The Hidden Hazards Of Cell Phone Radiation –
A Revised Hidden Menace Of Radiation
Journalist: Nigel Powell
Every time you pick up a cell phone, switch on a television or walk past an electricity pylon, you are exposed to electro-magnetic radiation.
Although EMR is naturally occurring, our increasing dependence on technology is worrying some scientists, who fear that it may be damaging our health.
EMR comes in many types. One end of the spectrum — visible light — is harmless, but, as the frequency decreases, EMR has the potential to become much nastier as non-ionising radiation. It is our increasing exposure to this radiation that is prompting scientists and campaigners worldwide to demand more research into the possible health risks.
The best known example of this is the debate over the safety of mobile phone use, and the placement of transmission masts. Kent County Council recently banned the erection of further cell phone towers in its area because of the health worries of residents.
The research being undertaken covers three main areas: epidemiological (possible causes of diseases in human populations); biological studies, which look at strictly controlled results of exposure in laboratory conditions; and the anecdotal, which reviews reports from individuals who have been affected directly.
The earliest scientific studies focused on the potentially detrimental heating effects of electro-magnetic radiation on the body. It was found that EMR above a certain strength could cause human tissue to heat up.
Current safety guidelines are based on this data, but modern research suggests that the effects could be more far-reaching. Symptoms include sleep disorders, subtle yet important changes in the blood-brain barrier — which protects the brain from toxins — and detrimental effects on the immune system and short-term memory.
Despite the research, however, there is no definite proof to link ill health with exposure to electro-magnetic radiation.
Unlike the proven link between smoking and lung cancer — typically, smokers are ten times more likely to fall ill or develop the cancer than non-smokers — the correlation between EMR and ill health is only starting to be quantified sufficiently. As of May 2011 the World Health Organization added cell phone radiation to a list of possible carcinogens, putting excessive cell phone use in the same category as lead and chloroform.
Critics say that in order for the research to be more acceptable there should be some precisely defined explanation of how EMF causes ill health and that such a link should be further substantiated by studies from other researchers.
To date, the sceptics claim that neither of those criteria has been met properly.
In spite of the impasse, all parties to the debate are agreed on one thing: more research is required to reach a definite conclusion.
In the interim, campaigners are fighting to drive down exposure levels worldwide. Some are particularly worried about the potential effects on children and pregnant women.
Cindy Sage, an American environmental consultant and policy researcher, says: “One thing that worries me more than anything right now is the move towards installing wireless computer networks into schools.
“ This has the potential to increase children’s exposure to harmful radiation by a hundredfold. We urgently need a proper public debate before it’s too late.”
Other environmentalists also believe that not enough is being done to guide the public and that safety guidelines should be set even lower immediately.
Worries over the future
Many forecasters say that in the next five to ten years, much of the world will undergo a mainstream adoption of wireless technology.
An explosion of Smartphone use, the advent of third generation (4G) LTE systems now and 5th generation technology underway, and the installation of 100’s of millions of wireless computer networks in offices and homes will greatly add to the amount of radiation to which people will be exposed every day.
The 4G cellular network, for instance, will need four times the number of transmitter masts required by the current mobile phone system. Each of these technologies will use microwave and radio frequency radiation in one form or another, from handsets to transmitters and base stations.
Some scientists believe that this exponential increase in the radiation “soup” may result in a corresponding rise in dangers to our health.
“We don’t know enough about the real effects of electromagnetic radiation yet,” says Professor Henry Lai, of the University of Washington in the Seattle.
“I have a list of about 600 research papers from the past ten years alone, 70 per cent of which show definite effects from exposure to this kind of radiation, but the industry continues to say that there is nothing to worry about.”
Lack of research funding
Scientists who are studying the effects of EMR are hampered by the lack of funding for the long-term studies that are needed to prove definitive links between EMR and cancers or other illnesses.
“Obtaining funding is now almost impossible because of other areas which are considered more important,” says Professor Eugene Sobel, of the University of Southern California School of Medicine.
“This is despite the fact that we seem to have stumbled on evidence that EMF exposure leads to an increased risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
Sobel’s work, along with that of other scientists in the field, suggests that prolonged exposure may lead to a disturbance in the body’s absorption of calcium, which in turn could upset our melatonin balance, which is a key aspect of the body’s health mechanism and is the regulator of our body clocks.
He also believes that the telecom industry’s reluctance to acknowledge a problem is no different from the attitude adopted by any industry when it feels threatened by potentially damaging research.
“It is also easier to demand more definitive proof where there is a huge financial loss at stake,” says Sobel.