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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are Cell Phones Deadly? The Answer Is Yet To Come

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome loves his iPhone. He told Maureen Dowd as much in her June 25 New York Times op-ed piece. That didn’t stop him, however, from spearheading an effort that resulted in the Cell Phone Right-to- Know ordinance, which beginning in February will require retailers to post the amount of radiation that cell phones sold in stores emit.

The law is the first of its kind in the United States, but more pertaining to cell phones and the radiation levels they emit could soon follow. Although Maine voters turned back a bill in March that would have mandated warning labels on cell phones, an Oregon state senator reportedly plans to introduce legislation in 2011 to require retailers to label potential health concerns on packaging. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, meanwhile, intends to introduce national legislation to create a research program devoted to cell phone health
studies, update “the decadesold Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), and grant a consumer’s right-to-know by providing for warning labels on cell phones.” Kucinich has stated, “Consumers have a right to know whether they are buying the phone with the lowest—or the highest—level of exposure to cell phone radiation. They also deserve to have up-to-date standards, which are now decades old.”

Naturally, these efforts and others have further fueled the question that’s hovered over cell phones for years: “Are they safe to use?” Despite numerous studies involving hundreds of thousands of people and millions of dollars, the answer remains a definite “further study is necessary.”


Speaking SAR
SAR is the measuring stick by which cell phone safety is measured. The FCC states SAR is “the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone.” SAR is measured in W/kg (watts per kilogram), and the FCC limits U.S. cell phones to an average 1.6W/kg or less rating, deeming any legally sold cell phone at or below the level as safe. SAR ratings for individual phones are available online in such places as manufacturer Web sites and the FCC site (www.fcc.gov). Newsome’s and others’ contention, however, is that ratings should be easier to find. To date, retailers haven’t been required to list the radiation level a phone emits at the point of sale. Thus, the desire for labels.

CTIA, the international group representing the wireless industry, sees things differently. Following San Francisco’s ordinance passage, CTIA stated that instead of informing consumers, the “ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point-of-sale requirements suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others based on radiofrequency emissions.” CTIA added that “all phones sold legally in the U.S. must comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s safety standards for RF emissions,” thus “all such compliant phones are safe phones as measured by these standards.

To prove it’s serious, CTIA announced it will move its Enterprise and Applications show from San Francisco after hosting it there five of the last seven years—bringing in 68,000 exhibitors and roughly $80 million to the city, no less. CTIA notes that this year’s October-slated event will be its last in San Francisco “for the foreseeable future.”Additionally, CTIA filed a lawsuit in July in U.S. district court to block enforcement of the ordinance altogether.

John Walls, CTIA VP of public affairs, stated, “The FCC monitors scientific research on a regular basis, and its standard for RF exposure is based on recommended guidelines adopted by U.S. and international standard-setting bodies. Furthermore, according to the experts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the available scientific evidence shows no known health risk due to the RF energy emitted by cell phones. As the FDA states on its Web site, ‘the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.’”

Due Diligence
To date, the overriding opinion on cell phone safety has been they don’t pose a meaningful health threat, specifically cancer. For example, Live Science (www.livescience.com) wrote in November 2009 that “cell phone makers can point to about 30 studies indicating that the devices are not a health risk.” The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) states virtually the same, adding that most studies don’t show “a tendency for the risk of brain tumors to increase with increasing cell phone use, which would be expected if cell phone use caused brain tumors.”

Conversely, the ACS and many scientists point out that although most studies haven’t proven a link, “these studies have had some important limitations,” namely a lack of data covering long usage durations— an important factor, as widespread cell phone use is essentially still less than 20 years old, and “when tumors form after a known cancer-causing exposure, it usually takes decades for them to develop.” Further, people now use their phones vastly more and differently (more texting, apps, and so on) than in the past, phones are physically different, and studies have largely omitted children and teens (a large user segment with still-developing physical traits).

One study many hoped would turn out concrete evidence is the now-controversial Interphone study published in May. Launched in 2000, Interphone is the longest and most expensive study of its kind, costing roughly $30 million and including 10,000-plus adults in 13 countries. Through 2004, several dozen scientists acting under the umbrella of the World Health Organization’s IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) conducted research that involved adults with glioma- or meningioma-related tumors and those without.

Essentially, the study “found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years.” However, a slight increase in risk of brain tumors was found for those reporting the highest 10% of overall phone usage, “although there was no consistent trend of increasing risk with greater duration of use.” Researchers, however, “concluded that biases and errors limit the strength of these conclusions and prevent a causal interpretation.” One such error reportedly centered on some participants reporting impossibly high phone usage. Overall, the Interphone researchers concluded more study is needed.

To that end, there’s COSMOS ( Cohort Study of Mobile Phone Use and Health; www.ukcosmos.com), a European study aimed at following 250,000 adults for up to 30 years using questionnaire material and phone and health records to identify possible health issues linked to long-term mobile phone use. As of early August, COSMOS indicated 67,000 people in the UK had registered to participate. The WHO has endorsed the study, which the UK, Imperial College London will oversee.

Sources & Alternatives
If you can’t live without your mobile device but harbor health concerns, preventative measures are available to at least partially safeguard yourself, including checking the Environmental Working Group’s (www.ewg.org) list of 2010 cell phones and corresponding SAR ratings. EWG also lists the 10 Best Phones from major carriers safety-wise and has a radiation cell phone database that lists more than 1,000 phones from major carriers. Elsewhere, to reduce radiation exposure, sources suggest talking less and texting more, storing the device away from your body, and using a headset or speaker. Additionally, Pong Research (www.pongresearch.com) has cases for BlackBerrys and iPhones that it claims include the “first technology proven by FCC-certified laboratories to reduce the amount of cell phone radiation absorbed by your head.” ▲

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2 comments:

alex said...

I really enjoy reading your posts as I learn a lot from them. I also broaden my thinking as far as what I can use and do with things

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Daryl Serrano said...

Perhaps its too early to tell if these gadgets are, or if the radiation it emits have significant effects to the human body - the next generation will surely know. Smartphones are now part of our lifestyle, it has made life pretty efficient and I cannot imagine not owning one.
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