What is the truth about cell phones and radiation? While many will tell you that the jury is out – and others will tell you that there is no (conclusive) evidence – many feel that cell phone use presents a health risk in electromagnetic (ionizing) radiation, particularly for children. The reality is that short term studies have found no correlation between cell phone radiation and health problems such as cancer, however the other reality is that there are no long term studies (say, of greater than 10 years) yet, as it is only relatively recently that cell phones have been so commonplace. Of course, the cell phone industry says there is no risk – but that’s what the tobacco industry said too. Now the state of Maine is contemplating requiring cell phones to carry a warning label.
In fact, during hearings held by the Maine legislature, David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany, warned “We can do nothing and wait for the body count. That’s what happened with smoking,” adding that if we do nothing, we “may face an epidemic of brain cancer.”
While the link between long-term cell phone use, cell phone radiation, and cancer has not yet been proved or disproved (due to the lack of long term studies), there has been proof of cancer risks resulting from long-term exposure to the sort of electromagnetic radition that is emitted by cell phones.
Cell phones emit ionizing radiation, which is radiation that carries with it enough energy that it can remove even tightly bound electrons from an atom. According to the National Institute of Health, “Ionizing radiation is a known cause of cancer and other adverse effects. It is one of the most extensively studied human carcinogens and may account for about 3 percent of all cancers (NAS, 1990). Ionizing radiation is able to remove electrons from atoms and to change the molecular structures of cells. It is these cellular changes that may cause cancer to develop. The genetic DNA in the cell nucleus is thought to be the critical target for radiation-induced damage.”
Scientists have long known of the correlation between long term exposure to ionizing radiation, and health risks that include cancer. As Alan Marks puts it, “When you put that phone to your head, you are unknowingly playing Russian roulette.” Marks has been diagnosed with a brain tumor which he believes was the result of long term cell phone use.
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In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, the analysis of combined data from the United Kingdom, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway found that “risk of a tumor on the same side of the head as the reported phone use was higher among persons who had used a cellular telephone for 10 years or more,” that “[s]ome other studies have reported similar findings,” and that “[t]here was a slightly increased risk of glioma occurring on the same side of the head as the reported phone use among persons who used a cellular telephone for at least 10 years.”
So, what does this all mean for you, and your cell phone use?
As with so many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Why take a chance when there are ways to mitigate the risk?
The safest bet is to use a corded (not cordless) headset when using your cell phone, with your cell phone as far away from your body (or at least you head) as possible. A bluetooth headset is better than no headset, but a corded headset is the best.
And, of course, children should have a very limited exposure to cell phones, even with a headset.
Also, pay attention to just how much radiation your cell phone actually emits. Recently Time Magazine has published a list of the phones with the highest level of radiation emission, and the lowest level of radiation emission.
Among the worst offenders are the BlackBerry 8820, the Motorola i880, and the HTC Magic.
Some of the phones with the lowest level of radiation emission are the Samsung I8000 (Omnia II), the BlackBerry Storm 9530, and the Sanyo Katana. For those curious, the iPhone falls somewhere in the middle.
(You can read the full Time report here.)
The State of Maine isn’t the only governmental authority looking at requiring warning labels on cell phones. San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom will be introducing a requirement that cell phone packaging must display the amount of radiation that the phone emits.
Said a spokesperson for Mayor Newsom, “The mayor believes that cellphone safety is the next frontier.”
Adds Renee Sharp, with the California branch of the Environmental Working Group, “We’re urging the federal government to take a look at current radiation standards.” The Environmental Working Group advocates for packaging that discloses how much radiation a cell phone emits.
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