Cell Phone Graphic
Written by Thomas Figg-Hoblyn
Photo by Ryan Leibrich

Recently I brought up the idea of writing a story about the dangers of using a cell phone because of radiation to some of my colleagues on staff, and immediately someone interjected “I thought that got debunked years ago.”

And that was pretty much the end of it. I gave up on the idea – and forgot about it.

Two days later as I bounced up and down on a red and gray Muni seat riding the M Line, the subject of cell phones and health circled back to me in the form of a young boy, about four years old, who sat across the aisle from me completely captivated by his mother’s white iPhone.

The brown-haired kid was all up on the smartphone trying to move his slobber-covered index finger on the screen to the frantic pace of some colorful game.

He held that phone like a rainbow flavored snow cone on a hot day in Texas – his eyes bugging out in pure ecstasy as he played – all the time pressing that phone closer and closer to his face.

Then inexplicably, he licked the phone, and then kept right on playing.

It was then and there that I decided to find out if cell phones were really dangerous.

I felt an obligation.

If this kid was coveting his mom’s cell phone like a sugary-treat, then odds were that other kids were doing the same thing.

And according to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of Americans use a cell phone.

SF State student Arthur Abelardo talks on his smart phone
SF State student Arthur Abelardo on his phone

I started digging around to see what I could find out.

A quick Google search using “are cell phones safe” and/or “are cell phones dangerous,” as well as almost anything related to cell phones and health (I used almost a dozen) turned up a sea of legitimate articles focused on radiation, cancer, and cell phones.

The more I read, the more creeped out I became – to the point that I moved my cell phone to the other side of the room.

My favorite companion and gadget suddenly had a sinister side.

Here are the highlights of the search.

The World Health Organization recently re-classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen similar to car exhaust.

A report titled “Cell Phones and Cancer Risk” produced by The National Cancer Institute states that cell phones emit radiation that can be absorbed into the tissues where the phone is held.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opened an official inquiry regarding the safety of cell phone radiation emissions.

CBS Channel 58 of Minnesota reported in an article titled “New concerns over cell phone radiation” that even though for years scientists have insisted there was no connection between cell phones and cancer, now there were credible experts re-evaluating the position.

An attorney interviewed in the story says that some lawyers are currently pursuing class action suits, and that  brain tumors were being associated with extensive cell phone usage.

The Guardian reported in August that a new Tel Aviv University, Israel, study, that studied the saliva of heavy-cell phone users compared to non-cell phone users, found that the saliva of heavy-users showed indications of higher oxidative stress, a process that damages all aspects of a human cell, including DNA, through the development of toxic peroxide and free radicals – a major risk factor for cancer.

An international study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states that adults who have used mobile phones intensively for at least ten years, experience an increase in brain cancer, salivary gland cancer, and even rare eye cancers; and some men diagnosed with testicular cancer had the cancer occur in the testicle that was closest to the pant pocket where they stashed their cell phone.

As reported in The Telegraph by Richard Alleyne, Italy’s Supreme Court ruled that a businessman’s tumor was caused by a causal link between his illness and cell phone use.

Inside Edition reported that  Tiffany Frantz, a 23-year-old who stashed her cell phone in her bra since she was a young-teen was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, which was attributed to cell phone radiation.

After scouring the web I decided to go see a local expert on health, Erik Peper, Ph.D., professor of holistic health at San Francisco State University.

Erik Peper, Professor of Holistic Health at SF State smiles next to his biofeedback computer program. The biofeedback machines can measure the effects of cell phone radiation on the body.
Erik Peper, Professor of Holistic Health at SF State smiles next to his biofeedback computer program. The biofeedback machines can measure the effects of cell phone radiation on the body.

“Dr. Peper” as I like to call him, referred me to his fact-filled blog called the Peper Perspective  , which goes granular on explaining the dangers of cell phone use.

Peper says that all cell phones emit radiation by definition because they connect to a local cell tower, and as long as a cell phone is being used for talking, texting or streaming data then it is talking with the cell tower and emitting radiation.

To demonstrate Peper placed a cell phone next to a student volunteer who was connected to a biofeedback machine. Right before the phone rings a significant spike registers on the computer in micro-volts showing the high-frequency cell signal going through the subject.

 

Figure 1. Surface electromyography recording showing the effect of cell phone located 1 cm (0.4 inches) away from the electrodes (from: Lin, I.M. & Peper, E.,2009).
Figure 1. Surface electromyography recording showing the effect of cell phone located 1 cm (0.4 inches) away from the electrodes (from: Lin, I.M. & Peper, E.,2009).

