The dangers of driving and texting are old news; if someone were to be harmed by their cellphone’s radiation, though, that would make headlines because novelty grabs people’s attention. In psychological experiments where people have to choose images, they gravitate towards ones they haven’t seen before — a phenomenon known as the novelty bonus. So if I wanted to grab a reader’s attention, I’d bet on a hypothetical headline that said “For the first time, cellphone radiation causes brain cancer in humans” over “Another person has died today from driving and texting.”
Limited to rats only, the Ramazzini study tested three doses expressed as the amount of radiation striking the animal’s bodies: either 5, 25 or 50 volts per meter. The exposure measures therefore differed from the absorbed doses calculated during the NTP study. But the Ramazzini scientists also converted their measures to W/kg, to show how the doses compared with RF limits for cell phones and cell towers set by the FCC and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection; they ranged down to a 1,000 times lower. The exposures began when the rats were fetuses and continued for 19 hours a day until the animals died from natural causes.
A phone's specific absorption rate (SAR) reveals the maximum amount of radiation the human body absorbs from the phone while it's transmitting. SAR testing ensures that the devices sold in the U.S. comply with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) SAR exposure limit, but the single, worst-case value obtained from this SAR testing is not necessarily representative of the absorption during actual use, and therefore it is not recommended for comparisons among phones. In short, selecting a lower SAR phone will not reliably ensure lower radiation absorption during use. The FCC has more information at Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) For Cell Phones: What It Means For You.
Another animal study, in which rats were exposed 7 days per week for 19 hours per day to radiofrequency radiation at 0.001, 0.03, and 0.1 watts per kilogram of body weight was reported by investigators at the Italian Ramazzini Institute (35). Among the rats with the highest exposure levels, the researchers noted an increase in heart schwannomas in male rats and non-malignant Schwann cell growth in the heart in male and female rats. However, key details necessary for interpretation of the results were missing: exposure methods, other standard operating procedures, and nutritional/feeding aspects. The gaps in the report from the study raise questions that have not been resolved.
But the pair of studies by the US National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” that exposure to radiation caused heart tumors in male rats, and found “some evidence” that it caused tumors in the brains of male rats. (Both are positive results; the NTP uses the labels “clear evidence,” “some evidence,” “equivocal evidence” and “no evidence” when making conclusions.)
The three most common brain tumor types — and the ones most cellphone and human health studies focused on — are gliomas (malignant tumors of the brain and spinal cord), meningiomas (mostly noncancerous tumors of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, though a small percentage are cancerous), and acoustic neuromas (noncancerous tumors on the main nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain). Note that of these, gliomas are the main concern — they generally have more severe outcomes than meningiomas and acoustic neuromas.
Remember: The cancer incidence data in humans, at least to date, suggests no avalanche of head and neck tumors. Since so many people are exposed to cellphones, if there were a big risk, we’d probably see it turn up. “If cellphones caused brain tumors at the rate that cigarettes caused lung cancer,” said Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society, “we would have figured it out by now.”
EWG also reviewed data in the FCC filings on tests of battery life during a continuous call, measured on an iPhone 4 without a case and on the same phone with an Incipio Le Deux case. This case was chosen because it contains metallic parts (a stainless steel back plate). The presence of metallic components influences the phone’s radiation properties, as the FCC acknowledges (FCC 2001; FCC 2014). Under the test conditions with constant signal strength, an iPhone 4 without a case had 85 percent of battery capacity after a one-hour call and 70 percent after two hours. When the test was repeated with the Incipio Le Deux case, the phone had only 65 percent of battery capacity after a one-hour call and only 10 percent after two hours (Pong 2012).
What are the health effects of mobile phones and wireless radiation? While Australia has led the world in safety standards, including compulsory seat-belt legislation, plain packaging on cigarettes, and product and food disclosure legislation, it falls behind in addressing the significant issues associated with mobile phone use. In this Dean’s Lecture, epidemiologist and electromagnetic radiation expert, Dr Devra Davis, will outline the evolution of the mobile phone and smartphone, and provide a background to the current 19 year old radiation safety standards (SAR), policy developments and international legislation. New global studies on the health consequences of mobile/wireless radiation will be presented, including children’s exposure and risks.
