Experts offer mixed signals on cell phones

Contradictory scientific views on the health effects of cellular phones and antennas confused the telecommunications parliamentary committee this week during the discussion of a new bill harmonizing Greek legislation with European Union directives. The deputies heard Loukas Margaritis, a biology professor at the University of Athens, claim that the radiation from just one cell phone can destroy DNA and possibly cause cancer in insects exposed for five minutes. Then they heard Phillipos Constantinou, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens, say that measurements conducted every six minutes around the clock at Greece’s 7,000 cell phone masts showed that radiation is far lower than the limits allowed by Greek law. The bill brings new, stricter limits to radiation levels of cell telephone antennas. Deputy Communications Minister Anastassios Nerantzis told the committee that the radiation level allowed had already been stricter than that provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) by 20 percent before the new bill. This number has now risen to 30 percent and «as we get closer to points with more vulnerable population (schools, hospitals etc), the limits become 40 percent stricter,» Nerantzis stated, adding that if the limits got any stricter than that, cellular telephony would not be able to operate. He also stressed there are 27,000 different studies, and all of them – including those conducted by Dimitris Trichopoulos, a University of Athens epidemiology professor, and by the WHO – suggest these limits cause no health problems. As for the bill’s provision banning the positioning of cellular telephony antennas within 300 meters from schools, Nerantzis said this was done for psychological reasons. It is sheer hypocrisy, he argued, to protest cell phone antennas at schools, where pupils stay for just four hours, and say everything is fine wherever they are for the rest of the day. Constantinou added this clause should be discarded altogether as it suggests something bad is about to be averted. The draft law was accepted in principle by the main opposition, with PASOK Deputy Manolis Stratakis noting the public’s sensitivity to this issue. Communist Party Deputy Elpida Pantelaki rejected the bill, calling for even stricter measures, while Synaspismos Left Coalition Deputy Athanassios Leventis warned that people with pacemakers could be affected if they are within 12 meters of the antennas.