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An evolution of mobile phones by Motorola.

5 billion cell phones the greatest health experiment ever to take place without informed consent

BakTalk
with Beth-Ann Kozlovich


HONOLULU—You probably have one. Cell phones are handy, convenient, and quite possibly, according to some researchers, dangerous. Given the staggering number of cell phones in use worldwide—estimated at 5 billion—cell phone safety advocates are calling for higher standards, stricter government guidelines, and independent studies unfunded in any way by the wireless industry.

Canadian researcher and health psychologist Kerry Crofton agrees more longitudinal studies are required given the relative short time in which cell phones and wireless technology have become commonplace. While there are opposing conclusions in what studies we do have, Crofton views the studies funded by the wireless industry with suspicion. She particularly takes issue with the multinational Interphone study released in March that gave an “all clear” for cell phone use and did not find a link to an increased risk of brain tumors. Thirteen countries participated; the United States was not among them.

“Their idea of a heavy cell phone user was someone who used it only 30 minutes a day,” Crofton says. “These days, that’s not much and those heavy users showed an increased risk of 40 percent. So even that study is flawed.”

According to Lloyd Morgan, a retired electrical engineer of 38 years and now a Senior Research Fellow for the Environmental Health Trust in Washington, D.C., “There’s no research being done whatsoever in the United States. In fact even around the world, almost all the research is largely industry funded. This is the greatest health experiment that has ever taken place without informed consent.”

Morgan is a co-author on two epidemiological papers, one of which was among the top 10 articles for 2007 in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine; he is also a brain tumor survivor. At last September’s conference in Washington, conferees went to a Senate hearing and found a few sympathetic lawmakers, including Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter. With Specter’s interparty primary loss in May, Morgan says other political allies have come forward. In June, Congressman Dennis Kucinich announced he will introduce legislation to create a national research program, update the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and have warning labels on cell phones.

Hawaii cancer survivor Carrie Hyman, a doctor of Chinese medicine, licensed acupuncturist, and one of Crofton’s 23 contributors believes there is little research on cell phones in the United States because wireless companies put profits ahead of public safety, not unlike what history has shown about the tobacco industry. Other countries subscribe to the Precautionary Principle—erring on the side of caution and informing rather than waiting for categorical proof of irrefutable harm.

“In Norway, Sweden, Israel, France, and the U.K., those governments have recommended that children under the age of 16 never use a cell phone except in case of emergency,” Hyman says. “France and the UK have also banned cell phone ads to kids. Period.”

Meanwhile back in America, the FCC website citing the FDA still gives cell phone use a green light:

“According to the FDA to date, the weight of scientific evidence has not linked exposure to radio frequency energy from mobile devices with any health problems,” Hyman says.

The FCC does mention what they call “recent developments”—an acknowledgement of reports by some groups questioning the safety of wireless devices. The FCC page says that if you’re concerned, there are some precautions you can take. Crofton says she’d like to know why: If the FCC believes smart phones and PDAs are so safe, why it lists actions to ameliorate concern?

Crofton says multimedia phones cannot be measured for the small unit of radiation it takes to disrupt biological activity and that although she once believed the government would not allow anything to be sold in the marketplace if not proven safe, she has since replaced her complacency with research. Bottom line: She’s not taking chances with her family. Children’s brains are far more permeable than adults’ and she suggests comparing the images made by Dr. Henry Lai showing the cell phone radiation penetration in the brain of a 5 and 10 year old. You can see them here.

It’s life circa 2010 that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is everywhere. There is no pure spot on Earth it seems where none of this can reach us. Factor in even passive exposure to all the electro-pollution from the increasing proliferation of electronic devices—laptop computers, baby monitors, fluorescent lighting systems, satellites and electric cars—and the experts who believe cell phones plus all the other electronic trappings of modern life may be slowly altering our DNA may just have a point.

Instead of being paralyzed by fear, Crofton advises a proactive look at what you can and cannot change, decide what you can control, and act on that. For her part, she collaborated with other scientists, physicians, and environmental health experts to compile data from the latest studies. Her result is the book, Wireless Radiation Rescue, a consumer guide to the safer use of most of our electronic gizmos. Crofton is quite clear: There is no safe use for any of these items except no use. She also advocates putting no confidence in pendants, stick-on chips, and other things that claim to make computers and cell phones safe or protect you from EMR. If you’re concerned about your use of wireless devices or if work requires you to use them, she says use them, but use them differently.

Start at home:

Swap the wireless for the wired, including headphones and earpieces. If you chose to use a corded earpiece, get a hollow air cord.

Get rid of the cordless phone and get a land line.

Keep bedrooms, particularly children’s rooms, electronic-free zones. That means TVs, computers, and game consoles, too.

Unplug electronic devices, including lamps with CFLs, when not in use.

Charge your cell phone and laptop away from your bedroom and only use each device when it’s charged and not plugged into an outlet.

Buy a battery alarm clock—don’t use your cell phone as one.

Turn off your cell phone completely as much as possible. Make a quick call then turn it off. If you must leave it on, put as much space between you and it as possible and especially don’t wear it on your body or stash it in a pocket.

Use the speaker feature.

Wait until you’re out of the car or elevator to make a call.

Life is not going backward and none of us can change how we have used our electronic devices in past. If Crofton, Hyman, Morgan and others are right, that probably means those of us who have used cell phones as our primary phone over the past decade may increased our chances for cancer. We made the choice then to adopt this and other devices. Now we can choose to disconnect.

Even if these researchers and activists aren’t categorically right, at the very least we’ll have the opportunity to use electronic tools more mindfully, and we might gain some personal time and maybe cut the electric bill by a few dollars. It’s a calculated experiment I’m willing to try. You?

The full talk about cell phone safety is on the Town Square archive at www.hawaiipublicradio.org. If you have an idea for a show or a discussion you think is important, contact Beth-Ann Kozlovich at talk@hawaiipublicradio.org.

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