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Are mobile phones safe?

Host_Ryan - One Show team | 14:56 UK time, Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Can't see the film? Click here to watch.

For The One Show Marty Jopson has been investigating the scare stories around using a mobile phone.

Watch his film here.

He looks at three popular mobile phone stories. In brief;

1) Marty concludes that mobile phones don't cause brain tumours - but studies are ongoing.

2) Do mobiles cause explosions at petrol stations? Marty says it's not mobile phones, but static electricity that can ignite petrol. He says phones shouldn't be used when you're filling the car because they're a distraction.

3) Should you make calls on the hospital ward? Marty discovered that in some special circumstances mobile phones can interfere with hospital equipment. So keep mobiles out of cardiac wards and if in doubt, ask.

Do you feel your mobile phone is safe? Also; Do you know of a 'tech myth' that Marty should investigate?

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  • 1. At 7:34pm on 01 Oct 2008, tighthead68 wrote:

    most mobiles are not 'intrisically safe'. this means they can cause explosions when keys are pressed in flammable environments .. ie petrol stations...

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  • 2. At 7:36pm on 01 Oct 2008, smelborp wrote:

    Regarding mobile phones at petrol stations, a friend who used to work at one told me they were banned because they disrupt the electronics in the pump and they certainly don't cause fires.

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  • 3. At 7:39pm on 01 Oct 2008, stuu3270 wrote:

    I have seen a video of an 'Airwave' radio/ phone handset (as used by police in the UK) causing an LED to light up.

    The bulb with just the two metal pins protruding and not attached to anything else was held near the handset. As it got closer the LED lit up!! As it was removed the LED faded.

    There is clearly an electronic field or energy of some kind emmitted from a mobile handset.

    This is why you should not use a mobile phone or radio transmitter less than 10 metres from an explosive device... or whilst re-fuelling at a petrol station.

    It is s genuine piece of footage as its used in counter terrorist training.

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  • 4. At 7:40pm on 01 Oct 2008, bouleau wrote:

    Great piece tonight. I'd always wondered about the use of mobiles at petrol stations. Many readers will be aware of the viral video that was very popular on youtube sometime back that appeared to show how you could make popcorn using a group of mobile phones. This was a hoax of course - but it had lots of people worried.

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  • 5. At 7:44pm on 01 Oct 2008, hsanetep wrote:

    As a person who worked worked until recently in a petrol station, I and my colleagues came up with lots of abuse from people who thoughtb that it was their right to use a mobile phone. The biggest disservbice was done by the TOP Gear programme when they surrounded a can of petrol with mobile phones and rang them. They might have got a different result if they had poured the petrol OVER the phones.
    Mobile phones arev treated as portable transmitting devices. Banning their nuse on at Petrol Stations is regulated by the 'Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations', and banning their use is also part of the 'Petroleum Licence' conditions laid down by the Local Authority that issues the Licence to each Petrol Station in the Country.

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  • 6. At 7:47pm on 01 Oct 2008, mickyork2000 wrote:

    I was very surprised about the Mobile Phone Myth. Yes it is a Myth but the real reason is as follows. Early Mobile phones had higher power RF transmitters in them and when operated in close vacinity to a petrol pump it could reset the reading of the pump allowing people to get away with paying for less fuel than actually went into the fuel tank. This wasnt general knowledge until CB radio guys caught on to the fact and then they used this to their advantage. Myself included with my Radio Ham Gear.

    Now that we have an EMC directive equipment is now built to ensure that it does not generate unwanted RF and is not sussceptable to RF Interference. Excuse spelling.


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  • 7. At 7:50pm on 01 Oct 2008, DavidTuirc wrote:

    I come from a military backrground involving explosives and very large volumes of flammable fuels, where such things were understandably a big issue. The problem relates to any mobile transmitter. The energy emitted may be received by metalic objects on the forecourt, eg. your car body, the energy released tries to earth through the nozzle causing a spark. The restriction on mobiles is somewhat undermined by the practice of mounting base station transmitters in close proximity to the forecourt, perhaps even in the big sign at the front. Your handset emits about 5 Watts, the base station several KiloWatts.

