The U.S. government doesn’t seem very troubled, either. The Food and Drug Administration says on its website that research generally doesn’t link cell phones to any health problem. And although the Federal Communications Commission requires manufacturers to include information in user manuals about cell-phone handling, that’s often buried deep in the fine print.
A recent small study in people has shown that cell phones may also have some other effects on the brain, although it’s not clear if they’re harmful. The study found that when people had an active cell phone held up to their ear for 50 minutes, brain tissues on the same side of the head as the phone used more glucose than did tissues on the other side of the brain. Glucose is a sugar that normally serves as the brain’s fuel. Glucose use goes up in certain parts of the brain when it is in use, such as when we are thinking, speaking, or moving. The possible health effect, if any, from the increase in glucose use from cell phone energy is unknown.
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“I think the overall evidence that wireless radiation might cause adverse health effects is now strong enough that it’s almost unjustifiable for government agencies and scientists not to be alerting the public to the potential hazards,” says David O. Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany in New York and one of the authors of the recent letter to the U.N. and WHO.
Every day, we’re swimming in a sea of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by electrical appliances, power lines, wiring in buildings, and a slew of other technologies that are part of modern life. From the dishwasher and microwave oven in the kitchen and the clock radio next to your bed, to the cellular phone you hold to your ear—sometimes for hours each day—exposure to EMR is growing and becoming a serious health threat.
But this study also has some drawbacks. First, it is based only on whether or not people had a cell phone subscription at the time. It didn’t measure how often these people used their phones (if at all), or if people who didn’t have a subscription used someone else’s phone. There are also limits as to how well this study might apply to people using cell phones today. For example, while the cell phones used at the time of the study tended to require more power than modern cell phones, people also probably used the phones quite a bit less than people use their phones today.
Users were defined as anyone who made at least one phone call per week for six months between 1982 and 1995. So any person who made 26 calls was a cell phone user and therefore considered exposed to radiation. Those with less than 26 calls were non-users. In reality, the radiation exposure between users and non-users defined in this manner is not discernable.
One of the studies reports that male rats exposed to very high levels of radiofrequency radiation grew tumors around their hearts. Female rats exposed to the radiation didn’t, and neither male nor female mice showed obvious health problems in a second study. Neither study turned up clear evidence that radiofrequency radiation causes brain tumors, although the researchers are continuing to investigate. The studies are drafts that haven’t yet been reviewed by outside scientists.