How safe is your cell phone?

The fight to require cell phone companies to post the level of radiowave energy coming out of their products

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By Brittany Baguio

news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY In the wake of recent studies suggesting that extensive cell phone use might be linked to some types of cancer, consumer advocates are pushing to require phone companies to publicize the level of radiation their devices emit.

It seems like a simple idea. If fast-food restaurants are required to post the calories and fat content of their junk food, why shouldn't cell phone companies post the level of radiowave energy coming out of their products? But it's proving to be a tough fight — in part because the scientific studies are so complex, and also because the industry is fighting furiously against disclosure rules.

The California State Senate narrowly rejected June 4 a bill by Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF) that would have taken a modest step toward better disclosure. Leno's measure, SB 1212, would have mandated that manufacturers and phone providers disclose radiation levels, or specific absorption rate (SAR), on their Internet websites and online user manuals. They would also be required to state the maximum allowable SAR value, and what it means.

"The federal government has set a standard for this type of radiation and already requires reporting," Leno told us, "At the very least, consumers should have the right to know about the relative risks of the products they're buying."

There's a similar measure in the works in San Francisco. On May 24, the Board of Supervisors City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee passed Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to require retailers in the city to reveal the amount of radiation released by cell phones. That would make San Francisco the only city in the United States mandating that retailers acknowledge radiation information.

The most recent and largest study focusing on cell phone radiation, the Interphone Study, was released this year. Conducted by 21 scientists in 12 participating countries, the study looked at the long-term risks of certain brain cancers.

The results are mixed. The study found some results of increased risks of tumors, although the authors could not agree on how to interpret the data.

The researchers surveyed 5,000 brain cancer patients, and found that people who were "heavy" cell-phone users (defined as using the phone 30 minutes or more a day) had a slightly higher risk of some kinds of cancer. But, as an Environmental Working Group analysis of the study noted, "most of the people involved ... used their cell phones much less than is common today."

Cell phones emit radiowaves through their antennas, which in newer models are often embedded in the phone itself. The closer the distance from the antenna to a person's head, the more exposed he or she is to radio frequency energy.

However, as the distance between the antenna and a person's body increases, the amount of radio frequency energy decreases rapidly. Consumers who keep their phones away from their body while doing activities such as texting are absorbing less radio frequency energy.

The Federal Communications Commission has set a safety level for a phone's SAR — a measure of radiation energy — at 1.6 watts per kilogram of body mass. All cell phone manufacturers must produce phones at or below this level.

Renee Sharp, director of California's Environmental Working group, says the evidence doesn't have to be conclusive to warrant caution. "We aren't trying to say that cell phones are dangerous because we don't have definite answers yet and we need more research," Sharp said. "But when you look at studies with long-term use of 10 years of longer, you see increases in certain kinds of brain tumors. We are trying to give people as much information as we can to make informed decisions because it may or may not impact their health."

Comments

This article is appalling; both badly researched and grossly inaccurate, it simply parrots the same old myth about the existence of scientific research concluding that there is a link between cell phone use and cancer.

This research simply does not exist. No scientist has ever found an connection ever; none, nil, nothing.

This article states "in the wake of recent studies suggesting that extensive cell phone use might be linked to some types of cancer". What research? By who? When? It is simply not true. This research does not exist.

In fact large scale research, carried out over many years, has concluded, again and again, that there is no statistically significant correlation between brain cancer and cell phone use. Besides, cell phones have been with us for decades years now, billions of people use them every day, so where is the rise in brain cancers in the population?

(And why it is always brain cancer anyway? What about ear cancer, skull cancer, skin cancer?)

Science knows what causes cancers; damage to DNA. This can come from three places; certain chemical exposure, a handful of viruses, and from exposure to high energy EM radiation. Cell phones will expose you to none of these.

