September 25, 2008 -- The wireless industry association refused to appear before Congress today on a hearing about whether there is a link between cell phones and cancer.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of (D-Ohio), chair of the subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing Thursday, said that CTIA (The Wireless Association), the industry major trade association in Washington DC, declined his request to testify with scientists and government officials about the status of the scientific research on the topic.
"By their refusal they deny this Congress the benefit of their testimony and the opportunity to pose questions," Kucinich said at the hearing.
But a CTIA spokesperson said the organization's lack of testimony shouldn't be seen as a dodge. "We've always maintained that this debate must be guided by science," said Joseph Farren, a spokesperson for CTIA. "We are not scientists and we just think it's best left to the scientists."
Most studies have found no connection between cancer and cell phone use. The scientific studies pointing to an association between cell phones and brain cancer is controversial and limited. None of the major health organizations -- including the National Cancer Institute nor the American Cancer Society -- think that there is a link. In fact the chief medical director at the American Cancer Society, Otis Brawley, said as recently as this summer that some of the warnings about a link are "scaring people unnecessarily."
But during a hearing Thursday members of Congress wanted to know if they shouldn't push more people to take measures to prevent exposure.
Robert Hoover, director of epidemiology at the National Cancer Institute, did not think there was solid science."There are some isolated findings but larger studies are needed to sort out the role of chance and bias," he said. And, he noted, studies show there has been no increase in the instances of brain cancer between 1987 and 2005.
But some scientists believe there's enough of an association to be concerned, enough, at least, to take precautions in using cell phones, such as using an ear piece or limiting use.
That is what Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, did this summer, issuing a precautionary memo on cell phone use to his colleagues.
During testimony he explained his reasoning. "I cannot tell this committee that cell phones are definitely dangerous but I certainly cannot tell you that they are safe," Herberman said.
Part of the problem, he said, is that many of the studies have a key limitation: that they only measure short term influence instead of looking at whether the radiation has an impact over the long haul.
He and another scientist, David Carpenter, an epidemiologist at the University of Albany, pointed to a recent study that found an association between prolonged cell phone use and two brain cancers -- one that was five time greater among those who used cell phones before the age of 20.
"I certainly find the evidence at present to be less than 100 percent," Carpenter said. But, he added "the implications are enormous."
Enormous enough that "there should be national standards of warning or precaution relating ot the use of cell phones for children?" Kucinich wanted to know.
Carpenter's response: "I think evidence is certainly strong enough for warnings that children should not use cell phones. I think failure to do that is going to lead us to an epidemic of brain cancer in the future."
Hoover's response was less sanguine. "I think it does depend on whether there is a risk or not." And that, he said, would have to wait for a major study schedule to come out sometime next year.