This week Dr. Ronald Heberman — director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC Cancer Center — released a memo warning staff and faculty of health risks that may be connected with cell phone use. In May researchers from UCLA and Denmark analyzing data from a vast 13,000 person study reported cell phone use in pregnancy seriously elevated the risk of behavioral problems and diagnoses. In March an award-winning UK neurosurgeon warned that the impact of brain cancer associated with mobile phones may be more dangerous than asbestos and smoking. In January a study sponsored by the cell phone industry itself found cell phone radiation delays and reduces sleep and causes headaches and confusion. Last October, the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine published findings that people who have had the phones for a decade or more are twice as likely to get a malignant tumour on the side of the brain where they hold the handset.
The scientists who conducted the research say using a mobile for just an hour every working day during that period is enough to increase the risk – and that the international standard used to protect users from the radiation emitted is "not safe" and "needs to be revised".
What to do? Well, last September the European Environment Agency called for immediate action to reduce exposure to Wi-Fi, cell phones, and cellular masts. A few weeks before, Germany’s Environment Ministry warned citizens to avoid using Wi-Fi and use landlines instead of mobile phones. Earlier in 2007 the French government "warned against use of mobile phones, esecially in children". Just a Western Europe thing? Nope.
The Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection says that use of the phones by both pregnant women and children should be "limited".
Remember Dr Heberman? He directs the University of Pittsburgh’s [National Cancer Institute (NCI) – designated] Comprehensive Cancer Center. Along with twenty-one other international experts, he drafted The Case For Precaution In Cell Phone Use: the report released on Wednesday.
The report gives us ten practical recommendations to reduce cell phone risks:
Practical Advice to Limit Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation Emitted from Cell Phones
1. Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies. The developing organs of a fetus or child are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
2. While communicating using your cell phone, try to keep the cell phone away from the body as much as possible. The amplitude of the electromagnetic field is one fourth the strength at a distance of two inches and fifty times lower at three feet. Whenever possible, use the speaker-phone mode or a wireless Bluetooth headset, which has less than 1/100th of the electromagnetic emission of a normal cell phone. Use of a hands-free ear piece attachment may also reduce exposures.
3. Avoid using your cell phone in places, like a bus, where you can passively expose others to your phone’s electromagnetic fields.
4. Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body at all times. Do not keep it near your body at night such as under the pillow or on a bedside table, particularly if pregnant. You can also put it on "flight" or "off-line" mode, which stops electromagnetic emissions.
5. If you must carry your cell phone on you, make sure that the keypad is positioned toward your body and the back is positioned toward the outside so that the transmitted electromagnetic fields move away from your rather than through you.
6. Only use your cell phone to establish contact or for conversations lasting a few minutes, as the biological effects are directly related to the duration of exposure.
For longer conversations, use a land line with a corded phone, not a cordless phone, which uses electromagnetic emitting technology similar to that of cell phones.
7. Switch sides regularly while communicating on your cell phone to spread out your exposure. Before putting your cell phone to the ear, wait until your correspondent has picked up. This limits the power of the electromagnetic field emitted near your ear and the duration of your exposure.
8. Avoid using your cell phone when the signal is weak or when moving at high speed, such as in a car or train, as this automatically increases power to a maximum as the phone repeatedly attempts to connect to a new relay antenna.
9. When possible, communicate via text messaging rather than making a call, limiting the duration of exposure and the proximity to the body.
10. Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body). SAR ratings of contemporary phones by different manufacturers are available by searching for "sar ratings cell phones" on the internet.
What motivates Dr. Heberman to and his peers to warn us? According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story:
"Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer," Dr. Ronald Herberman said in the memorandum. "Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use."
A child’s developing organs "are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure," according to the document.
Will every single clinician agree with the findings and suggestions of the EU’s Environment Agency, Germany’s Environment Agency, the Russian Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation, the UCLA/Denmark researchers, the top UK neurosurgeon
who has received 14 awards over the past 16 years, has published more than three dozen scientific papers [and] reviewed more than 100 studies on the effects of mobile phones,
the study published in Occupational Environmental Medicine, and the twenty-one international experts who this week joined Dr. Heberman in releasing Important Precautionary Advice Regarding Cell Phone Use?
Nope. As The Secret History Of The War On Cancer reveals, tobacco, benzene, asbestos, and a host of other lethal toxins were known to be deadly decades before the entire scientific community acknowledged the risks. Of course, the fact many of the holdouts were paid to hold out — some by the same PR/manipulation megacorps Big Carbon now pays to obstuct global warming solutions — explains why the wait for "consenus" can be deadly.
Fortunately, the precautionary principle points out we needn’t wait for a consensus that may never come (until the checks stop coming). We can — and should — act to protect ourselves and our families when technologies appear to be harming us. With cell phones, there’s a wealth of experimental evidence describing mechanisms through which cell phone signals change the biology of living creatures. The studies and findings above describe apparent health risks. And that’s enough to satisfy the precautionary principle.
Do we have to wait for the American Cancer Society? Nope. The Secret History Of The War On Cancer describes how the ACS delayed making public information about tobacco’s dangers, and has been largely MIA in fighting the known environmental (read: chemical) causes of our cancer epidemic. Of course, the fact many of the Big Pharma firms that support the ACS are connected with the Big Chemical firms that market the carcinogens may have something to do with this.
Do we have to wait until everyone in the blogosphere stops raising objections to the findings above? Nope. As we learned when Jordan Barab hosted David Michaels here in Book Salon to discuss Michael’s book Doubt Is Their Product, industry depends on many epidemiologists and other "experts" in industry and academia to raise spurious questions in order to kill new regulations. Until you know where the "expert" weighing in makes their money, you can’t know who they serve: industry, or your health.
We can act now. Dr. Heberman’s prescription is a good place to start.