There is a degree of controversy surrounding the implications of cell phone radiation, and what it means to our health. Some research has suggested that the type of radio frequencies used by cell phones can speed up the progression of cancer in laboratory test animals, but it has proven difficult to replicate these results. It is known that radiation from cell phones can affect pacemakers, but the main concern is related to the fact that most cell phone users hold the phone against their ear. If significant levels of radiation enter the tissues of the head in this way over time, some worry that this can increase the likelihood of brain tumors and related conditions.
Our homemade demonstration of all the cases uses a working phone. Not the shielding material by itself, but the actual "shielding" SafeSleeve, Pong, Reach, Vest, ShieldMe, and Defender Shield cases. First we get RF power density measurements from a phone that's on a call and then, in the same location, within minutes of the first reading, we place the same phone as it's engaged in a call into each case and we take additional reading with the meter.
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The authors found a consistent effect, in both types of studies, that cellphone radiation leads to decreased sperm motility (ability to swim) and viability, but not a decrease in overall concentration. While it’s unclear if these specific changes are enough to affect men’s fertility, the authors wrote, “mobile phone exposure may form part of a cumulative effect of modern day environmental exposures, that collectively reduce sperm quality and explain current trends in infertility.”
Studies in people: Another type of study looks at cancer rates in different groups of people. Such a study might compare the cancer rate in a group exposed to something like cell phone use to the rate in a group not exposed to it, or compare it to what the expected cancer rate would be in the general population. But sometimes it can be hard to know what the results of these studies mean, because many other factors that might affect the results are hard to account for.
A 2012 study by NCI researchers (25) compared observed glioma incidence rates in U.S. SEER data with rates simulated from the small risks reported in the Interphone study (6) and the greatly increased risk of brain cancer among cell phone users reported in the Swedish pooled analysis (19). The authors concluded that overall, the incidence rates of glioma in the United States did not increase over the study period. They noted that the US rates could be consistent with the small increased risk seen among the subset of heaviest users in the Interphone study. The observed incidence trends were inconsistent with the high risks reported in the Swedish pooled study. These findings suggest that the increased risks observed in the Swedish study are not reflected in U.S. incidence trends.
Today, the computer and phone have merged into one device that fits in the palm of your hand. A smartphone is essentially a small computer, yet has many times the computing power of traditional computers. There are no cords to connect you to a base. When turned on in your pocket or being used against your head, the cell phone touches some of the most sensitive parts of the body. Although the cell phone produces lower levels of radiation then past computers, they are now used much closer to the body and for longer periods of time, thus creating more health risks than in the past.
This 2009 meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, looked at 23 case-control studies of the risk of both malignant and benign tumors from mobile phone use. When the authors included all 23, they found no increased risk of tumors. When they crunched certain subsets of the data — like looking only at studies that were blinded, or people who used cellphones for 10 or more years — they did find increases in tumor risks. Confusingly, when they divided up the analysis by tumor type, they found no increase in risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and a decrease in risk of meningioma.
The pacemaker studies were a harbinger of bad things to come. Results showed that cell phones do indeed interfere with pacemakers, but moving the phone away from the pacemaker would correct the problem. Amazingly, the industry was extremely upset with the report, complaining that the researchers went off target. When Dr. Carlo and his colleagues published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997,11 the industry promptly cut off funding for the overall program. It took nine months for the FDA and the industry to agree on a scaled-down version of the program to continue going forward. Dr. Carlo had volunteered to step down, since he was clearly not seeing eye-to-eye with the industry, but his contract was extended instead, as no one wanted to look bad from a public relations standpoint.
The cell phone industry is fully aware of the dangers. In fact, enough scientific evidence exists that some companies’ service contracts prohibit suing the cell phone manufacturer or service provider, or joining a class action lawsuit. Still, the public is largely ignorant of the dangers, while the media regularly trumpets new studies showing cell phones are completely safe to use. Yet, Dr. Carlo points out, “None of those studies can prove safety, no matter how well they’re conducted or who’s conducting them.” What’s going on here? While the answer in itself is simplistic, how we got to this point is complex.
He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. “I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public,” Melnick says. “Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don’t sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now.”
Toward the end of 1998, Dr. Carlo’s house mysteriously burned down. Public records show that authorities determined the cause of the blaze was arson, but the case was never solved. Dr. Carlo refuses to discuss the incident and will only confirm that it happened. By this time, enough was enough. Dr. Carlo soon went “underground,” shunning the public eye and purposely making himself difficult to find.
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.