A while back, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted to test the safety of cell phones by measuring the amount of radiation they emit and assessing the related health effects on humans. Unfortunately, in their haste, the government used a mannequin that approximated a 6-foot tall, 220-pound person as their benchmark. Based on this questionable human model, the FCC concluded that radiation emitted from cell phones is minimal and, therefore, not dangerous.
Here's the problem: A person of that size represents only about 3% of the total human population. Where does that leave the rest of us? Is it scientifically viable to compare the stature of an average-sized person to a 6-foot, 220-pounder when estimating effects of radiation? Probably not.
Dr. Devra Davis, a former senior advisor in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, is one of the researchers questioning the initial FCC evaluation. Here's what she had to say on the topic: "The standards for cell phones have been developed based on old science and old models and old assumptions about how we use cell phones, and that's why they need to change." We agree.
Cells Phones Emit EMF and Microwaves
This is what we do know: Like all electronics, cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation, or EMF. They also contain chips that radiate heat as microwaves. Now, EMF and microwaves are not necessarily dangerous if they dissipate into the surrounding environment. But what happens when they dissipate into your brain? The truth is no one knows for sure.
Of course, questioning cell phone safety is nothing new. One study has associated cell phone use with a slight increased risk of a type of brain cancer called a glioma. In another study from the National Institutes of Health, scientists found that cell phone use was associated with an increase in brain activity. Whether this can be linked to an increased risk of cancer or not has yet to be shown.
And what about kids? For example, we know that a child's bone marrow is extremely sensitive to radiation. Could this also be true for young, developing brain cells? As you can see, it's obvious that we really need more testing.
But who's going to do this testing? The cell phone industry or the government? If universities want to study the possible risks of cell phones, for example, who's going to pay for it?
As you can see, there are many questions that need to be answered before the risks can be properly assessed.
A Compelling Flaw in a Recent Cell Phone Radiation Study
A 2011 study on cell phones concluded that they are safe.1 This was a large study of 2.9 million people in Denmark. The 2011 study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. It was an update of a study originally published in 2007.
Now keep in mind, the updated study on cell phone safety was published just five months after the World Health Organization concluded that cell phones could be carcinogenic.
The Denmark study used a registry with mobile phone contracts beginning in 1982 — the year cell phones were introduced in Denmark — until 1995. The authors investigated the development of brain cancer in cell phone users compared to the known risk for brain tumors in the general population.
They found no increased risk with cell phone users, but there's a major flaw in the study that needs to be addressed.
See, the investigators counted cell phone subscriptions rather than actual use by individuals. This method didn't include people who had corporate subscriptions or people who used cell phones without a long-term contract. Oops!
Statisticians will tell you that small details like these can totally dilute any association between cell phone use and cancer risk. Even the study's authors acknowledge this potential problem with the study's design.
So where does this leave us? With a fuzzy picture, that's for sure. Only time will tell if there's a real risk of cancer from cell phone use.
How to Minimize Cell Phone Radiation Risk … Just in Case
Below are some suggestions for protecting you and your family, just in case this risk becomes a measurable reality down the line:
1. Use a conventional ear piece — Experts tell us that Bluetooth devices have their own potential problems and should not be used. Instead, using a conventional ear piece is your safest bet.
2. Use text messages — but not while driving. Texting puts a safer distance between your brain cells and your cell phone … and it's distance that really counts. If it turns out that EMF and microwaves cause tumors, dispersing them into the environment is a better bet than dispersing them into your brain.
3. Limit use for kids — since the greatest threat is for kids. Children's brains are still developing, and, as such, any sort of radiation can be harmful. Don't allow children to use cell phones until their teenage years if possible. That, by the way, is just our opinion.
4. Avoid unlimited plans — Unlimited plans only foster more and more cell phone use. Yes, these types of plans are attractive, but you'll probably just end up using your phone more. Sometimes limits are a good thing.
What You Need to Know
Cells phones emit EMF radiation. Long-term exposure to EMF may cause some health issues, like neurodegeneration and cancer. However, this is not conclusive and further research is necessary. In the meantime, try to minimize your exposure.
- Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Aug 15;174(4):416-22.