Why I Believe That All Cell Phones Should Carry A Health Warning
By: Roger Coghill
July 17, 1998
ROGER COGHILL is a graduate of Cambridge University, with an MA from the University of Wales, whose independent research laboratory specializes in Bioelectro magnetics. He is a member of the Standards Coordinating Committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He passionately believes many of the electronic devices we regard as essential to modern living pose disturbing health risks. Some in the industry disclaim his views as eccentric but after yesterday’s announcement that scientists at the Government-sponsored Defense Establishment Research Agency have discovered a link between mobile phones and brain disorders, his views at least deserve to be aired.
For some years I have been calling for warning labels to be issued with mobile phones. My campaigns have been repeatedly resisted — not least by mobile phone companies with an eye on their profit margins.
The Defense Ministry and the Department of Health, too, have persistently shrugged off suggestions that microwaves from mobile phones are a serious health hazard. They cannot do so any longer.
As revealed in the Mail yesterday, British military scientists have discovered that signals similar to those from mobile phones could actually disrupt parts of the brain involved in memory and learning. Other studies have shown that not only can the phones produce a rise in blood pressure, but they also depress vital brain hormones.
These new findings are the latest in a string of studies which have raised alarming questions about the safety of mobile phones. An American study last year found that rats exposed to 45 minutes of microwave radiation — similar to the levels emitted by phones — lost their ability to learn simple tasks. We may not be rats, but comparable risks to humans cannot be ruled out.
Scientists from Colorado University have shown that frequent mobile users had significantly depressed melatonin — a vital cancer-preventing hormone. An Australian study has linked the phones to a higher rate of brain cancer while a Swedish survey suggested that using a mobile phone for more than 15 minutes could lead to headaches and fatigue. A French study has found that chick embryos are also damaged by the radiation.
But mobile phones are not the only modern-day gadgets we should be worried about. There is, I believe, a conspiracy of silence about the very real dangers posed by other common domestic appliances. From microwave ovens to storage heaters, from clock radios to hair-dryers, too many of these things we rely on every day expose us to potentially dangerous electromagnetic field levels, according to a U.S. National Cancer Institute survey. Despite their mesh shielding, microwave ovens give out extra low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields well above levels associated with lymphatic cancers in children. A study of white blood cells exposed to such fields found their ability to fight off disease reduced by almost half within four hours of exposure.
Electric blankets emit powerful electric fields, even if they are switched off at the controller switch. Pulling out their plug before getting into bed is the only way to be sure you are not at risk.
It is vital to check the environment where you sleep because our body repairs and replenishes cells at night. Interference with this by ambient electric fields may well be one reason for many modern ills like ME and multiple sclerosis, as well as cancer.
The electric fields generated by hair-dryers and electric shavers can be even more powerful than mobile phones. I would advise against using them for more than about ten minutes at a time.
Transformers attached to small electronic goods, such as battery chargers, could also be a source of ill health if you remain near them. Transformers work by transferring energy between two coils of wire by means of electric fields.
We may even be exposed to danger in our cars. Another study has found that the steel in tyres generates high electromagnetic fields when spinning.
There are practical ways of avoiding many of the domestic dangers, but they involve moderating or changing one’s use of the appliances to the point where they are barely fulfilling their function. You could avoid standing too close to microwave ovens while they are operating, for example, and let the food stand for five minutes after heating — but it is not very handy if you are in a hurry, which is what microwaves were designed for.
You could shift your bed around before you settle down for the night, moving it away from any storage heaters. These heaters give off strong electric fields, at night using cheap electricity, and several studies have linked these particular fields with depressive illness and even suicide. Again, not very convenient, and it defeats the very purpose of a storage heater.
Similarly, it is advisable to place your clock radio at least a metre from your pillow (which makes it almost impossible to reach the snooze button), or switch to a battery-operated model. Clock radios emit a cocktail of high and low electromagnetic frequencies. A U.S. study has shown that such fields can disturb a vital sleep pattern — known as REM sleep — and alter brain rhythms. And don’t be tempted to put the baby’s cot near immersion heaters or radiant electric fires in the winter. I discovered ten years ago that in a number of cot death cases, babies had been exposed to electric fields many times the norm.
Normal television viewing is no problem since you sit several feet away, and home computer screens (VDUs) are now all low radiation, which has largely eliminated their adverse effects. But bedroom televisions should be located well away from the bed. Several studies have linked them with childhood cancer. Young children should not use computers for more than two hours at a time for the same reason.
Health problems linked to exposure to electromagnetic fields and radiation in various studies over many years include suppressed immune system, damage to generic material, problems with labour and birth, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and cataracts, as well as severe headaches, unwarranted fatigue and muscular pain. But the National Grid has adopted the same attitude of denial that has accompanied worries about mobile phones and has spent little on research.
In the U.S., by contrast, a $60 million five-year research initiative concluded last month that power frequencies in homes were a potential cause of cancer.
In the UK, the National Radiological Protection Board spends less than 10 pc of its funds on similar research. What is more, its recommendations on safe limits of exposure are out of line, by up to 16-fold, with European safety guidelines. A recent study by highly respected scientists at Utah University suggests that both these bodies have got it wrong anyway.
The World Health Organisation recommends caution where exposure to electric fields is concerned. But the world’s power utilities and telecommunications industries have largely avoided research in this area. Are they putting profit before public health?