“Epidemiological studies are targets for fixing the outcome because they’re observational in nature instead of experimental,” Dr. Carlo explains. “It’s possible to design studies with pre-determined outcomesthat still fall within the range of acceptable science. Thus, even highly flawed epidemiological studies can be published in peer-reviewed journals because they’re judged against a pragmatic set of standards that assume the highest integrity among the investigators.”
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In 2007, Dr Devra Davis founded nonprofit Environmental Health Trust to provide basic research and education about environmental health hazards. Dr Davis served as the President Clinton appointee to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in the U.S.A. from 1994–1999, an independent executive branch agency that investigates, prevents and mitigates chemical accidents.
But manipulation by the industry had begun almost immediately at the start of research. While Dr. Carlo and his team had never defined their research as being done to prove the safety of cell phones, the industry internally defined it as an insurance policy to prove that phones were safe. From the outset, what was being said by the cell phone industry in public was different from what was being said by the scientists behind closed doors.
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A study by the Corporate EME Research Laboratory and Motorola Florida Research Laboratories tested 9 different cell phone radiation shields, 5 of which claimed to block 99% of cell phone radiation. The other 4 shields tested claimed to emit a reverse radiation that would cancel out the harmful radiation from cell phones. The study found that all of the radiation shields had no effect on the amount of radiofrequency radiation a cell phone user is exposed to from their phone.
According to the WHO, the "precautionary principle" is "a risk management policy applied in circumstances with a high degree of scientific uncertainty, reflecting the need to take action for a potentially serious risk without awaiting the results of scientific research." Other less stringent recommended approaches are prudent avoidance principle and as low as reasonably practicable. Although all of these are problematic in application, due to the widespread use and economic importance of wireless telecommunication systems in modern civilization, there is an increased popularity of such measures in the general public, though also evidence that such approaches may increase concern. They involve recommendations such as the minimization of cellphone usage, the limitation of use by at-risk population (such as children), the adoption of cellphones and microcells with as low as reasonably practicable levels of radiation, the wider use of hands-free and earphone technologies such as Bluetooth headsets, the adoption of maximal standards of exposure, RF field intensity and distance of base stations antennas from human habitations, and so forth. Overall, public information remains a challenge as various health consequences are evoked in the literature and by the media, putting populations under chronic exposure to potentially worrying information.
But, dear reader, don’t think we’ve reached a “case closed” moment: Unfortunately, even the best evidence on cellphones and brain tumors is far from ideal. Remember, these cohort studies are still observational research — not experimental studies like RCTs. That means they can’t tell us about causation, and there are still many ways they could be biased.
There is great variability in survival by brain tumor subtype, and by age at diagnosis. Overall, the 5-year relative survival for brain cancers diagnosed from 2008 through 2014 was 33.2% (49). This is the percentage of people diagnosed with brain cancer who will still be alive 5 years after diagnosis compared with the survival of a person of the same age and sex who does not have cancer.
Radio base licensing procedures have been established in the majority of urban spaces regulated either at municipal/county, provincial/state or national level. Mobile telephone service providers are, in many regions, required to obtain construction licenses, provide certification of antenna emission levels and assure compliance to ICNIRP standards and/or to other environmental legislation.
Researchers have carried out several types of epidemiologic studies in humans to investigate the possibility of a relationship between cell phone use and the risk of malignant (cancerous) brain tumors, such as gliomas, as well as benign (noncancerous) tumors, such as acoustic neuroma (tumors in the cells of the nerve responsible for hearing that are also known as vestibular schwannomas), meningiomas (usually benign tumors in the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord), and parotid gland tumors (tumors in the salivary glands) (3).