CONCERNS ABOUT THE RISK OF MOBILE PHONES TO OUR HEALTH
January 10, 2017
You’ve probably heard news stories claiming that “cell phones are dangerous” and others claiming that “cell phones have been proven safe.” It’s hard to know what to believe-especially when we’ve grown so dependent upon these convenient communication devices.
It’s the year 2018 and mobile technology has completely engraved itself into our lives. We all spend so much time with our smartphones, tablets and wearables that it can be easy to forget that there used to be a time when none of that stuff was around.
But with the ever-growing number of connected devices constantly being added to our lives, many folks around the world have been attempting to ascertain whether or not connected devices are actually extremely harmful to our health.
Can radiation emitted from mobile devices actually harm us? A group of 200 biological and health scientists from around the world are trying to make this concern public knowledge, and they’re calling on the UN to help them.
Scientists from all different parts of the world are advocating for the United Nations, World Health Organization and various national governments to help develop strict regulations concerning cell phones (and other mobile devices) that create electromagnetic fields.
Dr. Martin Blank, from the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University, warns:
Putting it bluntly (cell phones) are damaging the living cells in our bodies and killing many of us prematurely… We have created something that is harming us, and it is getting out of control.
Dr. Blank’s opinion isn’t being formed out of the blue, and is absolutely backed up by proven facts. But we should talk about specifics before we all start breaking out the aluminium foil.
Radiation in Relation to Mobile Phone Use
Radiation is a combination of electrical and magnetic energy that travels through space at the speed of light. It is also referred to as electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
For starters, your cell phone does produce a certain amount of radiation. You can thank your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and LTE connections for that. But radiation can be found in all other aspects of our technological lives as well – radios, televisions, microwaves and more. The real factor we need to look at here is the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, and how the two types affect us differently.
Radiation is classified into two broad groups:
ionising radiation (IR)
non-ionising radiation (NIR)
Ionizing vs. non-ionizing radiation
Radiation that produces enough energy to move around atoms in a molecule, but not enough to remove electrons completely is known as non-ionizing radiation.
Examples of non-ionizing radiation include microwaves, sound waves and visible light, just to name a few. In contrast, ionizing radiation does have enough energy to move around tightly bound electrons from atoms, which in turn, creates ions. This much more powerful form of radiation encompasses ultraviolet, x-rays and, yes, even gamma rays.
Non-ionizing radiation ranges from extremely low-frequency radiation through microwave and infrared radiation.
Extremely low-frequency radiation has very long wave lengths (on the order of a million meters or more) and frequencies in the range of 100 Hertz or cycles per second or less. Radio frequencies have wave lengths of between 1 and 100 meters and frequencies in the range of 1 million to 100 million Hertz. Microwaves that we use to heat food have wavelengths that are about 1 hundredth of a meter long and have frequencies of about 2.5 billion Hertz.
When talking of ionizing radiation, higher frequency ultraviolet radiation starts to have enough energy to actually break chemical bonds. This is why so much precaution needs to be taken when being exposed to x-rays or ultraviolet rays. X-ray and gamma ray radiation have very high frequency, beginning in the range of 100 billion billion Hertz and very short wavelengths like 1 million millionth of a meter. The EPA says “(This type of radiation) has enough energy to strip off electrons or, in the case of very high-energy radiation, break up the nucleus of atoms.”
So, what about smartphones?
Our smartphones produce non-ionizing radiation, but at an extremely low frequency level. All of the connections going to and from your mobile device all operate at different frequencies.
Wi-Fi connections operate between five main frequency ranges: 2.4GHz, 3.6GHz, 4.9GHz, 5GHz and 5.9GHz
Bluetooth operates on the 2.4GHz band
Cellular connectivity in smartphones operate on a multitude of frequencies, anywhere from 700MHz to 2.7GHz
All of these connections combined don’t come anywhere close to the radio frequencies found in x-rays or ultraviolet rays. In fact, the only effects that these types of radio frequencies can have on the human body don’t have anything to do with cancer or tumour, but it has everything to do with how hot your smartphone gets.
An increased amount of radiofrequency energy from smartphones can actually cause some harm to your body by means of tissue heating, but this doesn’t take place as often as you might think. Most of the energy produced by frequencies from mobile phones is absorbed by the skin and other superficial tissues, which results in a negligible rise in temperature in the brain and throughout other portions of the body.
The World Health Organization goes on to say:
To date, research does not suggest any consistent evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to radiofrequency fields at levels below those that cause tissue heating. Further, research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”.
Okay, so the World Health Organization themselves claim that there are no proven short-term effects smartphones can have on the human body (aside from a small amount of tissue heating). But what about the long-term?
The majority of epidemiological research examining long-term risks performed in the past have focused specifically on the association between brain tumours and cell phone use. Now, cell phones didn’t become part of our lives until the 90’s, so researchers and scientists are having trouble performing the necessary research. Many types of cancers aren’t detectable until years after the interactions that led to the tumour, so current studies can only really assess those cancers that become evident within shorter periods of time. Even so, the World Health Organization(WHO) explains that “results of animal studies consistently show no increased cancer risk for long-term exposure to radiofrequency fields.”
But, seeing as how the World Health Organization can’t prove that cell phones don’t emit harmful radiation, the organization is forced to categorize these emissions as “possible human carcinogens”, even though, time and time again, extensive research studies have shown that there’s not even a faint clue that radiation from cell phones can cause cancer.
Are We Really at Risk?
