Microshield - mobile phone radiation protection cases

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What follows is a transcript of a talk at October’s 3rd annual cellular industry’s convention entitled Mobile Phones-Is There a Health Risk? given by Microshield’s General Manager John Simpson on the experiences of over 3000 users who have contacted the company over the past 30 months or so, giving details of health problems they have associated with using their mobile.

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Microshield started selling mobile phone radiation protection cases to the public in the summer of 1996 and at last year’s corresponding conference, we reported on a 1000 users who had contacted us with details of health effects suffered as a result of using their mobile. In the past twelve months, we have received almost double that number of reports and now have details of nearly 3000 users who can clearly relate to suffering from either one, or a combination of symptoms from what is now a fairly well defined list.

Coincidentally, there have been a number of important studies published this last year which have supported these claims by users, none the least of which were this year’s Mild studies from Scandinavia which revealed a significant correlation between the amount of time spent on a mobile and the incidence and severity of symptoms such as headaches, burning sensations and fatigue recorded by users.

Our own experiences in recording user’s symptoms are illustrated in Appendix No. 1 and shows the percentage breakdown between the various groups. The groups have been arranged in accordance with the tendency for symptoms to occur together and also where they are similar in nature e.g headaches, migraines and other pains in the head. Reports by users of multiple symptoms i.e. from more than just one group, are recorded as just one victim, but with each individual symptom being listed separately within it’s relevant group. Users reporting multiple symptoms from more than one group account for 22% of the total number of calls.

Taking each group in turn, as expected headaches feature the most prominently, accounting for 38% of the total.

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This category is one we have recognised as having the greatest potential for falsely accusing the mobile for the symptom. Many users are likely to suffer headaches at some stage or other and we have deliberately restricted the collation of this group to those users who do not normally suffer headaches and who can relate their new found condition to occurring either during or directly after a call. Had we recorded all reports of this symptom, the number of complaints under this group alone would have comfortably exceeded 5000. In the event, reports where the symptom details did not meet the above criteria, have been were dismissed and not included.

Most users report the pain or ache on the same side as they hold the phone and normally in the temporal region. They describe it variously as being dull, throbbing or at it’s most worse “splintering, almost as if their skull was actually cracking”. Users whose pain is located on one side of the head, can invariably reproduce it on the other side by switching ears. This they have usually discovered as a result of trying to obtain temporary relief from their symptom or else as a part of a process of elimination exercise, aimed at trying to locate the root of their problem.

In addition to the significant reference of this symptom in this year’s Mild studies, reports of headaches have also emerged in the USA, Australia and many other countries. Research by Frey 1. published this year, proposed that there was “significant evidence in the literature that indicates the blood-brain barrier does breakdown with exposure to low intensity cellular telephone frequency band microwave radiation”. Associations between a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier and headaches have already been made in published research (2-4) . These findings would tend to support the view that such reports by mobile are not imaginary and are scientifically well founded.

Also included in this group are migraines and other pains in the head.

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Eye And Ear Problems

At 28%, this represents the second largest symptom’s group, with ear problem reports outnumbering those of the eye by a ratio of approximately 2:1. This group includes reports of dizziness and nausea in view of their association with balance and inner ear problems, but not nausea sometimes produced by migraine attacks. Burning/warming effects to the ear are dealt with separately in another group. The ear problems are normally confined to earaches or sharp pains inside the ear. Reports of pains just behind the ear are also very common. Some users even experience what they describe as tinnitus, whilst others talk of infections and in some cases partial deafness. Many sufferers also report the pain descending down from the ear onto the jaw. All reports relate to the same side of the head as the phone is held.

The eye problems include tics or fluttering of the eyelids and a blurring of vision, always in the eye nearest the phone. More severe symptoms include burst blood vessels (bloodshot eye) or even loss of vision. Research from around the world would tend to support the view held by these users that their mobile was the cause of their eye problem, with reports from the famous Karolinska Hospital in Sweden and a leading ophthalmologist in Japan suggesting that problems are now manifesting themselves and Prof. Henry Kues of the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory reporting at a conference on cellular phone health problems in Bologna 1997, that joint experiments with the University Medical School had found that relatively low RF levels could cause significant ocular effects, including the destruction of corneal endothelial cells, increased vascular permeability, changed electro- physiological measures indicative of altered visual function and destruction of photoreceptors in the retina.

Like the headache group of sufferers, many of this group are able to replicate symptoms on the other side of their head by switching ears.