After the demonstration Peper expressed to me the same concerns  pertaining to cancer and cell phones that I read about in my internet search, and for me, this solidified my concerns.

I checked up on legal efforts online, and learned that from Pennsylvania to Hawaii, Legislators are taking action to protect consumers, especially children, from cell phone radiation, but that no laws have been passed yet.

So for now Americans must rely on the older American studies based on data using laboratory animals, and the good faith of the wireless industry.

As attorney Randy Rozek pointed out in the Channel 58 interview the medical experts are basically relying on literature produced by scientists working from the cell phone companies. Similar to what we had with big tobacco who funded the studies that refuted the link between cancer and smoking.

Rozek says that the telecommunication companies, just like the tobacco industry in the past, are funding their own studies.

Peper says that instead of waiting for twenty or thirty years to find out definitively whether the radiation is, or is not, harmful. Cell phone users should adopt the Precautionary Principle and reduce exposure for themselves and their children. The simplest strategy is to keep the devices away from your body.

And most importantly, Peper and other concerned experts warn against letting children – like the young boy on Muni – play with cell phones, for their developing bodies are more vulnerable to radiation.

For now, the entire population is undergoing a massive experiment, and we won’t know for years, or possibly decades, whether cell phones cause cancer.

So, you can stick that phone right up against your head and yack away if you like…this is America. Go ahead and smoke too while you’re talking.

But for me – I’m taking Peper’s advice and stashing my smartphone in my backpack instead of stuffing into my pocket live, and I use earphones or the speakerphone religiously now.

And next time I see a parent letting their kid play with a smartphone like a toy, I will be sure to say something. It’s wrong.

Here are some safety tips recommended by Peper and other experts when using a cell phone:

  1. Use the speaker phone or plug in earphones with microphone while talking.  Do not hold it against the side of your head, close to your breast or on your lap – keep it away from your body.

  2. Keep your phone in your backpack or attaché case. Do not keep it on or close to your body.

  3. Text while the phone is on a book or on a table away from your body.

  4. Don’t put your phone on your belt loop.

  5. Don’t give a cell phone to young children, even to play with, because they are most vulnerable to radiation.

6 thoughts on “New concerns over cell phone radiation”

  1. Mr. Figg-Hoblyn, cell phones don’t “emit radiation”; they transmit and receive radio waves, or microwaves if you wish. This is inherent to their functioning. And it the only authority on health you could find to talk to is a professor of Holistic Health at SF State, who uses a biofeedback machine to make a point, your grasp of sound medical and scientific evidence is woefully inadequate. Microwaves created by man have been in the wider environment and in every major US urban environment for more than 60 years, used for such things as TV signals, paging networks, police & fire communications and GPS. There are no well demonstrated health effects except for heating, the latter for which we have safety standards that are almost identical throughout the Western world.

  2. This is a thorough and well-researched article. As a group of 95 health care professionals, we are following the international research showing the dangerous health effects of EMF/EMR most of which have been suppressed in the US media. In fact, the W.H.O. category includes: cellphones, Wifi and baby monitors. The lack of any double-blind research on the effects of microchipping medications, now approved by the FDA, and other applications of this technology is horrific to health care delivery.

  3. Thanks for the great article and the support. I have been quite involved in this and we need all the help we can to spread the word and get legislation done. I have had the privilege of meeting Erik and appreciate the work he is doing.

  4. Hi Art,

    Thanks for the comment. I always appreciate feedback, and always strive for accuracy.

    I definitely say you’re misled about cell phones not emitting radiation…

    “Cell phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, which can be absorbed by tissues closest to where the phone is held.”

    Taken directly from the National Cancer Institute fact sheet…

    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

    I also put great stock in the verisimilitude of Professor Peper’s credentials and expertise. Aside from having a PhD. and decades of experience in the health field, Peper is also a successful author on the subject of brain tumors:
    Fighting Cancer: A Nontoxic Approach to Treatment
    by Robert Gorter M.D. Ph.D (Author) , Erik Peper Ph.D. (Author).

    As for GPS and TV signals, you are really comparing apples to bananas, albeit a microwave would probably be a better comparison, and no one in their right mind would put their head against a microwave.

    I would suggest you read the link to the international report in the article too, as it has a great deal of pertinent information.

    Thomas Figg-Hoblyn

  5. I also appreciate your article, and links that you provide here. I live in a community where our school district is implementing an IPad initiative for all the kids 4th grade and up, and of course they already sit in a wireless environment throughout their day at the school. The school district is adamantly reassuring us that “RF Frequencies have not been shown to have any adverse health effects”. It’s a very difficult situation, but I am encouraged that people are starting to learn, and speak out.

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