3 Sep 2008

Are our mobile phones really dangerous?

xray with cel phone
The World Health Organization (WHO) still maintain that cell phones pose no threat and have been compiling data on the health risks of electromagnetic fields emitted by cell/mobile phones - however the release of the report has been delayed for over two years. Why? The possible risks is an issue I have covered before on this blog - and I have tried to curb use of mobiles in Glos schools - see letter here.
While we wait for the WHO guidance many nations have sought to protect their citizens by issuing their own recommendations for cell phone use, including an announcement in Canada last month. While in the U.S., the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute recently posted a useful list of tips to limit harmful health impacts of cell phones:
1. Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies.
2. Use hands-free ear pieces or speakerphone.
3. Make sure the back of the phone is pointing away from your body so that the transmitted electromagnetic fields move away from you rather than through you.
4. Switch sides regularly while communicating on your cell phone to spread out your exposure.
5. Don't sleep near your phone unless it is off, particularly if you are pregnant.

See full list of tips here: www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_14065.cfm

MobilephoneI am still open to whether or not their are serious dangers attached to mobile phone use - however it is clear we should not be dismissing the risks - it is frustrating there is so little independent work done on this - one of the more worrying reports was in my email box awaiting my return from holidays...it is worth quoting from at length below - but those interested should see the whole article by Julie A. Evans in Best Life here. Here is some of what she writes:

When Vini Khurana, PhD, an Australian (and Mayo Clinic–trained) neurosurgeon, announced that the link between cell-phone use and cancer was irrefutable - the result of his analysis of more than 100 studies--it set off alarm bells around the world. Use a cell phone, he said, and you increase your risk of developing a malignant brain tumor by two to four times. Until recently, the majority of research indicated little or no link between cell phones and cancer, but several new long-term studies have cast doubt about their safety.

Do cell phones cause cancer?

Maybe…with extended use. Mobile-phone users are twice as likely to develop malignant, difficult-to-treat brain tumors called gilomas, according to a first-of-its-kind study that analyzed the effects of cell-phone use over 10 years or more and was published last year in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine. The Bioinitiative Working Group, an international coalition of scientists and public-health experts, recently published a hefty report detailing the link between the nonionizing radiation caused by a cell phone's electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and cancer, DNA damage, Alzheimer's, and other diseases. "The cells in the body react to EMFs in cell phones just like they do to other environmental toxins, including heavy metals and chemicals," says Martin Blank, PhD, a professor in bioelectromagnetics at Columbia University and one of the report's authors. The study found that risk from cell-phone use starts at 260 lifetime hours.

Do cell phones emit radiation only when you are talking?

No. "Cell phones give off radiation any time they're turned on so that they can communicate with base stations," says Lou Bloomfield, PhD, professor of physics at the University of Virginia and author of How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary. "The radiation emitted, however, is stronger and more frequent when you're talking or messaging." Also, the greater distance you are from a base station, the more radiation your phone must emit in order to get a signal, which is why your phone feels hot when you have low reception. That heat you feel is radiation. The Bioinitiative study found that adverse effects to DNA can also occur before the phone heats up. To reduce your exposure, make calls only when you have strong reception, hang up before your phone heats up, and store your phone away from your body when it's not in use.

What is a phone's SAR value and why does it matter?

SAR stands for specific absorption rate, and it refers to the rate of radiation exposure from radio frequency and microwaves measured in watts per kilogram of tissue, says Bloomfield. The FCC limit on any cell phone sold in this country is 1.6 watts per kilogram. To find the SAR value for your phone, go to fcc.gov/cgb/sar/. At press time, the phone with the lowest radiation was the LG KG800, at 0.135 w/kg. The highest: Motorola V195s, at 1.6 w/kg. The Apple iPhone is in the middle, at 0.974 w/kg. (See the article for best and worst buys)

What is the range of the radiation?

Exposure to radiation from your cell phone drops off slowly for the first three to four inches from your body, and then it falls dramatically, says Bloomfield. To reduce your exposure, invest in a hands-free headset and limit the amount of time you spend talking on the phone. Khurana recommends using the speaker mode and holding the phone about eight inches away from you. Also, limit your use of Bluetooth devices. While it's true that they emit the least amount of radiation (one study found they can operate as low as 0.001 watts per kilogram), even that can add up fast.

Is it risky to carry a cell phone in your pants pocket?

Maybe. One 2006 study found no link to testicular cancer, but other researchers suspect a link to male infertility. Ashok Agarwal, PhD, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, recently completed a study in which cell phones were set down for one hour in talk mode, next to sperm samples in test tubes. He found that the sperm's motility and viability were significantly reduced, and levels of harmful free radicals increased after exposure. Agarwal suggests storing the phone in your jacket pocket to reduce exposure to cell-phone radiation. Pregnant women need to take precautions too, because a recent study found that cell-phone use while pregnant is linked to behavioral problems in children.

Are kids more at risk?

