- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

RICHMOND (AP) — The science is still not clear on whether the radiation emitted by cell phones poses a health hazard, but a number of lawsuits citing the risk have been given new life.

Despite the wireless industry’s efforts, those cases can now be heard by state courts after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived five class-action suits last week and returned them for trial in the states of origin.

Suits filed in 2001 in state courts in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Georgia and Louisiana asserted that Nokia Inc. and other cell phone makers failed to protect consumers from potentially harmful radiation and should be required to provide headsets to consumers. The plaintiffs also are seeking punitive damages.

The industry, for its part, is prepared to take appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to get the cases consolidated and heard in federal court, said Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated President Clinton and is the lead attorney for cell phone makers.

“It is certainly disruptive and makes it difficult to predict what, if any, costs might be involved,” said Paul F. Walter of Baltimore, a lawyer for Nokia.

The plaintiffs say the industry has violated various state laws concerning consumer protection, product liability, implied warranty, negligence, fraud and civil conspiracy.

“We have thoroughly examined the claims … and one thing is clear: The elements of each of the claims depend only on the resolution of questions of state law,” Judge M. Blane Michael wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Judge Michael Luttig. The case was decided by a three-judge panel.

The lawsuits were prompted by concerns that exposure to low-level radiation from cell phone antennae can lead to health problems.

Results of international studies have varied.

For example, a Swedish study published last year in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that people who use a cell phone for at least 10 years might increase their risk of developing acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor on the auditory nerve that carries sound from the ear to the brain.

In Britain, the chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board advised in January that parents should not give mobile phones to children 8 or younger as a precaution against the potential harm of radiation from the devices.

However, a Danish study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found no connection between cell phone use and acoustic-neuroma risk.

The Federal Communications Commission says there is no scientific proof that cell phones are hazardous.

But some in the scientific community say that the devices simply haven’t been in use long enough to make such claims and that more clinical data is needed.

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