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According to the United Nations Telecommunication Agency’s “ICT Facts and Figures” there were almost six billion cell phone subscriptions globally in 2011. Cell phone subscriptions are still rising, but there are discrepancies among researchers as to whether the radiation cell phones emit pose harm to human health. The controversy over cell phone radiation exposure has spread like wildfire throughout the world.
So what is cell phone radiation? It is RF-EMF energy the phone emits from signal transmission. Richard R. Carlton in his book Principles of Radiographic Imaging: An Art and a Science explains this energy as non-ionizing radiation; a form of radiation that does not generally cause biological damage, it only produces heat. This is the reason some subscribers feel heat emanating from the devices after extended use. The energy from RF-EMF waves creates the heat and unfortunately exposes subscribers to this assumed harmless radiation daily.
Because antennas are built into cell phones, when they are turned on, the devices continually send and receive signal, it’s what makes the phones work. This continual signal transmission means constant exposure for users. When the device is turned off exposure eliminated. So what will happen to a brain continually exposed to this type of radiation? According to expert researchers only time will tell the effects.
Concern about exposure arose from adverse health implications reported by some research findings. Although most recent findings do not provide conclusive evidence of harmful health effects, there is no evidence conclusively proving the devices harmless states Kent German of CNET in his article “On Call: Are you carrying your cell phone wrong?” As German’s article title suggests, some experts warn improper handling is to blame for negative health impacts associated with cell phones.
The United States Government Accountability Office’ (GAO) report “Telecommunications: Exposure and Testing for Mobile Phones Should be Reassessed” reveals that manufacturers explicitly state cell phones should “NEVER” be held closer than the minimum safe distance of one inch to the body. Additionally, the GAO reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the main regulatory agency for wireless telecommunications, implements standardized testing for cell phones when in use with minimum safe distance accessories, but no testing is required for other conditions. Those conditions include methods employed by many cell phone users; placing the phone directly against the head while talking or against the body via shirt or pant pockets.
On Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s televised show “Is Your Cell Phone Safe?” he discussed how safe distance requirements vary depending on the manufacturer. The key point is, the requirements exist, yet many cell phone users are unaware of them. This is because the requirements are not emphasized as potential lifesaving warnings. Interviewed on the show was Dr. Devra Lee Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust, presidential appointee to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, and scientist who explains that for every millimeter the device is moved away from the head, there is a 15 percent reduction in exposure absorbed in the brain. This is important because radiation accumulates in the body. The more radiation exposure received, the greater the risk of cancer.
In an effort to reduce cell phone radiation exposure the GAO investigated exposure limits in its report “Telecommunications: Exposure and Testing Requirements for Mobile Phones Should Be Reassessed.” The GAO and other advanced technology agency experts concluded that the FCC’s RF energy exposure limit is antiquated and should be updated. They also report that the FCC’s current safety limit was set based on recommendations from federal health and safety agencies and from a 1991 recommendation from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technology.
The GAO states that in 2006 the IEEE established updated recommendations, but the FCC has yet to adopt the new recommendation because they declare “federal health and safety agencies have not advised them to do so.” So, safe distant accessories have been downplayed and cell phone radiation exposure levels are too high, a true lose-lose situation. Meanwhile the IEEE shared that their new safety recommendations have reached a scientific consensus among experts in more than 40 countries outside the U.S. including European Union Countries. Scientific studies exist that demonstrate the devastation cell phone radiation can have on human health. One such study is the Interphone study, a nonrandomized case-control study conducted to determine if RF energy from cell phones is carcinogenic.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Interphone study report from its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) entitled “IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields As Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans,” reveals that people who use cell phones directly on the head for an average of 30 minutes per day over 10 years have a 40 percent higher risk of developing a brain tumor. While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the study’s scientists’ give conflicting interpretations due to biases inherent to epidemiological studies such as the Interphone study, not personal biases of the participants or researchers. This form of bias can be remedied by selecting a more rigorous study designs that implements randomization of study participants.
As mentioned previously Interphone study researchers report that bias and errors limit the strength of the conclusions and prevent causal interpretations to be made. However, the WHO reports, based largely on Interphone study data, the IARC reclassified RF-EMF energy in 2011 as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). The 2B category is used when a causal association is considered credible, but bias cannot be ruled out with reasonable confidence. Whether the risk is potential or probable, we must ask, what is the best way to limit the risks before they become reality? I would rather have redundancies like manufacturer suggested safe distance accessories in place, verses brain cancer as the global epidemic of the future.
Recently, several U.S. states and a federal official have proposed legislations to promote awareness of the harmful effects associated with cell phone radiation. These officials are requiring labels and specific language be placed on cell phone packaging as warnings of the potential threat. Unfortunately, passing such legislations into law has proved to be a daunting task. Requiring manufactures to supply each cell phone purchase with a minimum safe distance accessory at no additional charge to the consumer may be a simpler solution. While this suggestion is no panacea for eliminating cell phone radiation exposure, it will certainly be revered as a progressive step in the right direction.
Author: Tasa Proctor, Graduate Research Assistant within the Master of Public Administration Program at Southern Illinois University. ([email protected])