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  • 8. At 7:52pm on 01 Oct 2008, jasonsinden wrote:

    As i have worked and have been trained to a very high standard mobile phones in petrol station can and Serious consequences, which i have seen and have been involved in. there could be a chance of fire or explosions espeically if you were to drop amobile while dispensing fuel as feul vapors are heavier than air so they drop to the ground so if you drop your mobile or anything that can cause a spark it could ignite the feul vapor!!! secondly its the same as if your driving whilst using a mobile phone you are not concentrating on what you are doing, ie i have seen a lady get run over due to not thinking about what she was doing because she was talking on a phone while filling up she replace the punp turned around a walked straigt infront of a moving car resulting in two broken legs and head injuries!!! please Marty Jopson do your reserch properley ie, speak to people that manage petrol stations and that have been trained in managing feul !!!!

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  • 9. At 7:58pm on 01 Oct 2008, katyblog wrote:

    I was rather irritated by the piece on mobile phones in hospital. Maybe they are safe in parts of the hospital, but do visitors and even patients know where those parts are. For whatever reason we have become used to the idea that you switch off your mobile phone in hospitals. People in hospitals are usually ill or needing some sort of treatment. Do they need the noise and disruption of people talking on mobile phones around them. There is plenty of noise in a hospital anyway. I did not think the piece was helpful as no hint was given that maybe out of consideration for others mobile phones should continue to be switched off in hospitals. So now the NHS has to spend more money on posters or signs persuading people to switch off their phones anyway and waste time on arguments from others who don't want to and are not good at considering others. I do think you should balance your reports a little more carefully.

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  • 10. At 8:14pm on 01 Oct 2008, neil_peacock wrote:

    This is honestly the most misguided piece of consumer advice I have seen or heard in my life.
    Next time you're at a filling station, have a look at the pump, it will have an ATEX number, something like 00ATEX1234 and a code similar to II 2 G.
    This certifies that the pump and electronics are suitable for use in a flammable atmosphere.
    Now think about the pump, where is the most hazardous area?
    At the nozzle where there is a large amount of petrol vapour (it's the vapour that ignites, it's very hard to light the liquid).
    Now if you are standing there using a mobile phone, which is not hazardous area approved (although you can get them for industrial use) the slightest spark created by the phone could ignite the vapour cloud around the nozzle. You would, of course, release the trigger stopping the flow of petrol from the pump, but the vapours would still be spewing out the filler pipe of your car.
    So please, please, please don't use a moble in a petrol station.

    PS My last job was as a hazardous area inspector, checking electrical installations in chemical factories.

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  • 11. At 8:39pm on 01 Oct 2008, mickyork2000 wrote:

    With respect to comment number 1

    "tighthead68 wrote:
    most mobiles are not 'intrisically safe'. this means they can cause explosions when keys are pressed in flammable environments .. ie petrol stations..."

    Strange thing this EX stuff. Motor Vehicles are also not 'intrisically safe' and have no classification.

    Nor do the lighting and PA systems in filling stations and to top it all some of the waste bins have a place to stub out cigarretes wihin 12inches of a pump nozzle.

    Weird stuff.


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  • 12. At 9:48pm on 01 Oct 2008, Ugly-Troll wrote:

    Come on One Show bad advice given here on mobile phones. The RF hazard (radio frequency hazard) is well known from all radio transmitting equipment particularly hand held equipment in hazardous atmospheres or environments. The RF waves from a phone or other transmitting device are inducted into metal objects around it. They (the induced current) will then find the path of least resistance to earth, jumping small gaps and creating small sparks in the process.
    Now if the spark to earth occurrs in an environment laden with fuel vapours within their ideal flammable range (not too lean or too rich) the result will be vapour ignition.
    I do not dispute your article on the static electricity from clothing also igniting vapours at petrol stations, but to report the practice of non mobile phone use at petrol stations because they are only just a ''distraction'' and nothing else is not true.
    Another example of the RF hazard from radio wave transmitting equipment: As a member of a Fire and Rescue Service responding to an RTC (road traffic collision) we do not allow any radio transmitting equipment within 10 metres of a crashed vehicle non deployed airbag as an induced voltage from radio waves can cause inadvertant air bag deployment during casualty rescue.
    So maybe there is more to the humble mobile phone than you report............................................................................................................

