Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cell Phones: a new environmental hazard that can be reduced

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

Cell phone safety

Cell phone safety

by Molly Rauch

Recently I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Devra Davis, a member of PSR’s Environmental Health Policy Institute, speak about her new book, Disconnect: the truth about cell phone radiation, what the industry has done to hide it, and how to protect your family. In it she argues that cell phone radiation damages DNA and can cause cancer, and that evidence to that effect has been mounting for decades. She describes the science behind her convictions and the PR juggernaut of the cell phone industry in fascinating detail.

Cell phones are actually small microwave radios, Dr. Davis explains. And such radiation – pulsed digital signals – is problematic in the brain for two reasons. It can damage DNA, and it weakens the blood-brain barrier, providing any toxic substances that may be circulating in the blood with easy entry into the sensitive brain.

In addition to learning about the potential health risks of exposure to non-ionizing radiation, I found myself struck with the familiarity of the story, if not the exact content: when cell phones first entered the market, they did so with unknown health effects and unknown profit margins. As cell phones have come into wider and wider use, a vested industry has tirelessly worked to ensure that scientists publish results favorable to its product. Industry attempts to discredit unfavorable results; researchers producing unfavorable results lose their funding, and their jobs. Dr. Davis pointed out that most studies showing no ill effects from cell phone usage – and there have been many – have been sponsored by the cell phone industry. “Human studies have not addressed heavy use for long enough,” Dr. Davis says. Instead they’ve explored average cell phone usage in the range of minutes per day instead of hours per day, and tracked users over years instead of decades. They’ve also looked at adults, not children. “The lack of definitive human evidence should not lead us to assume that cell phones are safe.”

Does this sound familiar? Think about how toxic chemicals are regulated in consumer products. Some researchers have insisted for years that the everyday chemicals to which we are routinely exposed through consumer products such as toys, furniture, and household cleaners affect children more acutely than adults. They’ve argued that cancer is not the only endpoint of interest. They’ve pointed out that some chemicals appear to damage health at very low levels of exposure, not just very high levels of exposure. They’ve produced provocative evidence supporting their hypotheses. Meanwhile, the chemical industry has worked to make such concerns seem sensationalist, and worse. We’ve also seen the American Chemistry Council claim it wants reform of our out-of-date chemical laws – only to balk when a strong bill was introduced in Congress this summer (the Toxic Chemical Safety Act, HR 5820, introduced by Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois), claiming such commonsense provisions as required pre-market safety testing of all chemicals are extreme measures based on flimsy evidence of harm. This is the story of environmental health in America, and we may be seeing it play out all over again with cell phones. Continue reading