Cell Phones: a new environmental hazard that can be reduced
By Devra Davis, PhD MPH
Could cell phones possibly be harmful? When I first heard this possibility, I rejected it. After all, it is physically impossible for the weak non-ionizing radiation of cell phones to break the bonds that hold our cells together. While cell phones use the same frequency of radiation as microwave ovens, they use more than two thousand times less power.
The most obvious danger from cell phones arises from serious accidents that occur because of distracted driving and the increasingly rude behaviors they foster at the dinner table, restaurants, and coffee shops. But, this is hardly the sole hazard of these now universal devices on which nearly all adults and teenagers depend. Weak, pulsed signals from cell phones are not harmless but induce a host of serious biological responses. Cell phone radiation from today’s smartphones can damage DNA, lower sperm count in both animals and humans, increase the production of damaging blood markers linked to greater cancer risk, and weaken the barrier that protects the brain from harmful exposures. In devising appropriate toxic chemical policies we should of course reduce exposures, but we also need to lower cell phone radiation to achieve this goal, because such radiation enhances the uptake of all toxic chemicals.
My new book Disconnect explains the science behind all this and documents a sophisticated and hidden pattern of deceit and denial implemented by the cell phone industry—much like that of the tobacco and asbestos industries. In truth the science and engineering of cell phones is complicated and not widely understood by most physicians or scientists. This complexity has made it easy to confuse people about the risks. Whenever studies have emerged indicating that cell phone radiation can be harmful, they have been treated as inconvenient truths to be handily dispatched by attacking the science and the scientists. It’s been easy to recruit skeptics to conduct competing research that looks like replication but really is not. This strategy has worked until now, when two major things have changed. Governments where the science has advanced are issuing rules requiring warning labels and banning advertising to children, and industry has rolled out its own fine print warnings.
In countries, cities, and states around the globe–from Finland, Israel, France, and Canada, to San Francisco, Jackson, Wyoming, and Luxembourg–regulations and proclamations are being advanced that build on the strong evidence that cell phone radiation has a range of biological impacts. Standards for phones were set more than two decades ago based on avoiding acute impacts for a large, male military recruit weighing well over 200 pounds. Of the world’s four billion phones, growing numbers are being used by children, whose brains and bodies are not just smaller than this big guy but different. That’s why companies have been issuing fine print warnings that people can read after they buy phones. And that’s why San Francisco passed right to know legislation.
No matter who is in charge of a democratic government, democracy rests on the freely given consent of the governed. People have a basic right to know that cell phones are small two-way microwave radiating radios that can be safely used only when they are not touching the head or body, and they have the right to know this before they decide to purchase a device. It is an insult to the intelligence of the consuming public to package phones with notices that phones cannot be safely used in the pocket or to keep phones 15 mm or .98 inches from the body. Continue reading