Nokia’s former Technology Chief, Matti Niemelä, was involved in the development the world’s first mobile phones, but fell seriously ill himself from mobile-phone microwave radiation.
In addition, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Some studies suggest that radiation may increase the risk of even MS.
For Tampere-based Matti Niemelä, age 44, life was like in the movies when he as a young man was recruited to work for Nokia in 1997. The brilliant young man quickly advanced to become Nokia’s Chief Technology Officer for ten years, and was involved in developing the world’s first mobile phones, memory sticks and WLAN [Wi-Fi] connections.
In 2007, Niemelä’s career hit a brick wall as his health finally failed. Today, he is only able to move using a walker. Niemelä refuses to use a wheelchair.
– The irony of this is that I’m no longer able to use any of those devices that I had been developing, Niemelä says with a smile.
Niemelä is one of the unfortunate who have experienced severe symptoms of radiation.
– Traveling around the world with a communicator [early model smart-phone] in hand, exposure to radiation was very strong from morning to night, and even at night.
Few people have had such an overload of radiation than me, says Niemelä.
The first symptoms appeared already within a year of his employment at Nokia.
– I was playing badminton, and I could no longer hit the the ball during a serve, even though I’d played badminton for a while.
At first Niemelä didn’t dare go to the doctor, mainly because of the fear of brain cancer.
The symptoms got worse year by year.
– I couldn’t walk around while talking on the mobile-phone, because it caused coordination problems. The more intense the exposure, the more his speech slurred.
Also my ear felt hot when I talked on the phone for a longer times. I struggled on, using the phone until I could no longer feel my own skin. Then I had to go to the doctor, Niemelä explains.
In 2001, MRI images, and cerebrospinal fluid samples revealed the brutal truth: multiple sclerosis.
– I was kind of relieved, because one can cope with MS, but not so with brain cancer.
According to Niemelä, medical representatives aren’t willing to take a position on whether mobile phone radiation caused the MS. Preliminary results, however, show that radiation increases the risk of multiple sclerosis.
– I am a layman, not a doctor. MS is certainly caused by a number of factors, not just mobile-phone radiation. The radiation does, however, increase my MS symptoms.
Also, symptoms of the disease may easily be confused with the mobile-phone radiation symptoms, Niemelä explains. During the interview, Niemelä’s voice begins to slur, badly.
A sign in the hallway asks you to switch off the mobile phone. Even a small radiation exposure is too much.
– I can no longer go to the cinema or stay in public areas with lots of radiation for long. I have not been anywhere for a long time says Niemelä who in his forties, must accept that the four walls of his home are now a prison.
Although Niemelä has lost his health, career and more recently his marriage, he does not blame anyone.
– I’m not bitter, it was my own choice to work for Nokia.
He also doesn’t want to scare too many about cell phone dangers.
– A healthy person can use a mobile phone responsibly.
Niemelä, admits that going public with his story carries a big risk.
– I’m scared to talk about this in public, because I do not want to be labeled as crazy.
Niemelä explains that the subject of mobile phone radiation has always been kept silent at Nokia.
– You couldn’t talk about it within the company. Yet, among the staff, it was speculated whether the radiation could cause damage. However, no one dared to bring it up, because it could get them fired.
Niemelä says he brought up the matter with the doctor for the first time in 2006.
– The doctor told me about a number of patients who are suffering from the same symptoms as me, Niemelä reveals.
Niemelä is particularly concerned about the children and their mobile phone use, because the continuous exposure to the ear and head does not do any good.
– These things have been kept silent for too long. I hope it will become possible to discuss the symptoms openly, and without fear.
Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia and Microsoft’s current Senior Vice President Tom Kuuppelomäki assures that all products meet the requirements set by international health bodies and standards.
– Product safety is of paramount importance both for Nokia and Microsoft.
With plenty of Nokia employees using mobile-phones during the past decades, wouldn’t it have been evident if the radiation was causing symptoms?
– The World Health Organization’s has looked at a number of studies, from the last two decades, with the aim to determine whether mobile-phones pose a potential health risk.
Kuuppelomäki insists that to date, studies have not demonstrated adverse health effects from mobile-phone use.
What kind of studies on radiation has Nokia done and commissioned since the late 1980s?
– Nokia and Microsoft are now participating in the MMF (Mobile Manufacturers Forum) research funding.
Mainly in conjunction with governmental organizations and other industry representatives of the funded research programs and projects can be found in the MMF‘s Web site.
– We believe that nonpartisan research will produce the best consumer information on equipment safety.
How will the health effects be studied in the future?
- WHO has made recommendations for further research on electromagnetic fields to enable a thorough risk assessment.