“Independent researchers who work on issues affecting public health often face an uphill climb when matched against an industry that has deep pockets and a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” said Thomas Cluderay, assistant general counsel for the Environmental Working Group. “Yet, the public has a right to know about the potential risks of long-term cellphone use, particularly for children.”
It’s been hard to draw mass attention to the issue, advocates say. People love their smartphones and tablets. Apps and wireless devices are a bright spot in the economy. And politicians tend to stay away from the controversy, advocates on the issue say.
Some, such as Davis, say they are often dismissed as paranoid.
“I know how this sounds. And there are a lot, I mean a lot, of people who are emotional about this and who aren’t scientists and don’t use the language of science,” Davis said. “But the fact that they are emotional doesn’t mean they are wrong.”
Davis says her passion on the issue does not arise solely from emotion. She has a doctorate in science studies and a master’s degree in epidemiology. Until 2010, she was founding director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Environmental Oncology. Since then, she has led the Environmental Health Trust, an advocacy group run out of her home in Teton Village, Wyo. She wrote “Disconnected,” a book laying out the lobbying campaign that, she argues, has prevented public awareness on cellphone safety.
“The science is there, and the issue of cellphones and cancer is going to be huge,” she says, whispering to emphasize the point. “This could be the next tobacco.”
Electrical engineers, physicists and other scientists say such conclusions are possible but not at all certain. Companies, meanwhile, who have funded their own research on the topic, strongly dispute such arguments.
Still, these firms have used their influence to lobby government officials on the issue.
Over the past two years, top lawyers for AT&T, Motorola, Nokia and other industry officials have met with senior FCC officials to ask for support in their fight against radiation labeling and disclosure laws in California and Maine, according to documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“This is a real David and Goliath issue,” said Lou Slesin, who publishes a blog on radiation science, Microwave News. “And even though no one knows the real answers, there is enough substantive information that calls for more research.”