Bad for your health

How harmful are cell phones and what preventive measures can you take?

Conspiracies involving major government cover-ups and big business hush-ups, with the poor, innocent bystander caught in the middle, are usually the stuff of blockbuster movies.

But there is a possible danger out there. It’s playing in real life and more than likely it impacts you and the lives of more than 200 million people.

With the tremendous growth of cell phone use, numerous reports have been issued regarding the potential health hazards that can come from the devices. These range from headaches, noise in the ears and stress to more terrifying reports of memory loss, DNA damage and malignant brain tumors.

These growing fears are centered on the low-powered radio signals or electromagnetic frequency (EMF) waves that are emitted by wireless phones. Emitted over the entire surface of the phone, these waves penetrate users’ brains. Although scientific research and studies about the danger of EMF waves date back over the past 50 years, as yet not one study has demonstrated conclusively that EMF waves are actually harmful.

Major media hype came as a result of last fall’s appearance by Dr. George Carlo, chairman of Wireless Technology Research in Washington, D.C., on ABC-TV’s 20/20. WTR was established in 1993 to address the public health risks from wireless communications technologies. Its $28.2 million budget was funded by the Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association (CTIA).

The WTR study showed a correlation between a higher incidence of brain cancer and a greater risk of rare neurological tumors and DNA damage among the users of handheld phones versus users of other types of phones. However, despite Dr. Carlo’s findings, CTIA, the $200-billion-a-year industry trade group, maintains that “wireless phones are safe and meet the standards adopted by the U.S. government,” says association president Thomas Wheeler. Quoting the World Health Organization, Wheeler says, “There is no convincing evidence that [EMF] waves induce or promote cancer.”

Truth be told, every model sold in the U.S. has a specific absorption rate (SAR) rating, which measures how much microwave energy from the phone can penetrate the brain. However, according to the 20/20 report, government safety standards are vague because certain phones pass the Federal Communications Commission’s safety requirements when tested in one position and fail when held in another. What harm was done all depended on how close the cell phone antenna was to the head. Held too close, as much as 60% of the microwave radiation is absorbed by and actually penetrates the brain.

The big three mobile phone manufacturers-Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia-argue that the tests were misleading and that their products meet the strictest standards set by the government. All three companies post information on their Websites regarding testing and safety issues. For more information, see www.erics son.com/health, www.motorola.com/rfhealth and www.nokia.com/safety.

“Wireless users are exposed to limits on SAR levels that are anywhere from 10 to 50 times below the point where any risks exist,” says Norman Sandler, director of global strategic issues at Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Illinois. “There is a huge margin built into the phones, so that even if you exceeded the

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