Cell Phones & Radiation

Kriss Szkurlatowski (sxc.hu)

The 4-Letter Cell-Phone Safety Trick

Cell phones have become integral to everyday life, and no one (including me!) is in the mood to hear that they are really unsafe.

But I’ve read a few things lately that make me think twice about how much time I spend on my cell phone. I believe this issue merits some serious consideration and perhaps some changes in our habits. For one thing, brand new research demonstrates that when an active cell-phone antenna is held against the head, it brings a measurable change to brain activity in that area. While the researchers of this study are careful to say that this doesn’t show that cell phones harm the brain, it’s clear that it’s not only the substance of the conversation that affects our brains when we’re on our cell phones — there’s something else going on, too, and we need to learn more about what that means to our health.

That research was published after I had just finished reading a book that revealed other alarming news about cell-phone safety (or lack thereof). I was sufficiently dismayed by all of this — so I called the author to learn more. The book is called Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It and How to Protect Your Family, by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist and toxicologist and founder of the Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing research and education about environmental health hazards and promoting policies to remedy them. I asked Dr. Davis to share some of her research and insights with Daily Health News readers…

Admitting that she continues to use a cell phone herself, Dr. Davis told me she believes that, for our health, we all need to become more cautious about how and when we use them. Her goal is to give people the information they need to make smarter decisions about cell phones. She also believes that we haven’t been getting the full story — by a long shot — from the cell-phone industry or from the government.

For instance, said Dr. Davis, few people realize that more than a decade ago, Lloyd’s of London and other secondary insurance companies stopped writing policies to indemnify cell-phone manufacturers against health problems that people might experience due to cell-phone use. She told me she found it worrisome that national governments in other countries — specifically, Britain, Finland, Israel, France and China — were succeeding in sounding alarms about cell-phone radiation dangers but not so here in the US. At the beginning of March, the UK Health Department advised that all persons text rather than talk on cell phones and confirmed its earlier recommendation that teenagers generally not use cell phones next to their heads or bodies. What do they know that we don’t — or perhaps don’t want to hear — here on this side of the pond?

Cell-Phone Hazards

Dr. Davis explained that it is important to realize that a cell phone is actually a two-way microwave radio that constantly sends and receives signals through its symmetrical antennas as long as the cell phone is turned on — and, she said, if the antennas are facing your body, signals will go through you to reach from the phone to the nearest tower — so effectively your body becomes part of the antenna. This means our bodies are exposed to radiation whenever we are carrying — not just using — cell phones that are “on.”

Cell-phone safety standards for radiofrequency (RF) absorption were created nearly two decades ago — long before cell phones were in regular use — and were based on a model “head” from a heavy-set man over six feet tall and weighing more than 210 pounds. This model consisted of a plastic fluid-filled ball that was equipped with sensors to measure how much RF energy was absorbed in key regions of the ball during a conversation that lasted only six minutes. But, said Dr. Davis, “this is preposterous! We now have billions of much smaller people, including children, using cell phones. Children’s heads can absorb twice as much radiation and most people talk on their phones for hours a month.”

Don’t Call Home…

According to Dr. Davis, the take-home advice is that the safest way to use your cell phone is to text, not to make calls — which is precisely what the UK now also recommends. Other options include…

Keep calls short. Use a landline — and a corded phone — for longer conversations. (See Daily Health News, “Cordless Phones May Be As Risky As Cell Phones… But We Just Don’t Know,” January 8, 2009, to learn more about the radiation risks from the cordless landline phones that many of us have in our homes.)

Choose a phone with a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is a measure of the amount of the radiation absorbed by the body from the phone. In the US, the maximum allowed SAR level is 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/Kg) — but optimally, you should aim for a cell phone with the lowest SAR you can find. You can check your phone’s SAR level at www.fcc.gov/cgb/sar.

You can get more information on how to use your cell phone safely from the Environmental Health Trust Web site, www.ehtrust.org.

Source:  Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, epidemiologist and toxicologist and founder of the Environmental Health Trust (www.ehtrust.org). She is author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It and How to Protect Your Family (Dutton).

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