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Say What? CDC Flip-Flops on Cell Phone Danger

PHOTO: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became the first federal agency to acknowledge the potential health risks from using cell phones earlier this year. Then, just last week, the agency backtracked from its earlier statements of caution. Photo credit: Hoclab/Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became the first federal agency to acknowledge the potential health risks from using cell phones earlier this year. Then, just last week, the agency backtracked from its earlier statements of caution. Photo credit: Hoclab/Wikimedia Commons
August 26, 2014

NEW YORK - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently became the first federal agency to acknowledge health risks from cell phone use. Then, without any explanation, the agency suddenly backtracked on its findings.

Sometime before early June, the CDC posted significant new wording in a "Frequently Asked Questions" section on its website. For the question, "Do cell phones cause health problems in children?" the page read, "It's too soon to know for sure," and went on to say children will have more exposure over a lifetime growing up with cell phones.

However, by last week, the answer was changed to, "It's not known if cell phone use by children can cause health problems." Jim Turner, board chair of Citizens for Health and a public interest lawyer, speculates the changes were triggered either by industry lobbyists, government officials, or both.

"CDC wasn't sitting over there and put the thing up the first time and then said, 'Oh, wait a minute, let's take it down,'" explains Turner. "Somebody alerted them that they wanted it down or there was going to be trouble."

The agency has made other backtracking language changes to their website regarding cancer, and other health risks, from using cell phones.

Louis Slesin, editor and publisher of Microwave News, says the softening of the CDC's language is puzzling because, as he puts it, they've got "bigger fish to fry."

"With Ebola in Africa and all the things that are going on, it's really quite remarkable someone made the effort to change something that was really very, very minor," says Slesin. "All it was saying was, 'We think there's something to this. Don't discount it.' That's all they were really saying."

The CDC website also originally said, "We recommended caution in cell phone usage," but has since removed the "we" in the sentence. Jim Turner says even the softened statement is an eye-opener.

"For the CDC to say that 'some organizations recommend caution in cell phone use' is, in and of itself, a very, very significant statement," says Turner.

Slesin says he can't understand, and adds the CDC won't tell him, why the agency backed away from acknowledging several international studies that suggest health risks from cell phones.

"This is just telling people, 'We see the data. There are some issues here that need to be worked out. Be cautious until it is,'" says Slesin. "The fact they backed away from that is really quite extraordinary."

The agency also says in their FAQs "more research is needed" on cellphone hazard risks. Turner says that statement alone should spur the nation's nearly 328 million cell phone users to learn more about potential health hazards, and what they might do to lessen them.

The CDC has not returned a request for comment.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY