Mobile Mania

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Cell phone safety is all over the news in the last few weeks.  It began after a group called the International EMF Collaborative issued a report warning that cell phones may be more dangerous than users have been led to believe by health authorities.  Last week, the Environmental Working Group released their online guide to cellphone radiation.  And yesterday, Pennsylvania senator and brain cancer survivor Arlen Specter held a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing to focus on whether cellular phone use causes health problems. At the same time and also in the nation’s capital, attendees at an international conference examined the potential cancer risks of radiation generated by cell phones. 

What is going on?  The EMF Collaborative report, titled “Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern,” says the latest research indicates that regular use of cell phones can result in a “significant” risk of brain tumors.  It also says kids are at greater risk than adults because their still-developing brain cells are more vulnerable to electromagnetic radiation.  This study adds to the mounting evidence which indicates we should reduce our exposures while research continues on this question.  Consider this:  Americans’ use of cell phones increased 50% last year - fueled in large part by the "smartphone" craze.  If cell phone radiation is indeed a problem, it’s going to be a really huge problem in the coming years.

Last week the Environmental Working Group received a lot of attention when it released its comprehensive online consumer guide to cell phone radiation, which rates more than 1,000 cell phones marketed in the U.S.  The guide is the culmination of a 10-month research review to understand the risks of cell phone usage. The EWG also found that cell phones emit radiation - enough so that scientists are concerned about potential cancer risks. Using their guide, you can:

What else can you do now to limit your exposure?  If you need a new mobile phone, it’s smart to buy phones with lower radiation emissions - use the EWG guide to figure out which is best for you.  Whichever phone you have, it's a good idea to keep it as far away from your body as possible.  Researchers say using the speaker, sending text messages or talking on a headset all cut down on radiation exposure.  Opinions differ on whether a wireless Bluetooth headset poses a risk - some scientists at Monday’s hearing said it could be a problem, while others did not. But they all agreed a wired headset is best.  And using any headset means less radiation than if you’re holding the phone directly to your ear.  Also try making calls when the signal is high so that the phone doesn't have to work as hard. 

What about your kids?  Talk to them about these findings, and help them to limit their exposure:  kids actually can absorb twice as much radiation as an adult from the same cell phone.  If your kids give you flak, let them know that advisories to limit cell phone use have already been issued by numerous countries and advisory boards including: the UK; Germany; France; Russia; India; Israel; Belgium; Japan; the Toronto Board of Health; and the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Dr. Devra Davis, Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh has said “Children under the age of 12 should not use cell phones unless in an emergency situation. If they must use cell phones, make sure they connect using a headset.”

Read more in the L.A. Times, Wired, Green Living Online, and at CNET.com.