A set of new public health guidelines released in California last year, which outlined the potential dangers of cellphone use immediately provoked public outcry from phone users worldwide. The guidelines suggested keeping cellphones at a distance from one’s body wherever possible so as to lower exposure to cellphone radiation. It wasn’t the first time an official body had warned the public about the potential risks of cellphone use either. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued similar warnings in the past, and the World Health Organisation has similarly made public its stance on the potential long-term health risks of excessive mobile phone use.
This is all happening despite the fact that scientific consensus has not yet been reached as to whether exposure to radiofrequency energy (RF) is in fact harmful to human health, leading me to wonder if the health experts know something we don’t. Admittedly, some studies have suggested that the long-term use of mobile phones may be linked to certain types of cancer and other health defects, including tumors of the acoustic nerve and salivary glands, brain cancer, headaches and lower sperm count, as well as have a negative impact on learning, memory, hearing, behavior and sleep. But according to the FDA, current data does not show a weighty enough correlation between exposure to radiofrequency from cell phones and adverse health outcomes to warrant stronger regulations surrounding cellphone use.
It’s understandable why people are panicking. On hearing the word “radiation”, people naturally find themselves associating the idea of cellphone radiation with “ionizing radiation” – in other words, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that emits energies so powerful it is enough to cause ionization and possibly induce cancer. But the kinds of radiation being emitted from cellphones are not ionizing radiation, contrary to public belief.
The truth is, the question of whether or not there are health dangers linked to cell phone use remains unresolved. The jury is hung on the topic. Worryingly, though, scientists argue there’s enough preliminary evidence to warrant basic protective public health measures and further scientific research to address gaps in knowledge, such as the effects of cell phone use over the long-term and on pediatric populations. Let’s face it, mobile phones haven’t been around long enough for there to have been long-term evaluative studies analyzing how frequent cellphone use over the course of an entire lifetime can affect human health. Some kids today are being given their first phone at the age of 10, so not until they are in their eighties or nineties will we have an accurate understanding of the long-term impacts of such habits.
Concerning evidence relating to the health impact of cell phone radiation is on the rise, though. In 2011, the World Health Organization moved to classify radiation from cell phones as a “possible carcinogen” and acknowledged that more research needs to be done on the topic. In two separate studies conducted in 2007 and 2012, scientists concluded that individuals using cell phones for more than 10 years give rise to a “consistent pattern of an increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma,” with a higher risk of developing a tumor on the side of the head commonly in contact with a cellphone. In May 2016, the U.S. National Toxicology Program released preliminary results of a controversial two-year study that showed exposure to cell-phone radiation increased the risk of male rats developing brain and heart tumors. Last year, an Italian court ruled in favor of a plaintiff who argued his brain tumor was the result of excessive work-related mobile phone usage over a whopping 15-year period.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) cell phone guidelines were issued partly as a result of a lawsuit brought about by university professor and director of the Center for Family and Community Health Joel Moskowitz. He successfully sued the State back in 2009 because the Department of Public Health refused to release information about the dangers of cell phone radiation. Since, Moskowitz has gone on to further examine whether radiation from the Bluetooth technology in AirPods and other headsets poses health risks to humans.
The guidelines issued by the CDPH include keeping the phone at a distance from the body when not in use, reducing the use of cell phones to stream audio or video content, or to download or upload large files, and keeping the phone away from the bed at night.
“Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones,” said director of the CDPH Dr. Karen. “We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults.”
In this day and age, where most of the developed world now has access to preventative medicine, where we have developed vaccinations for almost every disease, where anyone can walk into a hormone clinic to reduce the risks associated with aging – why have we not taken even simpler preventative steps in response to the perceived health risks associated with mobile phone usage? Changing our behavior seems far easier than paying to inject ourselves with a disease or undergoing estragon therapy, doesn’t it? Granted, the evidence regarding the long-term implications is inconclusive at this stage, but there is enough data to suggest a likely possibility of it being dangerous to human health. What will it take us to sit up and listen?