A decline in male sperm quality has been observed over several decades. Studies on the impact of mobile radiation on male fertility are conflicting, and the effects of the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by these devices on the reproductive systems are currently under active debate. A 2012 review concluded that "together, the results of these studies have shown that RF-EMR decreases sperm count and motility and increases oxidative stress". A 2017 study of 153 men that attended an academic fertility clinic in Boston, Massachusetts found that self-reported mobile phone use was not related to semen quality, and that carrying a mobile phone in the pants pocket was not related to semen quality.
So, you've read the numerous studies about the potentially harmful health effects of cell phone radiation and you are ready to something about it. Of course, you can use your phone sparingly and put it in airplane mode when possible, use a wired headset or speakerphone when on calls, and never store it in your pocket. However, is that realistic? How about for your kids? In today's world, with our increasing dependence on our cell phones, probably not!
“We see either no change or very small increases in incidence in some tumor types,” Quinn Ostrom, the Baylor College of Medicine researcher who has been analyzing these cancer trends, explained. “I would be inclined to say this isn’t as much of an increase as you might expect if cellphones were causative [of brain tumors] due to the very sharp way use of these devices has gone up over the last 20 years.”
Can cellphone radiation cause cancer in humans? There’s no scientific consensus on this issue, but there is “some evidence” that exposure to radiation equivalent to that emanating from 1990s-era cellphones is associated with brain tumors in male rats, according to results of a US National Toxicology Program (NTP) study released last week (November 1).
When you talk, your voice is transmitted from the antenna as radio frequency radiation (RFR) between 800 MHz and 2,200 MHz. A range equal to the middle of microwave frequency and 20% to 80% of the radiation emitted is deposited in the user's head. The microwave radiation is absorbed and penetrates the area around the head, some reaching an inch, to an inch and a half into the brain. Exposure to this microwave RFR has shown to have serious health consequences. Laboratory studies have shown that radiation from cell phones expose the user to a wide range of health problems including:
The use of "hands-free" was not recommended by the British Consumers' Association in a statement in November 2000, as they believed that exposure was increased. However, measurements for the (then) UK Department of Trade and Industry and others for the French Agence française de sécurité sanitaire environnementale [fr] showed substantial reductions. In 2005, Professor Lawrie Challis and others said clipping a ferrite bead onto hands-free kits stops the radio waves travelling up the wire and into the head.
These experimental findings raise new questions as to the potential for radiofrequency radiation to result in cellular changes and offer potential avenues for further laboratory studies. Cancers in the heart are extremely rare in humans, where the primary outcomes of potential concern with respect to radiofrequency radiation exposure from cell phones are tumors in the brain and central nervous system. Schwann cells of the heart in rodents are similar to the kind of cells in humans that give rise to acoustic neuromas (also known as vestibular schwannomas), which some studies have suggested are increased in people who reported the heaviest use of cell phones. The NTP has stated that they will continue to study this exposure in animal models to further advance our understanding of the biological underpinnings of the effects reported above.
The research continued, and what it uncovered would be a dire warning to cell phone users and the industry’s worst nightmare. When the findings were ready for release in 1998, the scientists were suddenly confronted with another challenge: the industry wanted to take over public dissemination of the information, and it tried everything it could to do so. It was faced with disaster and had a lot to lose.
When we think of harmful radiation, things like X-rays or gamma rays usually come to mind, but these types of radiation are different from mobile phone radiation in important ways. Radiation on the ultraviolet side of visible light, like those types just mentioned, has a wavelength that is short enough to alter some of the chemical properties of the objects it interacts with. It is referred to as ionizing radiation, for this reason. Non-ionizing radiation, which includes visible light, microwaves and radio waves, is typically regarded as harmless. Large amounts of it can produce a heating effect, like in a microwave oven, but no short-term damage has been linked to exposure to non-ionizing radiation.
It also means regulators need to make sure their policies reflect new levels of exposure. The Federal Communications Commission currently oversees cellphone safety and sets the limits for how much radiation people should be exposed to. (This is measured by the specific absorption rate — the rate at which the body absorbs radio frequency energy — and the current limit for cellphones is 1.6 watts of energy per kilogram of tissue. The whole-body threshold is a SAR value of 0.08 watts per kilogram, and the tower radiation limit is 10 watts per square meter.)
In 1993, the cell phone industry was pressured by Congress to invest $28 million into studying cell phone safety. The cause of this sudden concern was massive publicity about a lawsuit filed by Florida businessman David Reynard against cell phone manufacturer NEC. Reynard’s wife, Susan, died of a brain tumor, and he blamed cell phones for her death. Reynard revealed the suit to the public on the Larry King Live show, complete with dramatic x-rays showing the tumor close to where Susan held her cell phone to her head for hours each day.
Current regulatory standards (SAR Test) only protect us from thermal or heating risks; yet, many hundreds of laboratory studies have found that low-intensity, non-thermal exposure to cell phone radiation can promote carcinogenic mechanisms. Moreover, research on humans has found that 25 years of mobile phone use is associated with a three-fold risk of brain cancer. –Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D. School of Public Health. University of California, Berkeley
The energy of electromagnetic radiation is determined by its frequency; ionizing radiation is high frequency, and therefore high energy, whereas non-ionizing radiation is low frequency, and therefore low energy. The NCI fact sheet Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer lists sources of radiofrequency radiation. More information about ionizing radiation can be found on the Radiation page.