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  • 13. At 9:56pm on 01 Oct 2008, Ugly-Troll wrote:

    Number12 comment from Simon in North Yorkshire

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  • 14. At 00:13am on 02 Oct 2008, paulmerron1 wrote:

    Well done Simon and well said A BIG TUT TUT ONESHOW BAD ADVICE BADLY RESEARCHED. You are not alone as the Brainiacs programme got it wrong also (it was the guy from Top Gear but not actually top gear prog as sugested by cotributer No 5)
    This is a very rare event but I have had experience of attanding an incident at a petrol station where petrol vapour was ignited by RF causing a spark between the coins in a customers pocket Thankfull the person was not badly injured.
    Here is an added little gem though, you may think it is safe because you are not actually talking on the phone so no problem. Well not so, your mobile needs to let the network know where it is or which transmitter/receiver it is nearest to so that when someone calls you the network knows where to route the call.
    One show you simply have to make this right and do another piece on mobiles at petrol stations, properly researched

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  • 15. At 05:50am on 02 Oct 2008, smartconcerned wrote:

    Last night item on mobile phones was very misleading, I don't know where they did their research but it wasn't done very well. There is plenty of evidence out there about the harmful effects of mobile phones on health. Perhaps they should go to the radiation research trust website http://www.radiationresearch.org/. There is plenty of good evidence there about the dangers. I for one had burns on the back of my ear after prolonged use of a mobile phone! The idea that it is the battery that makes your head warm is ridiculous, has anyone felt a battery in anything that is turned on? It feels cold, the only time that it warms up is when it is being charged!!!

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  • 16. At 10:24am on 02 Oct 2008, JohnDownend wrote:

    Last nights One Show’s item on mobile phone health risks was probably one of the most shameful, irresponsible piece of “investigative” journalism I have ever seen. Only last week the national newspapers reported the very latest research from Sweden showing that children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancers/tumours in the future if they use mobile phones. The study, experts say, raises fears that today's young people may suffer an "epidemic" of the disease in later life. Please see the following link:


    Yet the BBC chose to rely on a seriously flawed, outdated piece of research from 1995 which the Powerwatch research organisation described as, “an extremely flawed piece of research, that either by design, incompetence or unavailability of data seemed destined to find no effect from the very beginning”. Please see the following link:


    It is very noticeable that the BBC never mentions the thousands of independent, peer reviewed, research studies that regularly prove that this technology is unsafe. (Please see Mast Sanity/Radiation Research Trust/Powerwatch Websites). Indeed despite last week’s report by all the national newspapers on the above research from Sweden, which proved a serious health problem with mobile phones, the BBC chose to ignore the story! Instead of bothering to properly investigate this serious issue properly the One Show’s Marty Jopson decided to rely on a piece of outdated, flawed research to try and dupe viewers into thinking that using a mobile phone is harmless.

    The BBC’s continual support of the mobile phone operators leads one to assume that it is driven by the £multi millions they have tied up in wireless technology and their mobile links. This will be seen as a serious mistake when the serious health risks of this dangerous technology is eventually proved beyond all doubt. May I suggest that in future this BBC bias is balanced by contacting either Mast Sanity’s press office, Powerwatch or the Radiation Research Trust for an alternative view point.

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  • 17. At 11:42am on 02 Oct 2008, hazel_love wrote:

    Re the point about phone in hospitals...it would appear that in just a few short sentences, Marty Jopson has told several million either stupid or rude (or possibly both) that it is perfectly ok to use their mobile phones in hospitals.

    Right there.

    Another reason for those people to throw at the already harassed staff that they CAN use their phones coz the bloke off the telly said it was all right.

    ...and why should the doctors further have to be relied upon to decide that a mis-reading machine is being made so by the proximity of a mobile phone? If the cables act as antennae, then why be able to use a phone *anywhere* near *anything* in a hospital?

    This article wasn't about de-bunking, it was a load of nonsense. People are asked not to use their mobile telephones for good reason.

    Why can't that just be so.

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  • 18. At 4:34pm on 02 Oct 2008, mobilesafety wrote:

    Is this programme supposed to be serious or a joke?
    If serious then either budget cuts must have allowed for little time to do any proper research or this is just more spin put out by the BBC in the wake of the reports mainly in the print media on the latest research showing a 5 times increased risk of brain tumours for mobile phone users who started under 20 years old, ie children.