Let’s not get it twisted; the point of this isn’t to call out these scientists on their bluff, because they’re not bluffing. Radiation being produced by electronic devices is a concern, though it’s not as bad as they’re making it out to be. Telling the public (and the UN) that cell phones are “killing us prematurely” is in fact correct, but it also instils a sense of fear into folks who don’t know enough about the subject to disagree. Sure, smartphones rarely ever leave our sights nowadays, but they’re not anywhere close to the main cause of brain tumours, cancer or any other harmful diseases out there.
If you don’t want to take the risk, there are certainly a few things you can do to remove this type of radiation from your life. In general, the further away you are from your cell phone, the less radiation will make its way through your body. Using either a Bluetooth or, better yet, a wired headset to receive phone calls will help a bit, too.
To be factual, yes your smartphone may technically be ‘killing you’, but so are a number of other everyday items like microwave popcorn and canned tomatoes. But unlike these potentially harmful foods, there is no solid evidence to back up the claim that radiation emitted from cell phones, tablets or wearables will give you any form of cancer, tumours or any other harmful disease.
Because so many people use mobile phones, medical researchers are concerned that any associated health risks, even small ones, could cause significant public health problems.
It is important to understand the risks and possible effects of mobile phone use, and make up your own mind about how you use your mobile phone.
Health Concerns Over Mobile Phone Use
Mobile phones communicate with base stations using radiofrequency (RF) radiation. If RF radiation is high enough, it has a ‘thermal’ effect, which means it raises body temperature. There are concerns that the low levels of RF radiation emitted by mobile phones could cause health problems such as headaches or brain tumours.
Research into mobile phones and health risks
Intensive international research has found no conclusive or convincing evidence that mobile phones are damaging to health in the short or long term. However, in May 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified RF radiation as ‘possibly carcinogenic for humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a type of brain cancer’.
The release of this WHO statement prompted many people to call for a 'precautionary approach' to mobile phone use. Research is ongoing.
There have been many studies throughout the world on RF radiation and its effects on the body. There is a big difference between a biological effect – an effect on the body – and a health effect.
For example, RF radiation from a mobile phone has the biological effect of raising the temperature in a localised area of the brain by a fraction of a degree. This biological effect doesn’t automatically carry any health risks. The human body is equipped to deal with very wide variations in temperature without experiencing harm.
How The Mobile Phone System Works
The mobile phone system works like a two-way radio, and includes the individual handset and the base stations. Base station antennae are mounted high off the ground (on a tower or roof) to get the widest coverage. A mobile phone has a radio receiver and a transmitter.
When you make a call, your phone uses radiofrequency (RF) radiation via its antenna to ‘talk’ to a nearby base station. Once the base station has received your signal, your call is directed through the landline phone system.
Mobile phone base stations emit relatively constant levels of RF radiation. The handsets emit levels of RF radiation that vary depending on three things:
how long you use the phone
how close you hold the phone to your body
how close you are to the base station. If the link to the base station is weak, the handset increases its radiation level to compensate.
The levels of RF radiation from the handset, to which your head is exposed, are around 100 to 1,000 times more intense than exposure from base stations.
Mobile Phones and other Possible Health Effects
While research continues into whether or not mobile phone use causes health problems, no negative health implications have yet been found.
Mobile phone use can also have other indirect health effects. For example:
Electronic equipment – it is possible for RF radiation to interfere with medical electronic equipment if the equipment is vulnerable to the field. Handsets should be turned off in hospital buildings.
Road accidents – studies show that using a mobile phone while driving greatly increases the risk of traffic accidents. Talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal in many urban regions.
Precautions to Reduce Mobile Phone Radiation Exposure
Evidence so far suggests that mobile phones aren’t harmful, but long-term risks and consequences are yet to be clarified.
If you are concerned, you can reduce your exposure to RF radiation by:
choosing a mobile phone model that has a low specific absorption rate (SAR), which refers to the amount of RF radiation absorbed by body tissues
using a landline phone if one is available
keeping your mobile phone calls short
using a hands-free kit
not carrying your mobile phone close to your body when it is switched on
being wary of claims that protective devices or ‘shields’ can reduce your exposure to RF radiation – there is no evidence to suggest these devices work. In fact, they can increase RF radiation, because the phone will automatically increase its RF output to combat the effects of the shield to get the best level of communication
trying to only use your phone when you have a good signal so your cell phone does not have to work so hard to find service
not placing your phone directly beside or very close to your head when asleep
preferably using the cell phone speaker if you are not using a hands-free device or hold the phone away from your ear.
alternating sides, when speaking on your cell phone
reducing the duration your phone spends in your pocket, on your belt, or anywhere close to your body if it can safely be kept in a place away from directly touching the body since cell phones emit radiation even when they are not in use.
A number of studies have shown relationships between mobile telephone use and reduced sperm count and sperm quality. Some reviewed studies have shown relationships using statistical questionnaire techniques, controlled experiments on living humans, and controlled experiments on sperm outside the body.
Things to Remember
The current international consensus is that mobile phones don’t cause cancer or promote the accelerated growth of existing tumours.
Cancer can take many years, even decades, to develop. Population studies so far have only monitored the health effects following a few years of mobile phone use.
Using a mobile phone while driving significantly increases the risk of traffic accidents. Talking on a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal in all states and territories of Australia.
Although not enough time has passed for research to agree on the exact impact of cell phones on brain tumours and other health risks, the evidence so far suggests that we should be cautious. While hands-free driving laws are resulting in greater use of ear pieces in cars, more and more people are opting not to pay for land lines and are relying exclusively on their cell phone. As a result, some adults and children are holding cell phones to their ears for hours each day.