Sure cell phones do emit EM radiation, but it is not of high enough energy to damage DNA. This is not connected to the power level emitted by the phone or it proximity to the user, it is related only to the frequency/wavelength of the radiation, the radiation emitted by cell phones is many magnitudes too small to damage DNA.

I am so disappointed in The Guardian for publishing this garbage.

Posted by Jon on Jun. 13, 2010 @ 9:37 am

Nonsense Jon.

The reason that cell phones have strict limits on their EM output in the first place is specifically to prevent cancer dangers. The only question that remains is; are the current limits set low enough, and is there in fact any safe level of exposure to EM emissions at all..

For an article that covers the topic of newly arising evidence of cancer dangers see http://www.gq.com/cars-gear/gear-and-gadgets/201002/warning-cell-phone-r...

To see how global industries have created an entire PR infrastructure to insidiously deny a full spectrum dangers -all at once- from tobacco, to cell phones to global warming, with one campaign, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2006/sep/19/ethicalliving.g2

Here is an extremely revealing section from that second article:

'To this end, she had hired a public relations company called APCO. She had attached the advice it had given her. APCO warned that: "No matter how strong the arguments, industry spokespeople are, in and of themselves, not always credible or appropriate messengers."

So the fight against a ban on passive smoking had to be associated with other people and other issues. Philip Morris, APCO said, needed to create the impression of a "grassroots" movement - one that had been formed spontaneously by concerned citizens to fight "overregulation". It should portray the danger of tobacco smoke as just one "unfounded fear" among others, such as concerns about pesticides and cellphones. APCO proposed to set up "a national coalition intended to educate the media, public officials and the public about the dangers of 'junk science'. Coalition will address credibility of government's scientific studies, risk-assessment techniques and misuse of tax dollars ...'

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jun. 13, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

HI Eric,

Exactly which part of what I say in "nonsense"?

You say that "The reason that cell phones have strict limits on their EM output in the first place is specifically to prevent cancer dangers". You sure about that? I'd love to know where you learned this "fact".

The GQ article could not, in any way, be considered science, it mealy parrots the same myths that the SFBG article parrots. And an article by George Monbit on climate change? Really?

This is all irrelevant, anyway. Please point me to the scientific research which suggests that a new way of contracting cancer has been discovered, and that it in some way relates to cell phone use. Because I am telling you that it does not exist and that is fact there is a large amount of evidence to suggest that this is complete nonsense.

Your analogy with tobacco is interesting. The difference between tobacco-causes-cancer and cell-phones-cause-cancer is that with tobacco there were all these smokers with lung cancer to explain away. With cell phones we have billions of users over several decades and no corresponding rise in cancers.

For example, here is what the WHO have to say on this subject - http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/

Science is good at proving things are true, "tobacco causes cancer" is a good example. Science is not good at all at proving a negative, experiments are imperfect and one can always find tiny trends in "noise" if one is determined enough. Statements such as "the results were inconclusive" are often another way of saying "we did not find anything", "more research is needed" is another way of saying "please don't make my job redundant".

Again I challenge you to show me any large recent peer reviewed scientific study which conclusively finds any significant correlation between cancer and cell phone use. The GQ article says it exists, the SFBG says it exists, so where is it?

Posted by Jon on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

Great responses here:

FCC Radio Frequency Safety page
http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety/Welcome.html

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection
http://www.icnirp.de/

WHO EMF page
http://www.who.int/peh-emf/en/

IEEE International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety (ICES)
http://www.ices-emfsafety.org/

Incredible collection of info here:

http://www.emfandhealth.com/

http://wifinetnews.com/archives/2010/03/popsci_gets_pop_and_science_righ...

lastly

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/growing_hysteria/

Posted by agree with Jon on Jun. 15, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

This is excellent - http://www.emfandhealth.com/Cell%20Phones.html

Anyone care to share the "recent studies suggesting that extensive cell phone use might be linked to some types of cancer"? Because I still can't find them.

Posted by Jon on Jun. 27, 2010 @ 8:15 pm