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.
“It’s quite informative that the NTP data found evidence of an increased tumor risk in the male rats for glial cells and in the [heart] Schwann cells,” said Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the Berkeley School of Public Health (who writes about electromagnetic radiation here). “That’s compelling evidence that what we’re seeing in humans — even though the signal is not clear — is highly suggestive, and that there is indeed something real going on with regard to tumor risk in humans.”
For example, cellphone manufacturers currently test these devices for compliance with FCC standards by placing them against the head, and near the torso with some separation. Just check out Apple’s iPhone manual: The company tests the specific absorption rate at a 5mm separation from the body. But if you wear your device in your pocket, you’re probably not going to have that 5mm separation, meaning you may be exposed to more radiation — perhaps enough to exceed current standards.
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The studies are notable for their sizes. Researchers at the National Toxicology Program, a federal interagency group under the National Institutes of Health, tested 3,000 rats and mice of both sexes for two years—the largest investigation of RF radiation and cancer in rodents ever undertaken in the U.S. European investigators at the Ramazzini Institute in Italy were similarly ambitious; in their recent study they investigated RF effects in nearly 2,500 rats from the fetal stage until death.
In December, 2006, an epidemiological study on cell phone dangers published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute sent the media into a frenzy.10 Newspaper headlines blared: “Danish Study Shows Cell Phone Use is Safe,” while TV newscasters proclaimed, “Go ahead and talk all you want—it’s safe!” The news seemed to be a holiday gift for cell phone users. But unfortunately, it’s a flawed study, funded by the cell phone industry and designed to bring a positive result. The industry’s public relations machine is working in overdrive to assure that the study get top-billing in the media worldwide.
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.”
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.
Let’s be honest, we’re addicted to our smartphones. According to an ABC news report, the average person checks their phone 150 times per day, not to mention the other 15 hours per day it sits in your pocket. It’s also nothing new that cell phones emit Electromagnetic Fields/Radiation (EMF/EMR) when it’s glued to the side of our head more than 22 times per day.
Single studies have alternately suggested cellphones are driving up cancer rates and that they pose no health threat at all. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the devices are a “Class 2B carcinogen,” meaning they possibly can cause cancer in humans — but that’s also a distinction they share with pickles, aloe vera, and being a carpenter.
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.