The debate regarding the health risks connected to the incorrect use of mobile phones has recently been rekindled in Italy. With a 15 January 2019 decision, the Lazio Regional Administrative Court (TAR Lazio) ordered the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, Universities and Research to launch an information campaign to advise the public about the potential health and environmental risks arising from the misuse of mobile and cordless phones.
The ministries had been sued before the TAR Lazio by the Association for the Prevention of and Fight Against Electrosmog (APPLE), established to promote the protection of health and the environment from exposure to electromagnetic fields.
APPLE's action was grounded on Law 36/2001 on the protection from exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. In particular, the claimant referred to Article 10 of the law, according to which the ministries should have promoted information and environmental education campaigns. APPLE's action highlighted the ministries' unjustified inactivity in this regard.
In order to support its claim and highlight the urgent need of the above information and environmental education campaigns, APPLE filed a number of scientific studies showing that the misuse of mobile and cordless phones could have harmful effects on human health due to exposure to electromagnetic fields, especially for children whose psychophysical development may be negatively affected.
The TAR Lazio's decision acknowledged the existence of a note issued by the Ministry of Health in 2012 in response to a previous request submitted by APPLE, whereby the latter was informed that an information campaign was being prepared. In particular, the ministry specified that:
- the issue concerning possible health risks arising from the use of mobile phones was already under review, particularly following the International Agency for Cancer Research's classification of electromagnetic fields as being possibly carcinogenic to humans (category 2B); and
- in 2011 the Higher Health Council recommended that an information campaign be conducted to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile phones, especially for children who are exposed to such devices at an increasingly early age, maintaining that the hypothesis of a causal relationship cannot be completely excluded in relation to the frequent use of mobile phones and cancer, despite no scientific certainty in this regard.
As the information campaign announced in 2011 had yet to be implemented, TAR Lazio ordered the government to launch such a campaign within six months from the service of the decision in order to advise the public about:
- the correct use of mobile and cordless phones; and
- the potential health and environmental risks arising from the misuse of such devices.
The TAR Lazio's decision, which received considerable media coverage, will most likely renew the debate about electromagnetic pollution and mobile phones.
Indeed, Italian courts have already faced the issue of the possible existence of a causal link between mobile phone use and cancer. In 2017 the Court of Ivrea and the Court of Florence recognised the damage caused by the extensive work-related use of mobile phones and ordered the national insurance provider (INAIL) to compensate the affected workers with a lifelong payment.
The courts were following in the footsteps of the Italian Supreme Court, which in a 2012 landmark case brought by a worker against INAIL, had ruled that a causal link exists between mobile phone use and cancer, holding that the benign tumour that the plaintiff had developed on the left side of his face (allegedly due to the use of a mobile phone for approximately five to six hours a day) entitled him to 80% of a disability pension.
In light of the information campaign that looks set to be launched in the next six months, mobile and cordless phone manufacturers should carefully review, as a precautionary measure, product information and warnings that they provide to consumers.
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