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Traffic radar blamed for cops' cancers

By DOUGLAS A. LEVY UPI Science Writer

WASHINGTON -- At least 164 police officers may have developed cancer from being exposed to errant microwave radiation from traffic radar guns, a police union official told a Senate hearing Monday.

Gary Phillip Poynter, research officer for the National Fraternal Order of Police, said he has collected information on cancers among police and found the use of radar a common element.

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'In a small police department in Concord, Calif., two officers have testicular cancer and a female officer has cancer of the cervix,' Poynter said. 'In the Ohio state highway patrol, over the last 10 years there have been 19 known cases of cancer in various forms, four officers have died and one more is terminal.'

Poynter said he had identified 10 officers who had developed a rare form of eye cancer known as melanoma. Among the 10 were eight state troopers, who use radar more than other police, he said.

'One epidemiologist told me the incidence of melanoma of the eye is somewhere in the area of one in 2 million people,' Poynter said. 'How is it that 10 officers have this nearly non-existent form of cancer?'

Another witness, Santo Franzo of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said he knew of 80 cases of testicular cancer among police officers using traffic radar.

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Both Franzo and Poynter called on the federal government to conduct research to determine the health effects of traffic radar guns and to establish safety measures.

The radar guns emit a microwave radio beam which can measure an object's speed when reflected. Although operating at low power, officers frequently are exposed to the microwave radiation for substantial parts of a shift.

'This type of exposure may carry significant biological risk,' said Dr. Ross Adey of Pettis Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif.

Another expert, Henry Kues of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said his research indicated exposure to low levels of microwave radiation can cause eye tissue damage.

But a spokesman for Kustom Signals, one of the largest radar gun manufacturers, disputed the reports that the devices expose users to dangerous radiation.

'The current allegations of harmful effects to operators of police radar guns have no support other than that which can most accurately be referred to as coincidence,' said John Kusek, vice president of the Lenexa, Kansas-based company.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Christopher Dodd, both D-Conn., urged federal researchers to conduct such a study. A U.S. Public Health Service official estimated would cost about $1.5 million and take several years to complete.

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'Police officers can easily 'zap' themselves with microwaves if they rest the hand-held guns in their laps,' which they may do several times during a shift, said Lieberman, who chaired the governmental affairs subcommittee hearing.

Officials of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said federal regulation of the devices has been adequate but further study was warranted by the case reports.

'We're very concerned about what we've heard today and we want to be responsive,' said Mardo Oge, director of the EPA's Office of Radiation Programs.

Another federal official said police need better guidance about placement and handling of the radar guns, even though the FDA has suggested the devices should not be operated within six inches of the body.

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