    To quote from a meta analysis of ALL the brain tumour research to that point (2007)


    We conclude that results from present studies on use of mobile phones for >=10 years give a consistent pattern of an increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma. The risk is highest for ipsilateral exposure.

    The Danish study had many methodological errors as detailed below.

    It is always interesting to see which sections of the media choose to report the findings of which studies. It is easy to see which side they are on!
    People are left to have to do the research for themselves.

    'The Danish cohort study on mobile phone subscribers was updated with follow-up through 2002 for cancer incidence. As previously,
    >200 000 (32%) company subscribers were excluded and apparently instead included in the population-based comparison group. The expected numbers were based on the general population. However, a large part of the population does use mobile phones and/or cordless phones, the latter use not assessed at all in the study. There was no truly unexposed group for comparison. Of the subscribers, 85% were men and 15% were women, thus giving a very skewed sex distribution.

    There seemed to be a "healthy worker" effect in the study, as SIR was significantly decreased to 0.95 (95% CI 0.9 to 0.97) for all cancers. In the group with >=10 years since first subscription, significantly decreased SIR of 0.7 (0.4 to 0.95) was found for brain and nervous system tumours indicating methodological problems in the study. Temporal glioma yielded SIR = 1.2 (0.9 to 1.6). This finding was based on 54 people. No latency data were given or laterality of phone use in relation to tumour localisation in the brain.'

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  • 19. At 9:48pm on 02 Oct 2008, Melanie Grant wrote:

    Hi - Melanie from The One Show team here......it's really exciting to see how the debate on this blog is evolving.

    The producer of the film, Zoe saw all your comments on this blog and couldn't resist getting invovled in the debate too. She wanted to share a few things with you, here's what she had to say:

    "Obviously, with all our science items we research the available scientific data. These are often complex areas, with differing points of view and in some cases conflicting scientific results. We aim to give a balanced view of the current state of scientific thinking, and the information in Marty’s film is all accurate. But as mobile phones are a relatively new technology, there isn’t much known of the long-term effects – so vigorous, enquiring debate is one that we’d encourage!"

    "With regards to the cancer risk. The Danish study we refer to in the film is research by Schuz et al published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2006). As in any academic debate there have been criticisms of the Danish study and the way it was conducted. But on balance the data is accepted. Cancer Research UK use it as the basis for their advice to the public. See the info on the site:
    http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/healthyliving/cancercontroversies/mobilephones/ "

    "JohnDonwned thanks for your comment – you mentioned research announced at a conference last month that found increased cancer risk in mobile phone users under 16. As a conference paper, it’s not yet published or gone through full peer review yet, so it’s difficult for us to comment - but our science team is looking into it. Thanks for that."

    "The blog debate on mobile phones in petrol station is fascinating – especially as it involves people with such a wide range of expertise. We looked carefully at the issue. With an RF power of about 2W and under normal operation, the radiation from a mobile phone would not be enough to ignite a spark that would lead to an explosion. As hsanetep says petrol stations are regulated by the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations. The guidelines given to Petroleum Enforcement Officers enforcing this states that 'their use can create a serious distraction for people carrying out dispensing activities. Radio transmissions from individual mobile telephones are generally too low to induce currents in nearby equipment and the risk of incendive sparking from the battery is low, however they should not be used in the hazardous areas that exist when actually dispensing petrol."

    "As always the debate is ongoing – so we’d love to hear more of your thoughts."

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  • 20. At 10:26am on 03 Oct 2008, JohnDownend wrote:


    Thank you for responding to my posting. I do I think your comments prove my point that your report on mobile phones was biased. You said, “We aim to give a balanced view of the current state of scientific thinking, and the information in Martys film is all accurate”. That is not correct. There was no balance whatsoever. Where was an opposing view eg a comment from an organisation such as Powerwatch or Mast Sanity? You then go on to say, “But as mobile phones are a relatively new technology, there isnt much known of the long-term effects”. How on earth then can your reporter categorically state that mobile phones do not cause brain tumours and other cancers, especially when it relied on flawed research and completely ignored peer reviewed research showing serious health concerns from mobile phone use, such as the following:

