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Long-term health risks remain unclear

SEATTLE -- Parents should think twice before giving in to a middle-schooler's demands for a cellphone, some scientists say, because potential long-term health risks remain unclear.

Researchers have speculated for more than 10 years that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from cellphones may damage DNA and cause benign brain tumors, said Henry Lai, a bioengineering professor at the University of Washington.

''We don't know very much about the health effects of cellphone use on kids, but there are speculations," Lai said.

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

When you use a cellphone, 70 to 80 percent of the energy emitted from the antenna is absorbed by the head, Lai said.

Last week, a federal appeals court in Maryland reinstated five class-action lawsuits claiming that the cellphone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation.

Research studies have pointed to the potential impacts of long-term absorption of cellphone-emitted radiation but little of the research has focused on the children. Lai said he was concerned about the impact on children because young skulls are thinner and the growing brain may be more susceptible to radiation.

He also said that because brain tumors usually take 30 to 40 years to develop, children who use cellphones from their teen years onward would have a longer period of time to see a cumulative impact.

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