Cell phone radiation
Mobile phones are an integral part of society, with billions of users worldwide across a wide age spectrum. In some parts of the world, they are the only means of communication available. Although the availability of a cell phone can contribute to the convenience and safety of an individual's life, the question arises as to whether excessive use of a mobile phone can pose a health risk through exposure of a heavy user to low but repeated and eventually prolonged levels of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) at a relatively close proximity ("near-field") to the brain, the human body's key electrical organ.
Why should I be aware of this?
Consider these two facts: Historically, widespread mobile phone usage commenced in the mid-1980s (earliest in Northern Europe). Medically, it is known that solid tumours may take several years to trigger and form. Cell phone critics believe that we are witnessing a rise in cancer levels in epidemic proportions, and that this is linked to excessive cell phone usage.
There isn't enough definitive research to prove this. However, even if there is a doubt about the effects of long term usage of mobile phones, one can at least try to limit one's usage. Recently, Toronto's department of public health has advised teenagers and young children to limit their use of cell phones, in order to avoid potential health risks. The advisory is the first of its kind in Canada. Officials have warned that because of possible side effects from radio frequency radiation, children under eight should only use a cell phone in emergencies, and teenagers should limit calls to less than 10 minutes.
All about cell phone radiation
The transmitter in mobile phones operates on about 0.75 watt to 1 watt of power, with 2 W at peak usage. This electric current running through the transmitter circuit also creates an electromagnetic field around it. As the electric current moves back and forth, the fields continue to build and collapse, forming electromagnetic radiation.
Thus, cell phone radiation is generated in the transmitter, and is emitted through the antenna in the form of radio waves. In the case of cell phones, the frequencies of these radio waves fall in the low microwave range.
About electromagnetic radiation (EMR)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines electromagnetic fields on its Webpages dedicated to the concerns regarding the increasing presence of this form of radiation. In essence, an electromagnetic field is comprised of two components, one being an electric field generated by differences in voltage and another being a magnetic field generated by the flow of current. The field propagates at the speed of light (300,000 kilometres per second or 186,000 miles per second) in waves of a certain length that oscillate at a certain frequency (number of oscillations or cycles per second). In the electromagnetic range, gamma rays given off by radioactive materials, cosmic rays, and X-rays are all dangerous to humans and other organisms because of the relatively high energy "quanta" (packets) they carry (high frequency or short-wavelength waves). Such rays lead to "dangerous radiation" (ionizing; i.e., with an ability to break bonds between molecules). Mobile phone systems also act in the electromagnetic range (sometimes referred to as microwave or radiofrequency).
Cell phone radiation and health
The jury is still out on the theory that the radiation from mobile phones causes cancer or other health problems. Many researchers fear the answer is yes, yet they have been unable to come up with any plausible way that radiation from a phone could affect, let alone harm, biological tissue. Another reason why a definitive answer to the question about the health impact of cell phone usage is still pending is that modern man has numerous other simultaneous long-term exposures to electromagnetic radiation including continuous waves from radio and TV transmitter towers, cordless phone base stations, power lines, and wireless/WiFi computing devices.
The conventional view is that the only way radio waves could damage a cell would be if they were energetic enough to break chemical bonds or heat the tissue, like microwaves. Yet the radiation given off by handsets is much too weak to produce either of these effects.
Some scientists argue that while radio waves emitted by cellphones may be too weak to cause cell damage, they could cause a massive increase in the forces that living cells exert on each other. A study from Sweden. highlights the idea that electromagnetic radiation might act on cells by affecting the attractive forces between them rather than simply causing heat damage to tissue.
The World Health Organisation, in a June 2000 factsheet, identified the key health concerns of cell phone radiation . It has identified research needs to make better health risk assessment and promoted the research to funding agencies. Their summary of health concerns is below --
- Cancer: Current scientific evidence indicates that exposure to RF fields, such as those emitted by mobile phones and their base stations, is unlikely to induce or promote cancers. Several studies of animals exposed to RF fields similar to those emitted by mobile phones found no evidence that RF causes or promotes brain cancer. While one 1997 study found that RF fields increased the rate at which genetically engineered mice developed lymphoma, the health implications of this result is unclear. Several studies are underway to confirm this finding and determine any relevance of these results to cancer in human beings. Three recent epidemiological studies found no convincing evidence of increase in risk of cancer or any other disease with use of mobile phones.
- Other health risks: Scientists have reported other effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. These effects are small and have no apparent health significance. More studies are in progress to try to confirm these findings.
- Driving: Research has clearly shown an increased risk of traffic accidents when mobile phones (either handheld or with a "hands-free" kit) are used while driving.
- Electromagnetic interference: When mobile phones are used close to some medical devices (including pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference. There is also the potential of interference between mobile phones and aircraft electronics.
What can I do about it?
- Use the hands free or speaker phone option wherever possible.
- Keep the cellphone at least 20 cm away from body
- When at home, reach for the landline instead of the mobile phone.
- Minimise childrens' exposure to cell phones, except in emergency situations.
- Avoid using your cell phone in places, like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone’s electromagnetic fields.
- Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body at all times. Do not keep it near your body at night such as under the pillow or on a bedside table, particularly if pregnant. You can also put it on “flight” or “off-line” mode, which stops electromagnetic emissions.
- If you must carry your cell phone on you, make sure that the keypad is positioned toward your body and the back is positioned toward the outside so that the transmitted electromagnetic fields move away from your rather than through you.
- Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body). SAR ratings of contemporary phones by different manufacturers are available by searching for “sar ratings cell phones” on the internet.
- Bluetooth ear-piece devices wirelessly transfer microwaves generated by the mobile phone. They are not a safe option for avoiding cell phone radiation.
- Wired ear-pieces are also not safe unless they are specifically shielded against electromagnetic radiation. Wearing an ear-piece connected by a wire to a mobile phone in essence converts the user's head into an antenna for the base-station.
- Home-based cordless phones do not emit as much EMR as conventional mobile phones.
- Landlines are the safest option to avoiding cell phone radiation.
- Keeping a mobile phone close to one’s head overnight is not safe. Even "at rest", the mobile will regularly emit a pulsed microwave signal to its closest base station in order for the mobile phone's position to be tracked in order to maintain its expected service.
- "Walkie-talkies" emit very high levels of electromagnetic radiation, up to 50 times more than a mobile phone.
- Cell phones are basically just sophisticated radios!