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Heating / Burning Sensations

Accounting for 11% of the total, reports of these effects mainly centre around or inside the ear, but are often apparent in the face and neck. They vary in intensity from just a mild warming sensation, to a feeling of being burnt. In recording the warming sensations we have not included the normal heat one might associate with holding any object against the head for a period of time. Only where the user has been able to make a firm distinction that what they are experiencing is something different, have we recorded their details.

Generally the feeling of warming relates to time spent on the phone, but contrary to expectations, no matter how long a user spends on a call, the sensation rarely turns into burning as logic might suggest. Conversely, for those who describe their experience as burning, the appearance of the symptom is often more immediate and not so time dependent. In fact, the whole effect is much more pronounced. Here the eye and even the teeth can also be affected, with some users reporting feeling as if they had been burnt inside their head. As with the other aforementioned symptoms, these can be replicated on the other side of the head by the user switching ears.

The more dramatic experiences we have recorded in this group, have been instances where the phone has left an indelible mark on the skin, in the form of a red, inflamed, raised area of flesh which hardens over a period of time and is exactly the same size and shape as the mobile itself. These reports are from users who keep their phone held against or near to their bodies for long periods of time e.g attached to their belt, where the mobile shaped marks appear around the hip region. Another such report was from a user who kept the phone in a holster type arrangement where the phone was located almost under the armpit. Here the mark manifested itself on the inside of the upper arm and the side of the chest. Invariably the victim’s doctors diagnose these marks as necrosis due to radiation exposure.

In all reported cases of this phenomena, the phone has never been in direct contact with the skin and very often has a leather case wrapped around it. Curiously the phones in question would also have been in standby mode and other than sporadic checkback signals with the local base station, would be working at significantly lower levels of emissions than in talk mode. Equally curiously, the users report no feeling of burning or even warming at the time, although they do feel sore once the mark is apparent. It is also strange that whilst we receive reports of rashes on the face, ear and neck, we have no reports of similar marks appearing on user’s faces, where the phones would be working at far greater power levels.

This is the one group where it might be assumed that the mechanism causing the symptom is the well known thermal effects of microwave radiation.

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Numbness / Tingling

This group also accounts for 11% of the total number of reports and is a very close cousin of the aforementioned heating group, but with the problems manifesting themselves in the form of a numbing sensation or tingling, mainly located in the outer ear, face, jaw or neck. The effect felt is superficial in nature i.e. on top of the skin. Often described as being like pins and needles, this symptom is more often than not reported in conjunction with dull headaches. Users describe the tingling sensation as being similar to staying in the sun too long, but falling short of feeling burnt. Severity of the effects are linked quite closely to length of calls.

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Memory Loss

Although only responsible for 8% of the total number of reported symptoms, this group showed the greatest growth during the last twelve months, with an eight fold increase over the previous period.

Users reporting these symptoms are normally asked their age, as memory loss is of course something that happens to many of us as we get older. What has surprised us therefore is the continual reporting of this symptom by users in their twenties and thirties, ages which one would normally associate with being well outside Alzheimer’s territory. Victims talk of suddenly going blank in mid conversation or finding themselves in places and forgetting why they’ve gone there.

The memory loss is always short term in nature and rarely reported as a single symptom on it’s own. The other associated symptoms however are ones which users find very difficult to describe. They talk of coming off the phone feeling disoriented and unnecessarily stressed, muddled or fuzzy, finding it difficult to concentrate or feeling just plain strange. User’s friends and colleagues observing this behaviour describe it as being very vague, finding it hard to express themselves and just not being with it. Fatigue very often accompanies these symptoms, with users feeling tired if they’ve been on the phone a lot that day.

These statistics on short term memory loss support the work on rats by Dr Henry Lai reported by him at last years conference and also the research recently completed this year by scientists at the the British Defence agency DERA, which studied rats brain cells and showed changes which would be consistent with a loss of memory problem and sudden confusion, as attested to above by the experiences of real, live, human mobile phone users.

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This group contains some of the more unusual symptoms which users experience. Many of these show a convincing relationship to mobile phone usage, irrespective of how bizarre they might be but with others, although reported on many occasions, the link with the mobile is more tenuous.

