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.
Several national and international agencies study different exposures and substances in the environment to determine if they can cause cancer. (Something that causes cancer or helps cancer grow is called a carcinogen.) The American Cancer Society looks to these organizations to evaluate the risks based on evidence from laboratory and human research studies.
RF waves from cell phones have also been shown to produce “stress” proteins in human cells, according to research from Martin Blank, Ph.D., a special lecturer in the department of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University and another signer of the recent letter to the WHO and U.N. “These proteins are used for protection,” Blank says. “The cell is saying that RF is bad for me and it has to do something about it.”
A few epidemiology studies have reported higher rates of tumors inside the skull among people who use cell phones heavily for 10 years or more. Of particular concern are benign Schwann cell tumors called acoustic neuromas, which affect nerve cells connecting the inner ear with structures inside the brain. These growths can in some instances progress to malignant cancer with time. But other studies have found no evidence of acoustic neuromas or brain tumors in heavy cell phone users.
“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.
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.
Rats were exposed to radiation with a frequency of 900 megahertz, typical of the cellphones in use when the study was conceived in the 90s, for about nine hours per day for two years, The New York Times reports. The lowest levels of radiation used in the study were equivalent to the maximum exposure a phone can cause and still receive federal regulatory approval; the highest levels to which the animals were exposed were four times that.
Your phone sends radiofrequency, or RF, waves from its antenna to nearby cell towers, and receives RF waves to its antenna from cell towers when you make a call or text or use data. The frequency of a cell phone’s RF waves falls between those emitted by FM radios and those from microwave ovens, all of which are considered “non-ionizing” forms of radiation. That means that—unlike radiation from a nuclear explosion, a CT scan, or a standard X-ray—the radiation from your phone does not carry enough energy to directly break or alter your DNA, which is one way that cancer can occur. (FM radios and microwaves don’t raise alarms, in part because they aren’t held close to your head when in use and because microwave ovens have shielding that offers protection.)
An analysis of data from all 13 countries participating in the Interphone study reported a statistically significant association between intracranial distribution of tumors within the brain and self-reported location of the phone (7). However, the authors of this study noted that it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about cause and effect based on their findings.