cell phones may be dangerous to one's health.
Recent statistics show that more than 30 percent of children under 13 years of age in the U.S. own their own cell phones. One-out-of-two American teenagers have their own cell phones. By next year, even more of those populations will get cell phones.
Why? Cell phones are cheaper every day. Parents like being connected to their children at all times. And, let's face it, a cell phone is good to have in case of an emergency. Warning signals are seen in current studies that indicate negative effects from electromagnetic fields and radio frequency radiation.
The head of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, recently told reporters there is a clear possibility of a direct relationship between cell phone use and the risk of cancer.
Worldwide, health researchers are taking a harder look into the adverse effects of constant cell phone use. International findings suggest that, if nothing is done about the matter, we may see an epidemic of brain cancer among the planet's youth.
Studies have show significant correlation between electromagnetic radiation on our cells and our DNA. These studies also show that children are at the greatest risk to radiation damage because their brains are still developing and skulls are very thin.
Evidence is building that shows extreme low frequency (ELF) waves may not only be related to cancer, but may speed up the aging process, increase anxiety, depression, anger, and irritability.
A study by Dr. Neil Cherry, of Lincoln University in New Zealand, suggests that exposure to ELF waves alters calcium ions in our cells. Dr. Cherry's contention is that cell phone use may alter the delicate melatonin/serotonin balance in the brain, which would explain mood disorders and sleep problems.
I could cite other studies, but I hope you get my point. The FDA is lagging behind in studying adverse cell phone effects. So we won't hear from them soon, if ever. Until more is known about prolonged cell phone usage, we should encourage younger people to use them less often. I know that's easier said than done.
But what if your child comes down with brain cancer some day? Then it will be too late to do anything. At least now you can err on the side of caution.
As It Stands, technology brings benefits, but it also can bring grief if we don't fully understand it.
Dave Stancliff is a columnist for The Times-Standard. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher. Comments can be sent to email@example.com or davesblogcentral.com.
Italy antiterror law stunts Wi-Fi, critics say
The law, named after Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, who introduced it in 2005 after the London bombings, obliges the operators of public Wi-Fi services and Internet cafés to keep a record of the identities of all their clients and a log of their Internet traffic for possible consultation by the police.
Critics say the law, intended to help the police combat the use of the Internet by terrorists and criminals, is hurting the development of Wi-Fi by making it difficult and costly for businesses to offer Internet access to their clients. Those intending to do so have to register for a special license with their local police headquarters.
"There are a total of 4806 public access Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy. In France there are five times as many," noted Lorenzo Gennarin, writing in Italy's www.pubblicaamministrazione.net Web site on public administration issues. "This decree is considered by many as one of the principal reasons why it is so rare here to be able to connect to Internet from a bar, a restaurant, a square or a railway station, while that is normal in other European countries and North America."
Turin Polytechnic's Nexa Center for Internet and Society has called on the government to review the law, which remains in force until Dec. 31, 2009, saying its costs in terms of technological, economic and cultural development outweigh the possible security benefits.
"The decision to introduce the law was taken in the wake of the London terrorist attacks without considering the negative effects," said Nexa director Juan Carlos De Martin. "We would like to see a ministerial commission evaluate the impact of the law. At the moment we have no reliable quantitative data on its effects."
The government has never provided any figures to illustrate the benefits of the law in combating terrorism, De Martin said.
"I know of a bank in the Piedmont region (of northwest Italy) that used to offer Wi-Fi access to its customers while they were waiting for service. The Carabinieri (paramilitary police) arrived and ordered them to dismantle it," De Martin said.
De Martin has also noticed the negative effects of the law in the academic sphere. "If we organize an international conference and want to offer Wi-Fi we have to identify all the users. In some cases I just gave up on the idea. In others some of the guests – they were English – refused to hand over their passports," he said. "One gets a clear sense that the law is acting as a brake, but we need research to quantify it."
A partial solution could be offered by a network of Wi-Fi hotspots provided by local public administrations. The Rome provincial government announced last month that it would invest euros 2 million (US$2.7 million) to create a network of hundreds of hotspots in its administrative area. The provincial government will also take responsibility for registering users and conserving traffic logs.
"Our objective is to install 500 hotspots by the end of 2010 to make the province of Rome one of the most technologically advanced in Italy," provincial governor Nicola Zingaretti said at the time. "Sports centers and private actors will be able to join the provincial network for a small contribution to the hardware costs."
The network currently offers free Internet access via 10 hotspots in Rome and some 30 in neighboring towns
500 cancer spots in Rome. Sounds like another good place to avoid!