Among the former of these, is a user who gets severe nose bleeds every time he uses his mobile. He had never experienced a nose bleed before this, not even in adolescence. They start 30 seconds or so into a call and stop shortly after it has finished, although more often than not the bleed itself is what ends up terminating the call. Needless to say the user no longer owns a mobile. He tried using a hands free kit but to no avail. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that some studies have shown that these devices appear to be leaking radiation up through the wire and out of the ear piece. We also have a user whose kidneys are affected when he wears his phone on his belt, making them feel very sensitive and him to pass water far more often than usual.

Slightly less unusual, are reports of toothache in teeth containing fillings, which presumably has something to do with the research announced at last years conference by Dr Chou which showed that the presence of any metal object within the near field of a mobile, could intensify the radiation levels by a factor of up to 50. Coincidentally some of the more violent reactions reported to us are from users who have had quite extensive metal based dental work.

Of the latter group, by far the most serious are reports by users of brain tumours or lumps in the neck (lymphomas). Always described as being located exactly where they held their mobile, the victims are convinced their condition was caused by it. Of the seventeen cases reported to us, 14 have been from right-handed users and 3 left-handed. All bar two are located on the corresponding side, except two of the right-handed victims who have their tumour on the left hand side of their head. It transpired however that although they were both right-handed, they held their phone in their left hand most of the time so they could write with their strongest one. None of these reports were pre-existing conditions before the mobile was bought and all victims are aged 35 or less and were very heavy users. Only two have any family history of similar problems.

A considerable number of users from all of the aforementioned groups also report experiencing a sensation of being aware that “something is there” on the side nearest the phone, both during and for a while after being on the mobile. We have not included these reports in our statistics as the sensation does not appear to cause any distress, but users are adamant that the feeling is real and not imagined, explaining that they do not experience the same sensation when they use an ordinary land line handset or their cordless phone at home.

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What has also become more evident over the past twelve months, is what we refer to as the sensitisation period. It’s almost as if the body will take only so much exposure and then decides it’s had enough and starts to react in different ways. Many of the above symptoms only appear therefore, after the phone has been used for a while and it is not immediately apparent that it’s the phone which is the cause. Only after quite painstaking processes of elimination do many victims realise that their symptoms only appear either during or after being on their mobile. Most reports we receive of the immediate emergence of symptoms, tend to be from users who have just switched from analogue to digital phones.

Length of a phone call does of course correlate with the intensity felt by users of most of the symptoms, but our findings are pointing increasingly more to this problem being one of cumulative exposure. Once aggregate thresholds have been reached, there appears to be no going back. Users by then have reached the stage where relatively low levels of exposure triggers off their symptoms, which in turn then start to become more intense. As with most health problems, individual’s tolerance levels all seem to be different. There appears to be little evidence of the body’s own repair mechanism at work in so far as a period away from the phone may well result in a disappearance of symptoms, but they re-emerge with equal severity on immediate resumption of use.

This sensitisation period will in part explain why more and more users are starting to complain of problems and also why in time, this problem may escalate as more and more users reach their own individual exposure thresholds. If out hypothesis is correct, then even low users who think they’re safe, wont be exempt. Undoubtedly there will always be those whose bodies will never react, but we do not believe that this problem will, as first thought, be restricted to the select group of the so called electro- magnetically hypersensitive.

Our familiarity with this sensitisation phenomena has this year led us to criticise the methodology of Dr Preece’s work at Bristol where he is using student volunteers to carry out short term memory research on mobiles sponsored by the Department of Health. We believe that in using students whose exposure to mobile phone radiation may be minimal, they may not reach their own personal exposure thresholds by the time the experiments have finished and thus yield a negative effects conclusion. Existing users of some standing should have been used instead. Another side issue is that we understand that he is not modulating the microwave with a low frequency band which is how the system works “live”.

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Other Developments

The past year has seen a number of other developments including the release of a supposedly low radiation phone by mobile manufacturers Hagenhuk. Interestingly enough this brought with it it’s own unique symptom, which was described by a well known Sunday Times health columnist as being like an electrical surge travelling up the arm and sending terrible pains into her shoulder. The refusal of high street cellular dealers to stock the product has led to it’s subsequent withdrawal from the market.

The last twelve months has also seen the proliferation of the availability of shielding devices, many quite dubious in nature. The Microshield itself has received it’s own share of criticism from those in the industry who do not understand how it could work. So it was with a fair degree of satisfaction that we received the results of British Telecom’s own tests on our product in March this year, which were carried out using a GSM digital network simulator, similar to the one which had been used in our own original tests and also a salt water column designed to replicate the user’s head. Their results show that our case specifically shields against the radiation in the direction of the head and can reduce the user’s exposure by as much as 99%. Shielding in the opposite direction is not as evident and it is this which still allows the phone to operate.

