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Radiation Fears Drive Sales Of Protective Gear

Despite scientists' latest findings, shelter from gadgets like mobile phones and Wi-Fi base stations is a thriving business.

"Despite unavoidable uncertainty, current scientific data are consistent with the conclusion that public exposures to permissible RF [radio frequency] levels from mobile telephony and [Wi-Fi] base stations are not likely to adversely affect human health."

That's the conclusion of Gradient scientist Peter A. Valberg and World Health Organization scientists T. Emilie van Deventer and Michael H. Repacholi, as stated in a research paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives in March.

However, that unavoidable uncertainty turns out to be a sufficiently sturdy foundation to build a business in RF protection gear. Business is healthy and growing at Less EMF, which sells anti-radiation items such as Skin-Blok (adhesive microwave shielding), a shielded cell phone holster, a low EMF (electromagnetic field) desktop telephone, and a variety of shielded fabrics, to name a few.

"More people are becoming aware," said Emil DeToffol, CEO of the 11-year-old online and retail businesses. "More people are becoming concerned. More people are becoming ill."

Indeed, to judge by the thousands of posts to the Electrical Sensitivity Group at Yahoo Health, there's a veritable electronic plague underway.

"Throughout the world, with the proliferation of cell phones and their towers and other devices emitting electromagnetic radiation, we are seeing dramatic increases in a number of illnesses (chronic fatigue syndrome, autism, ADD, mental illnesses, suicides, bizarre crimes, cancers, brain tumors, leukemias -- not to mention electrosensitivity)," said Yahoo Groups member Paul Doyon in a post yesterday inviting those in the Electrical Sensitivity group to join the new EMF Refugee Yahoo Group.

DeToffol rejects the prevailing scientific view that RF emissions at permissible levels pose little to no risk. "There's plenty of evidence, and it's very conclusive," he insisted. "The headlines, at least the way they're reported in the media, don't reflect the research."

Ron Melnick, a senior toxicologist in the environmental toxicology program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said there's more research to be done with regard to the health effects of mobile phones. "This is more in a gray area, and I'm not sure whether the gray is closer to the white or the black," he said. "There's not overwhelming evidence of a strong effect, but that doesn't mean there's no effect or a small, subtle effect."

Melnick said the U.S. government is preparing a more detailed study of mobile phone RF emissions involving mice and rats that should take several years to complete. "It's always hard to prove a negative," he said, "but we can challenge it to the extent possible such that if we see a negative, it adds a lot more confidence. And if we see a positive, then the hypothesis that there shouldn't be an effect would have to be re-examined."

As to the value of RF protective gear, Melnick declined to offer an opinion. "That's a personal decision," he said. "I can't say with absolute certainty that there's no risk."

The Federal Trade Commission takes a more skeptical line on its Web site, saying, "[T]here is no scientific proof that the so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from electromagnetic emissions. [P]roducts that block only the earpiece -- or another small portion of the phone -- are totally ineffective because the entire phone emits electromagnetic waves. What's more, these shields may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation."

A spokesperson for the FTC cautioned that, "There are a lot of false claims about these types of products." She said that product claims must be truthful, not misleading, and substantiated.

In 2003, the FTC won a settlement with the makers of WaveShield cell phone radiation shields, Interact Communications, that forced the company to stop making unsubstantiated claims about it product. The FTC complaint alleged "that the defendants made false statements that their products had been scientifically 'proven' and 'tested,' when in fact that was not the case."

While DeToffol dismisses competing EMF protection products from Biopro Technology as the "hand-waving" of a "multilevel marketing company," he insisted his company's products work. "The products that we sell can all be demonstrated objectively," he said. "You can show the shielding effect with a meter."

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