The City of Berkeley has adopted landmark legislation requiring cell phone retailers to include a city-prepared cell phone health warning with each phone purchase.
On Monday, March 21, 2016, the nation’s first cell phone “right to know” ordinance took effect. Mobile phone vendors in the city will now be required to provide the following safety warning:
“The City of Berkeley requires that you be provided the following notice:
To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”
(Wondering about your cell phone manufacturer’s user manual? See Cell Phone Manual Warnings.)
Are cell phones dangerous?
Consider the following studies linking cell phone use with cancer and other health issues:
2006 – Swedish National Institute for Working Life studied cell phone habits of 900 people with brain tumors. Those that used cell phones for 2,000 cumulative hours had a 240% increased risk for a malignant tumor on the side of the head where they held their phone.
2008 – Journal Epidemiology reports that children born to mothers who used cell phones while pregnant and whose children used cell phones by the age of 7 were more likely to be hyperactive and have emotional/behavioral problems.
2011 – Epidemiology suggests an association between parotid tumors and cell phone use. See Risk of Parotid Malignant Tumors in Israel.
2014 – Pathophysiology publishes a follow-up study to the Swedish study noting that the odds of developing a malignant and highly lethal brain cancer called glioma rose concurrently with increased cell phone use.
It’s important to note that while there are increasing numbers of studies suggesting a connection between cell phone use and health problems, there are many studies that dispute the contention.
When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
My gut feeling tells me to err on the side of caution when it comes to cell phone use. Does it seem natural to exposure our brains to low levels of radiation on a daily basis? The radiation may be non-ionizing, but it’s very far from levels that are naturally occurring.
How is cell phone safety determined?
The Federal Communications Commission has thus far relied on thermal testing to maintain its position on safety. This standard makes use of an anthropomorphic head model that is filled with a gel that is a lower weight than standard liquids.
By exposing the mannequin to a cell phone for six minutes, the gel is tested to see if any temperature changes occur. Thus far testing has shown no significant thermal change. Therefore, cell phones are declared safe.
It’s important to note that the mannequin model (Specific Anthropomorphic Mannequin or SAM) is based on healthy 1989 United States military recruits weighing approximately 220 pounds with a height of 6’2″.
But what about children? Researchers in the study Exposure Limits: The Underestimation of Absorbed Cell Phone Radiation, Especially in Children, suggest the mannequin model falls short.
SAM uses a fluid having the average electrical properties of the head that cannot indicate differential absorption of specific brain tissue, nor absorption in children or smaller adults. The SAR for a 10-year old is up to 153% higher than the SAR for the SAM model. When electrical properties are considered, a child’s head’s absorption can be over two times greater, and absorption of the skull’s bone marrow can be ten times greater than adults.
The following illustration from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ Journal on Microwave Theory and Techniques emphasizes the vast difference between an adult’s absorption and a child’s.
The Good News
The good news is there are numerous ways to minimize your exposure and still make use of a cell phone. While children should avoid cell phones at all costs, suggested adaptations for adults include texting rather than talking, using the speaker or an air-tube headset, and using your cell phone only when the signal is strong. For more specifics on simple changes see 10 Cell Phone Safety Tips.