UK consumers have been left confused about the safety of mobile phone hands-free kits after a government report contradicted an earlier study that had raised fears about radiation exposure.
According to research published this week, commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the use of hands-free kits - an earpiece attached to the mobile phone by a wire - reduces exposure to electromagnetic fields.
The government report, which concludes that hands-free kits "offer substantial reductions in exposure compared to the normal use of a mobile phone", contradicts an earlier report published by the Consumers Association in April.
The consumer watchdog claimed research had shown that hands-free kits could put mobile phone users three times more at risk from radiation. It tested two hands-free sets from Carphone Warehouse and BT Cellnet, and said both sets acted as aerials, directing three times as much radiation to the head.
The association said today that it stands by its report and recommends that the government conducts new research to develop an appropriate testing methodology for hands-free kits.
According to the watchdog, the DTI research used "fundamentally different testing methods", such as testing specific absorption rate (Sar) - a measurement of the amount of energy absorbed by the human body. "Sar test methodology is still in draft format and results can vary significantly between laboratories," it said.
Helen Parker, editor of consumer magazine Which?, said: "We think there are problems with current Sar testing for hands-free kits and we are carrying out more research into this area.
"We stand by our original test results into hands-free sets. Consumers need to be aware that hands-free kits are no guarantee of lowering radiation emissions from mobile phones, and in some cases they actually increase it."
Earlier this year, the Federation of the Electronics Industry said any conclusions on the effects of radio frequency emissions of mobile phones can only be made on the basis of the Sar levels.
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