    Mobile Phones and Other Tumours
    - Parotid / Salivary Gland Tumours
    - Other Tumours
    Mobile Phone Radiation and Fertility
    - Sperm Motility and Testicular Cancer
    Mobile Phone Radiation and EEG or Neurological Effects
    - Neurological Effects
    - EEG and rCBF Effects
    - Other Effects
    Mobile Phone Radiation and DNA Strand Breaks / Cellular Damage
    - DNA Strand Breaks and Cell Mutation / Death
    - Heat Shock Protein Type Effects
    - Nerve Damage and Signalling Effects
    Mobile / Cordless Phones and Brain Cancer
    - Lennart Hardell and Swedish Research
    - Flaws, Recall Bias and Selection Bias
    - The Interphone Project
    - Other Research

    This proves the serious bias and inaccuracy of your report and highlights the obvious huge influence that the mobile operators have on the BBC.

    As previously mentioned the latest studies show children who use a phone are 5 times more likely to develop cancers. Indeed the Health Protection Agency’s guidance on mobile phones is that they should only be used in an emergency by children. Yet your irresponsible report, by a presenter who treated the issue as one big joke, denied any health concerns. Many enlightened parents do not want their children to use a mobile phone. Your report is on at a time when children are watching. For those of us who are aware of the serious health issues with mobile phones your report sent out completely the wrong message. I wonder how many parents, having seen your show, will now think that it is safe for their child to use a mobile.

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  • 21. At 3:40pm on 03 Oct 2008, StayWired wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 9:23pm on 03 Oct 2008, StayWired wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 23. At 11:02pm on 03 Oct 2008, StayWired wrote:

    I removed the e-mail address, so why was my comment removed, please?

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  • 24. At 11:20pm on 03 Oct 2008, StayWired wrote:

    (third time lucky)...

    Firstly, Melanie/Zoe: The research JohDownend is referring to is not "a conference paper, it?s not yet published or gone through full peer review yet, so it?s difficult for us to comment" as you put it - it was peer reviewed, published on PubMed and widely reported (apart from the BBC) when it came out last September (2007). I.e. more recent than the Danish study.:-


    "Long-term use of cellular phones and brain tumours: increased risk associated with use for > or =10 years." by Hardell L et al. at Department of Oncology, University Hospital, Orebro, Sweden.

    The aim: "To evaluate brain tumour risk among long-term users of cellular telephones."
    Conclusions: "[The] Results from present studies on use of mobile phones for > or =10 years give a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma. The risk is highest for ipsilateral [same-side] exposure."

    Marty quoting one - disputed - source and using it as the only basis of his piece to state to the UK population at large that "So, are we all frying our brains? Well, the largest ever mobile phone brain tumour study says "No". The survey of 400,000 Danish people who used a mobile for over 10 years found that tumours were no more likely than normal." You've categorically stated that Mobile Phones do not cause brain tumours, despite many studies and evidence to the contrary. This is highly irresponsible to say the least.

    Secondly, Melanie/Zoe you just stated the Petroleum Enforcement Officers guidelines including "Radio transmissions from individual mobile telephones are generally too low to induce currents in nearby equipment and the risk of incendive sparking from the battery is low, however they should not be used in the hazardous areas that exist when actually dispensing petrol." This should have been stated by Marty Joplin at the end of his piece, but wasn't.

    Thirdly, giving the impression that mobile phones are OK to use anywhere in hospitals as long as they are not used in cardiac wards - "if in doubt, ask" is equally irresponsible. If signs say "don't use mobile phones" they are probably there for a good reason - perhaps the signs are adjacent to,
    below or above a sensitive area. And what about intensive care wards? No mention.

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  • 25. At 1:46pm on 04 Oct 2008, PC_be_Damned wrote:

    I was once on a plane and half way across the Atlantic when the pilot came on the speaker and asked if all passengers could check their mobile 'phones were switched off as they were getting some strange readings from the instuments. So clearly there is an issue with instrumentation.

    To be honest I really wish they did harm the brains of their inconsiderate and tedious users who insist on inflicting the fact that they're on the train or what they had for breakfast or that they snogged Jonathan last night on me.

    How about a new national pasttime: Mobile phone bingo. If you travel with a friend, each go out with a different grid of words. Each time someone on their mobile uses one of the words, you score it out. The winner is the one who gets a line or a house first. It's important to make it very clear that you're hanging on every word the person using the 'phone is saying, but of course they mustn't see the words or it could affect the game. It'll drive them nuts.

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