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Our 53rd Year

Cell Phones and Your Brain – Handle With Care!


Do wireless phones present a health risk? Commercials for cell phones that fill our airwaves, newspapers and magazines routinely feature young children happily chatting with their phones held smack up against their bodies and brains, and iPads plopped directly over young gonads. Headlines have repeatedly assured us that there’s little to worry about because we do not face an epidemic of brain cancer…yet. In fact, the brain cancer story remains complex, because the disease has a long latency – up to four decades – and because past uses and users differ radically from current ones.

According to cell phone industry statements, the overwhelming majority of published studies in scientific journals around the world show that wireless phones do not pose a risk. However, when one removes the industry-funded studies, the overwhelming weight of evidence reveals there is a significant problem. There are over 1,000 peer reviewed published papers showing harmful biological effects from the microwave radiation exposure such as that from cell phones and children are at the greatest risk.

According to Devra Davis, Ph.D, epidemiologist and author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family:

“A cell phone is a two-way microwave radio with intermittent and destabilizing pulses, unlike microwave ovens that steadily operate at the same frequencies at much greater power. The weak and erratic microwave radiation from cell phones and tablets cannot directly break the bonds that hold molecules together, but it does disrupt DNA, weaken the brain’s protective barrier, and release highly reactive and damaging free radicals.

“A five-year-old’s brain, healthy or otherwise, is encased in a thinner skull and contains more fluid than an adult brain. According to studies carried out by industry modelers in Switzerland and France, the bone marrow of a child’s head absorbs 10 times more radiation than that of an adult, while that of infants and toddlers will absorb even more. Few parents realize that infant apps such as One Fish Two Fish, Peekaboo Farm, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star may do much more than amuse and distract babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that children need more real face-time than screen time-more laps than apps-and the group has written to the FCC supporting the need to revamp standards to recognize the growing use of these devices by infants and toddlers.”

Other research carried out by renowned National Institute of Drug Abuse Director Nora Volkow, MD, PhD, finds that just 50 minutes of exposure to cell phone radiation in adult males directly alters the production of glucose- the brain’s main fuel. Experimental work completed by American, Australian, Greek, and Turkish teams working with experts in male reproductive health has reported that cell phone-radiation-exposed human sperm die three times faster, swim significantly more poorly, become more deformed, and develop significantly more damage to sperm DNA.

Is there a cover up? Cell phones, like Apple’s iphone 5 used to come with inserts advising safe cell phone use. Now you have to go online to read a product safety notice which states simply: “iPhone has been tested and meets applicable limits for Radio Frequency (RF) exposure.” Evidence on cell phone dangers is considered inconclusive by government agencies which insist upon undeniable proof of harm before taking any action – all the more difficult given pressure from the powerful telecom industry, supported by a public which has become increasingly dependent on its products. But like other carcinogens (e.g. smoking cigarettes), undeniable proof may not be available for decades. Nevertheless, a growing body of scientists think the writing is on the wall. Consider these facts:

  • Independent studies have found that microwave radiation exposure from cell phones damages DNA and disrupts the blood brain barrier at levels 500 times below the FCC federal exposure standards.
  • Due to industry pressure and influence in Congress, cell phones were marketed in the 1990s with no pre-market safety testing – despite known health hazards from microwave radiation exposure from military studies in the 1950s and 60s.
  • The 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report determined that the 16 year-old FCC testing procedures do not protect users from exposure to the microwave radiation emission from cell phones, which are classified as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • The number of children exposed to cell phone radiation has increased dramatically every year. According to a 2011 Pew Research report, 66% of American children acquire a cell phone before the age of 7 and 87% of teens are sleeping with cell phones under their pillows.
  • No insurance company will issue liability insurance to the telecom industry.

When it comes to using electronic devices, err on the side of caution and follow these guidelines:

  1. Don’t allow children to play with or use your cell phone. Older children should use a headset or speakerphone when talking on a cell; teach them to use it next to their head only in an emergency, if no other option. Children’s skulls are thinner than adults’ and their brains are still developing. Hence, radiation from cell phones penetrates more deeply into their brains and is likely to cause more damage. Texting (while holding the phone away from their body) is still okay for kids.
  2. Distance is your friend. While talking on your phone, try to keep it away from your body as much as possible (no closer than 5/8 inch is generally recommended). The amplitude of the electromagnetic field (radiation) is one fourth the strength at a distance of two inches and fifty times lower at three feet. Whenever possible, use the speaker-phone mode or a wired headset (not a Bluetooth). There are also nonmetal cases that have been independently tested to reduce radiation up to 90%.
  3. Avoid using your cell phone when the signal is weak or when moving at high speed, such as in a car or train, as this automatically increases power to a maximum as the phone repeatedly attempts to connect to a new relay antenna.
  4. 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. Pregnant women should keep cell phones away from their abdomens, and men who wish to become fathers should never keep activated phones in their pockets.
  5. 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 you rather than through you.
  6. Only use your cell phone to establish contact or for conversations lasting a few minutes, as the biological effects are directly related to the duration of exposure. For longer conversations, use a landline with a corded phone, not a cordless phone, which also uses electromagnetic emitting technology similar to that of cell phones.
  7. Switch sides regularly while communicating on your cell phone to spread out your exposure. Before putting your cell phone to the ear, wait until your correspondent has picked up. This limits the power of the electromagnetic field emitted near your ear and the duration of your exposure.
  8. When possible, communicate via text messaging rather than making a call, to limit the duration of exposure and the proximity to the body.
  9. Avoid using your cell phone in places like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone’s electromagnetic fields.
  10. Read your cellphone manual. Important information may be buried in fine print, but it’s worth learning about things like the minimum distance that your cellphone must be kept away from yourself whether in use or in stand-by mode. Keeping it closer than the designated distance can result in a violation of the FCC Exposure Limit.

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.
Environmental Health Trust
Video: Cell Phone Dangers – Dr. Devra Davis at National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)