Entries in Carcinogens (3)


Maine ‘Smart’ Meters on Trial for Health Safety

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Are “smart” meters safe?  Or do these wireless devices, which use radio waves to report consumers’ electric consumption to utilities, pose a threat to health?

Such questions have been debated widely in California and other states.  Yet, to date, no state’s public utility commission has held public hearings on the question or conducted its own safety investigation.  Now, Maine is poised to do so.

So widespread are fears about the devices’ safety, according to the anti-meter group Naperville Smart Meter Awareness in Illinois, that three states have instituted moratoriums on them.  In others, anti-meter, class-action lawsuits are pending.  In California, says the group’s website, 47 municipal jurisdictions have either demanded a halt to installations or have criminalized them.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted on Tuesday to investigate the safety of Central Maine Power’s “smart” meters, 615,000 of which have been installed in homes throughout the state at a cost of $192 million, according to Smart Grid Today, an online journal that tracks the power industry.

The public utility commission vote followed a Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling two weeks ago that instructed the commission to resolve safety concerns about the meters, according to The Portland Press Herald.  Under Maine law, says Bruce McGlauflin, an attorney representing worried Maine utility customers, the commission must ensure that utilities provide safe service.

Exactly how the commission will do that remains to be seen.  “It’s been left to their discretion,” McGlauflin said.

“Smart” meters produce radio-frequency emissions similar to those produced by cellphones, he added.  Some people, including some of McGlauflin's clients, believe they have a heightened sensitivity to the emissions and blame them for migraines, sleeplessness and other physical or mental illnesses.

Dan Richman, a Smart Grid Today reporter, says utility commissions in California and other states have addressed the safety question by conducting reviews of scientific literature.  The result of such reviews, he says, has been uniform: “The literature concludes the meters are safe.”

In 2010, the California public utility commission, in rejecting what it called an unreasonable request to investigate alleged health impacts further, noted the meters’ emissions were one six-thousandth of those permitted by federal health standards.  The World Health Organization stands virtually alone in calling them a potential carcinogen.

No commission has held hearings; nor has any attempted its own original research.  For Maine to take either step, Richman says, would be a first.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Casts Doubt on Cellphone-Brain Cancer Link

Hemera/Thinkstock(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) -- A new study casts doubt on the possible link between cellphones and brain cancer, but experts say the risk can't be ruled out.

The study of 358,403 Danish cellphone plan subscribers over 17 years -- the largest study of its kind -- found subscribers of 13 years or more faced the same cancer risk as non-subscribers.

"In general, our findings are in line with most of the epidemiological research that has been conducted to date," said Patrizia Frei of the Danish Cancer Society's Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, lead author of the study published Thursday in the journal BMJ. "They are also in line with in vitro and in vivo studies that show no carcinogenic effects on the cellular level."

The results come just five months after a panel of experts from the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer deemed cellphones a possible cause of cancer -- a statement that sparked fear in many of the world's five billion cellphone users.

While Frei's findings offer some comfort for communicators on the go, experts say further studies are still warranted.

"Frei and colleagues' results may seem reassuring, but they must be put into the context of the 15 or so previous studies on mobile telephones and cancer," Anders Ahlbom and Maria Feychting of the Karolinska Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, wrote in a BMJ editorial. "Although most of these studies were also negative, there are a few exceptions."

"Most of data that shows an association between cellphones and brain cancer is very weak," said Timothy Jorgensen, associate professor at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Some such studies are limited by recall bias -- the tendency for people with cancer, desperate for answers, to over-report certain behaviors like cellphone use. Frei and colleagues avoided recall bias by using Denmark's central population register, a mammoth database containing health records as well as cellphone plan details for every resident from birth to death. The register also allowed the researchers to control for education and socioeconomic factors.

"No single study is definitive," said Dr. Peter Shields, deputy director of Ohio State University Medical Center's Comprehensive Cancer Center. "You can't say, based on this, that we never have to worry. But this may end up being the best study out there."

But the study has limitations. In particular, cellphone subscriptions were used as a surrogate for use. And "having a mobile phone subscription is not equivalent to using a mobile phone," Ahlbom and Feychting wrote.

Conversely, some users might be non-subscribers.

"In all of these studies, you have to get information from somewhere," said Jorgensen. "They assumed that people who subscribe to cellphone plans are using their phones, and I think that's a reasonable assumption. The alternative is to talk to people and ask them to tell you about their cellphone use. But people are notoriously inaccurate."

Even Frei admits the study doesn't close the book on cellphones and brain cancer.

"We didn't have any information on the amount of use, so we couldn't do any subanalysis on people with heavy phone use," she said. "There are still some open questions, about greater amounts of use, and about the effects on children."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


US Declares Styrene, Formaldehyde Carcinogens

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government on Friday declared styrene, a widely used chemical, "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

Styrene is used to make white foam coffee cups and food containers, and it is also used in building materials.

Formaldehyde, a chemical used to preserve lab specimens, among other uses, was also designated as a cancer causing agent.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio