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.
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Joann Woolley says
Thank you for this informative piece. I have drastically limited the amount of time my kids can use my cell phone. Now I have them using the tablet.
I often wondered about radiation exposure with cell phones. I was never comfortable watching women at the gym carry their cell phones around, tucked into their sports bras. Or sports bras that actually have a compartment for storing your phone while you work out. I think the only benefit that I have in regards to my cell phone usage is that most of my usage is based on internet surfing and texting. While there is still some exposure there, not as much as holding it up to my ear to talk. Great information!
Emily @ Recipes to Nourish says
Really great post. I worry about the EMFs. I do use my phone a lot for business, but I always use ear pieces or speaker phone, I never hold it to my ear because I can actually feel the radiation, it hurts my ear. I also recently bought a few EMF protectors for my phone and my husband’s phone too. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
Andrea Fabry says
Yes, it’s steps isn’t it? I relate.
This is a great article with a lot of good information for cell phone users and parents of little cell phone users. I use a landline when I am at home and either speaker or tube headphones when I use my cell. I’ve tried repeatedly to let others know of the dangers of “wearing” their cell phone but I’m not making much headway.
Andrea Fabry says
Yes, very hard to help others see the reality of this. Thanks for the comment, Carol.
Chloe @ How We Flourish says
Scary stuff. Thank you for the information. I’ve been working on lessening my exposure, but I could do WAY better.
For about the past three years I have had this weird pain just under my ear but it only hurts if I tug on my ear in a certain spot, it is difficult to find. I have been to acupuncture, the regular dr. and the ears, nose and throat dr. and no one seems to be able to find anything wrong. Sometimes I wonder if it is from the cell phone since it is my left ear and that is the one I hold the phone to. I try to use my home phone when at home and always speakers and blue tooth when in the car and I do not let my kids talk on it. This world is getting scary to live in.
Andrea Fabry says
I would trust your instincts on this – it truly could be related. Cell phones present very unnatural waves of radiation, certainly enough to explain this. Good job contemplating the connection. I think you might like one of the air tube headsets for those times you need the phone. I list several in the new post 10 Cell Phone Safety Tips.
My stepfather died in 2002 of brain cancer at 32 years old. There is a huge part of me that has always believed he developed this brain cancer from ALWAYS being on his phone. The stuff that comes out of phones is scary and I hardly ever put the phone to my ear (mostly using speaker phone) and I’ve started putting my phone on airplane mode when my son plays with it. I’m pregnant with my second and when I’m on my computer or phone, I use a blanket that blocks EMFs. This is one thing that I am super cautious about. Such a great post, thank you!
Andrea Fabry says
I appreciate you sharing this, Loriel What a smart mom you are. I have no doubt your instincts are right on this.
These past 2 yrs. my cell phone (iPhone4s) has caused my eyes and head to hurt as soon as I look at the screen and when talking my head begins to hurt immediately so I believe they are very harmful. I refrain from using the cell as much as possible and try to keep it away from me. I really want to be cell phone free or at least smart phone free but my husband insists I may need Internet in case of an emergency. I really am fearful to what it’s doing, I do love technology but not at the expense of my health. The future of our health is something to worry about, especially the youth.
Andrea Fabry says
I’m with you. I appreciate technology but not if it’s going to jeopardize our health. I am especially concerned for the upcoming generation. You are wise to limit your use, Jenna. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
Richard Streit says
I’ve known about cell phones forever. I have NEVER trusted them. Also the same thing about microwave ovens. Good luck getting away from these things. It really is quite remarkable. Even using wi-fi at home. And someone talks about using their cell for mainly the internet and texting. As I said….good luck. Even doing that you are getting much exposure. I mean there are so many frequencies in the air it is unreal. This is the world we live in today. Every where you go you see people constantly on their cell phones. Even using the internet you are sending radio frequencies through the air. It is IMPOSSIBLE to escape this. Like I said it is the world we live in today…….the bottom line…..PROFIT!!! These big business’ know what they are doing. Profit is more important than our health.
Andrea Fabry says
The good news is that there are ways to reduce exposure at home and especially at night. Even if your neighbors have Wi Fi on all night. But you’re right, putting profit ahead of health is historically an issue.