"Yes, since children's nervous systems are still developing, and they have thinner scalps and skulls than adults, they should use cell phones only in emergencies," says Gene Barnett, MD, professor and director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at the Cleveland Clinic. The association between childhood leukemia and exposure to EMFs like those from cell phones has led the International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify them as a "possible human carcinogen." The medical establishments in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom all recommend severe restrictions on children's cell-phone use, with some experts going so far as to say that children under 16 shouldn't use cell phones at all. Make sure your kids opt for landlines when they're at home, and if you must buy them a cell phone for emergencies, get one with a low SAR number.

What about texting?

It's actually a safer way to communicate, says David O. Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. Since kids hold phones away from their bodies when texting, they're exposed to less radiation than when they have the phones to their ears. "We are very concerned about teen cell-phone use, fearing that we face an epidemic of brain tumors 10 to 20 years from now, and there are so few who are raising warning flags," says Dr. Carpenter. Make sure your teen keeps his cell phone turned off and stored in his backpack when it isn't in use, which will dramatically reduce exposure.

Lastly we should also not forget mobiles have an impact on the developing world - see my letter that was in The Ecologist magazine (Nov 2001) here. Also local Green party attempts to stop the marketing of phones to 4 year olds and under - see here. Meanwhile the latest on the Randwick mast coming soon to this blog!


Anonymous said...

See Guardian article here:

Anonymous said...

hope you enjoyed your blog holiday.
good to have you back

Russ said...

increasing a small risk by a factor of 2 doesn't seem that big a deal to me.

You would probably save more kid's lives if the law insisted that all school uniforms and/or school bags, contained fluorescent strips, so that they are more visible, on cold dark mornings/evenings.

I read about someone who wrapped their cell phone in tinfoil to reduce the radiation, but that is apparently the worst thing you can do, as the phone gets a weaker signal from the base station, and so boosts the signal.

Philip Booth said...

Just got this today:

Dear MEP

Food supplements and mobile phones: are their respective risks to public health being managed proportionately?

Most technologies with which humans interact are now heavily influenced by risk assessment. Following the assessment, risks are generally managed via regulation and communication strategies. The alleged justification of all of this is to achieve a high level of consumer protection. The recent changes in health and safety requirements in many people's working environment and the ever-growing attention to safety measures in motor vehicle design are just two areas that readily spring to mind.

In some areas, the amount of regulation appears to be disproportionate to the known risk, while in others, the lack of concern for risk or the tolerance of risk because of an assumed benefit derived from exposure to the source of risk, appears to expose the public to substantial risk.

The raft of regulation emanating from Brussels and targeting natural health products is an example of the former, while the reliance by the orthodox medical profession on pharmaceuticals is an example of the latter. Pharmaceutical-based healthcare continues despite evidence that mortality associated with the use of "properly prescribed" medicines is the fourth biggest killer after heart disease, stroke and cancer (JAMA. 1998; 279(15): 1200-5). The situation is comparable elsewhere, especially in the industrialised world. Another less well know example relates to the public health risks of low intensity electromagnetic fields (EMF) from cellular (mobile) phones and wireless devices.

This begs the question: is this tolerance or intolerance of risk really the result of a careful weighing up of risks and benefits to public health? Or has it perhaps got more to do with the sheer gravity of corporate influence on policy makers and regulators?

We urge you, as a Member of the European Parliament, to consider carefully two issues about which we have just submitted petitions to the European Parliament Petitions Committee. These affect risk assessment and management methodologies for vitamin and mineral food supplements and sources of EMF respectively.

The first of these sectors is being pressurised to such an extent, that if regulatory initiatives, particularly in Europe, are not altered, the maximum amounts of vitamins and minerals allowed in food supplements will be lower than those found in a single junk food meal. To give you just one example, European citizens are critically short of selenium since we stopped importing North American wheat grown in selenium-rich soils. This essential mineral supports numerous vital enzyme functions in the body and helps reduce cancer risk, yet the most influential risk assessment body in Germany wants consumers to be limited on a daily basis to the amount of selenium found in just one-third of a brazil nut!

Food supplements are taken by around half the population of most western countries, and increasing amounts of research—as well as experience from the practice of clinical nutrition—shows that increased vitamin and mineral intakes can substantially improve wellbeing, at very little cost to government.

On the other hand, the radiation emitted by cellular phones, cordless DECT phones and WIFI systems far exceeds those levels considered safe by the majority of scientists researching the risks of very low intensity electromagnetic radiation from such devices. Children and foetuses are most susceptible, yet the public are told nothing about these risks. Just how well are these risks being managed or communicated?

Most people are exposed to multiple sources of radiation from these devices on a daily basis and their overall exposure has increased dramatically over just the last five years as more and more wireless technologies are rolled out.

We, at the ANH, argue that regulators or standard setting bodies have seriously misappropriated the risks—especially the relative risks—of these contrasting technologies. The risks of food supplements appear to have been dramatically overstated. Any analysis of food safety data indicates that risks associated with vitamin and mineral supplements are the lowest of any product consumed orally, being substantially less than that of conventional foods. Yet, food supplements, especially within the European Union, are facing regulatory pressure that could see the vast majority of beneficial dosages of nutrients banned.

