The World Health Organization just issued a report stating that cellphones are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
Specifically, WHO found “an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use”.
The WHO report notes that a previous study showed increased risk with increased cellphone use, and recommends taking actions – such as using hands-free equipment – to reduce exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by cellphones.
(For another option for reducing cell phone exposure, see this.)
CNN points out:
The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same “carcinogenic hazard” category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.
The type of radiation coming out of a cell phone is called non-ionizing. It is not like an X-ray, but more like a very low-powered microwave oven.
“What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain,” Black said. “So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones.”
Results from the largest international study on cell phones and cancer was released in 2010. It showed participants in the study who used a cell phone for 10 years or more had doubled the rate of brain glioma, a type of tumor. To date, there have been no long-term studies on the effects of cell phone usage among children.
“Children’s skulls and scalps are thinner. So the radiation can penetrate deeper into the brain of children and young adults. Their cells are at a dividing faster rate, so the impact of radiation can be much larger.” said Black of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Manufacturers of many popular cell phones already warn consumers to keep their device away from their body.
It should be noted that WHO’s findings are not strictly limited to cellphones. Specifically, the report discusses:
radio frequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices.
As such, the WHO report may give ammunition to those who oppose non-essential radio frequency electromagnetic fields, such as California residents who oppose the installation of “smart meters” by the local power company. The smart meters wirelessly beam electric usage information to the power company. The utility installed the smart meters on all customers’ homes (without their consent) in order to save the cost of having workers manually check electric meters.
For those who are surprised that an electromagnetic fields can affect the human body, you are behind the times. As I noted last month:
It is well-known that humans and animals have many electric currents inside of us, and that we interact with electric fields and electric currents outside of our bodies. For example, the pumping of our hearts is driven by an electrical system, and EKGs measure the electrical activity in our heart:
The [EKG]works mostly by detecting and amplifying the tiny electrical changes on the skin that are caused when the heart muscle “depolarizes” during each heart beat.
Electrocution can kill by disrupting the heart’s electrical system.
Our brains are also largely electrical systems, and EEGs measure electrical activity in our brain:
Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp produced by the firing of neurons within the brain. In clinical contexts, EEG refers to the recording of the brain’s spontaneous electrical activity over a short period of time ….
Both EKGs and EEGs use sensors on the outside of our bodies (on the skin) to measure electrical activity occurring inside our bodies.
Some animals can directly sense electric currents and electric fields of their prey, or produce electricity to stun or kill their prey. As About.com notes:
Electric fields are used in numerous ways by animals. Electric eels and some rays have modified muscle cells that produce an electric charge strong enough to shock and sometimes kill their prey. Other fish use weaker electric fields to navigate murky waters or to monitor their surroundings. For instance, bony fish and some frogs have a lateral line, a row of sensory pores in the skin, that enables them to detect electrical current in water.
The California Academy of Sciences points out:
Sharks are almost as precise as the best physics laboratories in the country when it comes to sensing tiny electric effects. They can use this “sixth sense” to find food and even mates, since all living animals create their own electric fields. When a fish swims, or even moves its gills, it creates a change in the surrounding electric field that sharks can detect ….
There are many other examples of our interaction with electromagnetism.
Bad for the Bees
Cellphones aren’t just potentially hazardous to us.
As Digital Trends recently reported:
Researcher Daniel Favre of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has found that wireless signals cause honeybees to become so disoriented that they finally just die. [Link] Favre’s team conducted 83 separate experiments that tested bees’ reactions to a nearby cellphone.
The team found that honeybees made 10 times the amount of noise when a cell phone made or received a call than they did when the phone was in off or standby mode. As Fast Company reports, this noise (generally known as “worker piping”) usually signals the bees to leave the hive. But when the reaction is triggered by a cellular signal, the bees just became tragically befuddled.
So, what about a cell phone signal makes bees suicidally crazy? As Favre’s report explains: “Worker piping in a bee colony is not frequent, and when it occurs in a colony, that is not in a swarming process, no more than two bees are simultaneously active…The induction of honeybee worker piping by the electromagnetic fields of mobile phones might have dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses due to unexpected swarming.”
It’s the “dramatic…colony losses” part that everyone should be concerned about. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating about 70 percent of the 100 or so crops on the entire planet that humans use for food.
So-called “colony collapse disorder” among the world’s bee population has been recorded since 1972. But it wasn’t until 2006 that the drop in the bee population took a nosedive, with beekeepers noting a 30 to 90 percent loss of their bee colonies, up from 17 to 20 percent in previous years.
Favre’s study corroborates a 2008 report that showed that honeybees would not return to their hive when a cell phone was placed nearby, which sparked the theory that wireless signals are the problem.
(There are a number of other reasons bees are dying, as well.)
Update: Dr. Meryll Nass points out:
Several weeks a go a paper out of China provided powerful epidemiologic evidence for cell phone use and parotid gland tumors. (This salivary gland is located just below and in front of the ear.) Other tumors that have been linked to cell phone use include acoustic neuroma (a common, benign tumor of the cranial nerve to the inner ear), glioblastoma multiforme (a very malignant brain tumor seen most often in older ages) and meningioma (usually benign tumors of the brain and spinal cord lining). Although benign, these tumors still require very delicate brain surgery, and may still kill the patient.
It appears the tide has turned on this contentious issue.
On May 27 the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1815 (2011):
The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment— whose text can be read here.
What to do? Luckily, there are easy fixes. Keep the phone away from your body, with an earpiece/headset or bluetooth device, since exposure is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from your tissues. (Even the package inserts tell you to keep the phone away; do you still have the information that came with your cell phone?) Use landlines (even better if they are not wireless). Or texting. Or email.
A peculiarity of US law: citizens are not allowed to reject the siting of cell phone towers on the basis of health risk for anything other than thermal effects.* Let me restate that. The law is a pre-emptive strike against the kinds of scientific research that now point to adverse effects of radiofrequency radiation (including microwaves) in addition to, and different from, the effect of heating up tissue. The law basically assumes such effects cannot exist, and prevents citizens from using such effects to fight cell tower installations.
With this law in mind, the local school superintendent recently announced that a cell tower would be placed at our high school, currently a dead zone for cell phones. If it doesn’t cook you, the US Government has made it safe, by decree.
Unlimited service may give us new freedoms, but it has its own price.