The most common effect is heat generation (though non-thermal biological harm has also been demonstrated), which can alter the characteristics of various bodily tissues depending on the amount of radiation present and its ability to penetrate the body. Tissue damage can promote the cellular mutations and increase your long-term risk of developing cancer.
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.
But there is also some ambiguity about cellphone radiation’s health effects. As Dr. John Bucher, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a co-author of the NIH studies, told me, “[Our results] go against the notion that non-ionizing radiation is completely harmless.” In other words, he’s found that the type of radiation cellphones give off could cause biological changes, like promoting tumors, at least in animals.
Initially leaked in 2016, results from that $25-million study provided the most compelling evidence yet that RF energy may be linked to cancer in lab rodents. The strongest finding connected RF with heart schwannomas in male rats, but the researchers also reported elevated rates of lymphoma as well as cancers affecting the prostate, skin, lung, liver and brain in the exposed animals. Rates for those cancers increased as the doses got higher but the evidence linking them with cell phone radiation specifically was weak by comparison, and the researchers could not rule out that they might have increased for reasons other than RF exposure. Paradoxically, the radiation-treated animals also lived longer than the nonexposed controls. The study results were reviewed by a panel of outside experts during a three-day meeting that ended on March 28. They concluded there was "clear evidence" linking RF radiation with heart schwannomas and "some evidence" linking it to gliomas of the brain. It is now up to the NTP to either accept or reject the reviewer's conclusions. A final report is expected within several months.
Participation bias, which can happen when people who are diagnosed with brain tumors are more likely than healthy people (known as controls) to enroll in a research study. Also, controls who did not or rarely used cell phones were less likely to participate in the Interphone study than controls who used cell phones regularly. For example, the Interphone study reported participation rates of 78% for meningioma patients (range among the individual studies 56–92%), 64% for glioma patients (range 36–92%), and 53% for control subjects (range 42–74%) (6).
At high power levels, RF waves can heat up water molecules (which is how microwave ovens work). Scientists used to focus their concerns on the possibility that such heating of human tissue, which is mostly water, might damage cells. In fact, the FCC’s test of cell-phone emissions—which was set in 1996 and which all phones must pass before being allowed on the market—is based on that effect.
As a result, stories about a single nuclear meltdown or possible link between cellphone radiation and cancer will be amplified much more than news about the nine people who probably died today in the US from distracted driving. “This possible health effect from radiation is pretty esoteric at this point. If there is anything there, it seems to me like it’s going to be very, very small,” says Kenneth R. Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been investigating whether there are biological effects from radio waves since the 1970s. “Driving and texting, people get killed doing that — but it’s not a very exciting risk to worry about.”
“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.”
Read the “fine print” from the manufacturer’s instruction manual which tells users to put a distance between the phone and your head and body. These fine print warnings range from a few millimeters to almost an inch. The fine print warnings on other wireless devices (such as Wi-Fi routers, wireless printers, home cordless phone base stations and baby monitors) generally state the distance should be at least 20 cm, or about 8 inches. If people are closer than the manufacturer stated separation distance, then they can be exposed to RF levels that violate the US government FCC limits for this radiation.
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Third, most of the studies published so far have focused on adults, rather than children. (One case-control study looking at children and teens did not find a significant link to brain tumors, but the small size of the study limited its power to detect modest risks.) Cell phone use is now widespread even among younger children. It is possible that if there are health effects, they might be more pronounced in children because their bodies might be more sensitive to RF energy. Another concern is that children’s lifetime exposure to the energy from cell phones will be greater than adults’, who started using them at a later age.
Yes, cell phones emit Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and direct exposure to these emissions can be a health risk. There are two types of EMF radiation emitted from cell phones: Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation and Radio Frequency (RF) radiation (which includes cellular signals, WiFi and Bluetooth). More and more, particularly in recent years, scientific studies have confirmed that these EMF exposure can adversely modify the biological operations of the body. In more serious cases, exposure to EMFs can lead to tumors, reduce sperm count and other serious health concerns.
“This means we’re on the beginning curve of an epidemic, with epidemic defined as a change in the occurrence of a disease that is so dramatic in its increase that it portends serious public health consequences,” says Dr. Carlo. “This is what’s not being told to the public. One of the things that I suggest to people who use a cell phone is to use an air tube headset. If you use a wired headset, the current moving through the wire of the headset attracts ambient informational carrying radio waves and thereby increases your exposure.”
Still, despite the odds, these fears could be around for a while — because it’s hard to prove that cellphone radiation doesn’t cause harm. There are just too many combinations of genes, environmental exposures, patterns of cellphone use, plus a healthy helping of random chance to consider. It’s why we’re still having the conversation about whether coffee, for example, is good or bad for us. So while the bulk of evidence points to no health effects from cellphone radiation, the scientific literature is still somewhat mixed, Foster says. “Someone who wants to worry can pick and choose and find a lot of evidence that would support their theories.”
But there’s a huge public health crisis looming from one particular threat: EMR from cellular phones—both the radiation from the handsets and from the tower-based antennas carrying the signals—which studies have linked to development of brain tumors, genetic damage, and other exposure-related conditions.1-9 Yet the government and a well-funded cell phone industry media machine continue to mislead the unwary public about the dangers of a product used by billions of people. Most recently, a Danish epidemiological study announced to great fanfare the inaccurate conclusion that cell phone use is completely safe.10
During the years 1996-1999, due to the sharp increase in mobile phone use, several expert committees convened worldwide to discuss the question whether the radiowave radiation that is emitted from the mobile phone is harmful to health. Their conclusion was that existing scientific knowledge is insufficient to determine the existence or absence of harm to health.
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).
Anyway, several phone models that my wife and I considered buying emitted radiation levels simply too high for my comfort level. They’re measured in SAR -- “specific absorption rate” -- which is essentially the amount of radiation a human body will absorb from using or being near a cell phone. The lower the rate, the less radiation will be absorbed.
Since use of mobile phones by children began at a later stage compared to use by adults, the effects of exposure to mobile phones in this population have not yet been investigated. Considering their health sensitivity, the long life expectancy in the young population (probably involving the accumulation of significant exposure and development of morbidity in the long-run), and ethical issues involved in decision making regarding the population of minors, additional precaution is required in this population. Therefore, the Ministry of Health advises parents to reduce children’s exposure to mobile phones as much as possible, consider the age they start using them, reduce the amount of time mobile phones are used, and in any event, make sure they use earphones (not wireless) or a speaker when using the mobile phone.
Until the FCC establishes testing procedures that fully correspond to real-world cell phone use and reviews its radiation standards to ensure that they are fully protective for all users, including young children, EWG advises phone users to adopt these simple measures to minimize radiation exposure: Use a headset, keep the phone away from the body and text rather than talk.
Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones have increased. Because of changes in cell phone technology and increases in the number of base stations for transmitting wireless signals, the exposure from cell phone use—power output—has changed, mostly lowered, in many regions of the United States (1).