Poly-herbal products originating from non-European traditional medicinal cultures, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, are also set to have a particularly rough ride in the years ahead, many potentially falling between the two stools of European law designed for traditional herbal medicines and food supplements respectively.

We also argue, and are supported in this by a group of leading researchers in the field, that the risks from very low intensity electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by a wide range of wireless telecommunications technologies have been dramatically understated by regulatory and standard setting bodies.

Alive to our concerns, Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott, has agreed to host two petitions by the ANH which focus on each of these issues. The European Parliament, the only vestige of a democratic system within the law-making environment of the European Union, has a significant responsibility to its electorate to ensure that risks are assessed objectively and accurately, while being managed proportionately.

The ANH petitions, submitted yesterday to the European Parliament Petitions Committee, are calling for urgent and independent re-evaluation of risk assessment and management approaches affecting both the food supplement and telecommunications sectors, given recent evidence and published science that suggests the models used in both sectors are seriously flawed and not fit for purpose.

The ANH petitions can be downloaded from the following links:

• Food supplement petition:

• Telecommunications petition:

Please forward these petitions to those you know who may be concerned. We would also very much like to hear from organisations wishing to lend their support to either or both of our petitions. Please email us at info@anhcampaign.org.

Thank you for your consideration of these important public health issues.

Yours, in health, naturally

Robert Verkerk BSc MSc DIC PhD
Executive and Scientific Director
Alliance for Natural Health

Philip Booth said...

Many will have seen this in The Independent:

Mobile phone use 'raises children's risk of brain cancer fivefold'

Alarming new research from Sweden on the effects of radiation raises fears that today's youngsters face an epidemic of the disease in later life

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 21 September 2008

The Swedish research was reported this month at the first international conference on mobile phones and health

Children and teenagers are five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones, startling new research indicates.

The study, experts say, raises fears that today's young people may suffer an "epidemic" of the disease in later life. At least nine out of 10 British 16-year-olds have their own handset, as do more than 40 per cent of primary schoolchildren.

Yet investigating dangers to the young has been omitted from a massive £3.1m British investigation of the risks of cancer from using mobile phones, launched this year, even though the official Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) Programme – which is conducting it – admits that the issue is of the "highest priority".

Despite recommendations of an official report that the use of mobiles by children should be "minimised", the Government has done almost nothing to discourage it.

Last week the European Parliament voted by 522 to 16 to urge ministers across Europe to bring in stricter limits for exposure to radiation from mobile and cordless phones, Wi-fi and other devices, partly because children are especially vulnerable to them. They are more at risk because their brains and nervous systems are still developing and because – since their heads are smaller and their skulls are thinner – the radiation penetrates deeper into their brains.

The Swedish research was reported this month at the first international conference on mobile phones and health.

It sprung from a further analysis of data from one of the biggest studies carried out into the risk that the radiation causes cancer, headed by Professor Lennart Hardell of the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden. Professor Hardell told the conference – held at the Royal Society by the Radiation Research Trust – that "people who started mobile phone use before the age of 20" had more than five-fold increase in glioma", a cancer of the glial cells that support the central nervous system. The extra risk to young people of contracting the disease from using the cordless phone found in many homes was almost as great, at more than four times higher.

Those who started using mobiles young, he added, were also five times more likely to get acoustic neuromas, benign but often disabling tumours of the auditory nerve, which usually cause deafness.

By contrast, people who were in their twenties before using handsets were only 50 per cent more likely to contract gliomas and just twice as likely to get acoustic neuromas.

Professor Hardell told the IoS: "This is a warning sign. It is very worrying. We should be taking precautions." He believes that children under 12 should not use mobiles except in emergencies and that teenagers should use hands-free devices or headsets and concentrate on texting. At 20 the danger diminishes because then the brain is fully developed. Indeed, he admits, the hazard to children and teenagers may be greater even than his results suggest, because the results of his study do not show the effects of their using the phones for many years. Most cancers take decades to develop, longer than mobile phones have been on the market.

The research has shown that adults who have used the handsets for more than 10 years are much more likely to get gliomas and acoustic neuromas, but he said that there was not enough data to show how such relatively long-term use would increase the risk for those who had started young.

He wants more research to be done, but the risks to children will not be studied in the MTHR study, which will follow 90,000 people in Britain. Professor David Coggon, the chairman of the programmes management committee, said they had not been included because other research was being done on young people by a study at Sweden's Kariolinska Institute.

He said: "It looks frightening to see a five-fold increase in cancer among people who started use in childhood," but he said he "would be extremely surprised" if the risk was shown to be so high once all the evidence was in.

But David Carpenter, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of NewYork – who also attended the conference – said: "Children are spending significant time on mobile phones. We may be facing a public health crisis in an epidemic of brain cancers as a result of mobile phone use."

In 2000 and 2005, two official inquiries under Sir William Stewart, a former government chief scientist, recommended the use of mobile phones by children should be "discouraged" and "minimised".

But almost nothing has been done, and their use by the young has more than doubled since the turn of the millennium.