Interestingly enough, BT’s decision to test the Microshield was prompted by a number of their staff requesting protection having experienced symptoms from using their mobile. Like the Hagenhuk, we too have experienced the same reticence by the cellular high street dealers to stock our product, but users track us down nonetheless and our product provides the majority of sufferers relief from their symptoms.

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The past year has also seen the world’s first large scale epidemiological study in the form of the Hansson Mild et al studies (5) in Sweden and Norway. Done on a mature mobile phone market (which would take into account our hypothesis on the sensitisation period) it revealed in the words of the report itself, a significant association between time spent on the phone and the incidence and severity of symptoms such as the ones we’ve recorded over the past two years or so.

The study was set up to explore whether digital phones were worse than analogue at causing these symptoms. The data collected showed that there was no clear distinction and that both were as bad as each other. The NRPB in the UK has concluded therefore that this was a negative effect study.

Microshield’s findings in the UK actually show that digital phones are by far the worst culprits, but anyone knowing anything about the Scandinavian analogue network would understand that the reason for the disparity, is due to their system being one of the oldest around and not as sophisticated as the newer ones. The phones that they use have only two power settings, high or low. If the user is close to a transmitter then the phone will set itself to work at the lower level, but once the signal strength starts to drop, it immediately powers up to full strength to maintain the call.

The analogue phones over here in the UK are newer and have more than two power settings. Consequently, only in worst scenario cases of reception are they operating at full power. Conversely in Scandinavia, analogue users are more often than not exposing themselves to higher power levels and hence why they were experiencing more symptoms than might otherwise be expected.

There is one thing however that the victims in the Scandinavian studies and the users contacting Microshield in the UK all have in common, which is that their reports of suffering symptoms are dismissed by the UK’s NRPB as if they didn’t even exist. The NRPB describe this body of evidence from bona fide members of the public as anecdotal evidence and too subjective to be of any use for inclusion in risk assessment study or standard setting.

The latter we can understand as not nearly enough science is available to translate experiences into numbers, but for purposes of giving advice to members of the public, surely this cannot be the case? We are not after all talking about a few isolated psychosomatic complaints here and it seems to us to be more than a little unfair, not to mention unwise, that mobile users should be allowed to continue using their phone without any word of caution whatsoever from the authorities, just because the scientific community can’t identify their precious mechanism which they always seem so hell bent on wanting, before they act.

In the meantime users, which includes children, continue to expose themselves without the benefit of being made aware of the real life experience of others. Based on those experiences, the advice from bodies such as the NRPB at this current point in time, should be a minimum of advocating good prudent avoidance principles until the research is in place to be more definitive on the matter. But with the cellular industry said to be worth fifteen billion pounds p.a. to the UK economy, we doubt very much if this will happen.

We finish by asking the simple question. How on earth does any health problem manifest itself in the first place without anecdotal evidence? Without real people saying ouch, that hurts! The answer of course is it rarely does. The problem as always is that commercially driven technological development always outstrips the pace of medical research, which in turn outpaces the eventual implementation of new safety standards. In the case of the mobile phone health issue, the technology is already way off in the distance and research is just about to get on the starting blocks. New appropriate safety standards are an awful long way off and the delay in waiting could prove very costly . Until then all we have is good old anecdotal evidence to go on and we should ignore it at our peril!

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1. Allan H. Frey
    Headaches from Cellular Telephones :
    Are They Real and What Are The Implications ?
    Environ. Health Perspect. Vol. 106. No.3, March 1998

2. Sandyk R, Awerbuch GI.
    The co-occurance of multiple sclerosis and migraine headache:
    the serotoninergic link.
    Int J Neurosci 76:249-257(1994)

3. Janigro et al,
    Regulation of blood-brain barrier endothelial cells by nitric oxide.
    Circ res 75(3):528-538(1994)

4. Winkler et al,
    Impairment of blood-brain barrierfunction by serotonin induces
    desyncronisation of spontaneous cerebral cortical activity:
    experimental observations in the anaesthetized rat.

5. Hansson Mild et al,
    Comparison of analogue and digital mobile phone users and symptoms.
    A Swedish-Norwegian epidemiological study(1998)

Appendix 1

Microshield - mobile phone radiation protection cases

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