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Most Germans are convinced their mobiles are killing them By Ernest Gill

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Wednesday September 6, 2006

By Ernest Gill, Hamburg, Germany- There are now more mobile phones in Germany than there are Germans and a new poll shows most Germans are convinced their mobiles are slowly killing them. In the nation that invented the word "angst," the fear barometer of the respected Emnid Institute is a well-known gauge of German angst levels. The latest Emnid survey shows that, despite terrorism jitters, more Germans are afraid of harmful effects from mobiles than of the threat of radical Islamic terrorists.

A whopping 55 per cent said they believe cell phones emit harmful levels of electromagnetic and low-level microwave radiation. Germans even have a word for this unseen killer: "elektro-smog."

In contrast to their fear of insidious elektro-smog, just 38 per cent believe Germany faces any imminent terrorist threat.

And that elektro-smog percentage level was nationwide, both rural and urban. In urban areas the angst levels are much higher. In the major port of Hamburg, which has a population of nearly 2 million, Emnid researchers found that 82 per cent are convinced their mobiles pose a serious health threat.

Ironically, the survey findings coincide with figures from the telecommunications industry showing that there are now more than 90 million mobiles in Germany, compared to 82 million human beings.

A quarter of those human beings - presumably infants and inmates and invalids - still have no mobile. That means the vast majority of Germans have at least one mobile phone if not two or more.

And mobile ownership is higher in eastern Germany where, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many people went from having no individual home phone connection of their own at all to having only mobiles, bypassing landlines entirely.

So for millions of Germans, mobiles are their only link with the outside world. And most Germans are convinced they are carrying elektro-smog emitters around with them in their purses and pockets every day.

This national angst has been fuelled by frightening new findings by the renowned Max Planck Institute revealing that mobile phone emissions do appear in fact to have a deleterious effect, at least on synthetic cell membranes.

Researchers say that longterm exposure to low-level phone emissions at very close range resulted in an elevation of membrane temperature to the boiling point of water.

"That indicates an emission level 100 times higher than previously thought possible," said Max Planck Institute director Markus Antonietti.

The findings allegedly show that localized radiation can result in even higher temperatures - up to 10,000 degrees Celsius - for exceedingly brief periods of a fraction of a second in very isolated cell structures.

"And the energy from mobiles disrupts molecules so thoroughly that cell membranes can in fact rupture," he added.

He cautioned against panic, saying that further research is needed on human cell membranes.

"But we are now aware of a mechanism that could potentially lead to cell damage," Antonietti said. "As a scientist, I am concerned. I'm not letting my kids use their mobiles more than five minutes a day."

New reports of the shocking findings were plastered over tabloid front pages and were trumpeted on radio and television newscasts - and via instant text-messaging to mobile users throughout the land.

Afternoon TV talk shows have been full of helpful hints on how to reduce "elektro-smog," for example by holding your mobile at arm's length to dial or to transmit text-messages or by keeping your mobile in one of those lead-lined bags that photographers use to protect film from airport X-rays.

The airwaves have been filled with man-in-the-street interviews with mobile-users, not all of whom seemed to share the national sense of angst.

"My wife calls me a dozen times a day at work on my mobile," said Christian Saenger, himself a molecular biologist in Hamburg. "Afterwards I always have a headache. It must be that nasty elektro-smog," he said wryly. "I think I'll tell her I'm turning it off to prevent brain-cell damage."

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur