Lately, cell phone safety has been a hot topic in the news. It is estimated that over five billion people use cell phones globally. The World Health Orgnanization has a research arm called the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has recently upgraded the possible risk for cancer to classification 2B. Category 2B also includes exposure to lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform to name a few.
Why are people worried? All electronic objects emit some type of electromagnetic energy, or radiofrequency energy. Look above this post to see a chart of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some radiation is ionizing, meaning that it can damage cells. X-Rays are one form of ionizing radiation. The inventor of X-Rays himself, Wilhelm Roentgen, died from cancer. The radiation emitted from cell phones is supposed to be non-ionizing and safe for humans. They are similar to but less intense than the types of rays that come from microwaves that cook food. It has some people wondering if the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones can “cook” human tissue (it can heat human tissue at very high levels), and if so, what the long term biological effects may be. This problem may be made worse by the fact that the places where we hold our cell phones, in our pockets and by our ears, expose our brain cells and sexual reproductive cells to possible effects. Brain and sex cells are sensitive, and even more so in adolescents, who have thinner walled skulls and where the rate of cell growth is much higher- which could compound any toxic effects. I recently heard a mother tell her child, “You are not getting a cell phone until you turn ten.” I did not get my first cell phone until I was sixteen, and of course it was bigger than most house phones today.
The only problem is that cell phones have only been in mainstream use since the 1990’s, so we would only be beginning to see the results of any health risks. Further, PDA smartphones that act as small computers have increased the amount of energy they produce. The FCC has a set guideline for the amount of radiation in order to approve a cell phone for marketing. The limit is 1.6 Watts/kg of absorbable energy. However, cell phone makers themselves state in user manuals that cell phones are to be held away from the head when in use, and this is the distance at which the energy guideline is met. Iphone 4 recommends 5/8 of an inch and the Blackberry manual says .98 inches away. Most everyone pushes their phone directly against their ear- so that the amount of absorbable energy can actually be greater.
The largest study to date is called INTERPHONE. It is a case-control study looking at tumors of the two types of brain tissue that absorb radiofrequency energy, gliomas and meningiomas. It analyzed over 5,000 patients with these tumors in thirteen countries. It found that there was an association with the incidence of gliomas in cell phone users who had the highest cumulative amount of cell phone use. The gliomas were also found to be located in the temporal lobe, the area of the brain where we hold our phones. Overall, the study concluded that there was no increased risk for brain tumors in general, but that further research is warranted (as there was bias and error that could not validate the results, and due to the fact that none of the study subjects had used a cell phone greater than 12 years). Here is a link to the study for inquiring minds: http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/39/3/675.full.pdf
More data and studies will be coming out as the awareness of possible cell phone dangers is at an all time high, but the limiting factor on when we can use the word “safe” relies on the length of time it would take before cell phone-caused disease manifests itself. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I am thinking about buying a wireless headset for my phone- and considering buying stock in companies that make them, because I may not be the only one.