Since the number of cell phone users has continued to increase to more than six billion subscriptions at the turn of the decade, a common question that continues to get asked is how dangerous are mobile phones to one’s health? This question has continued to be asked over the past several decades since mobile phones produce electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range and are used or held very close to the human brain when used. As a result, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classified mobile phone radiation in the category (2B) that indicates exposure to use can possibly be carcinogenic. This classification was made despite the lack of scientific evidence for adverse health effects being caused through exposure to mobile phone use.
What are the Sources of Potential Danger from Mobile Phones?
There are a number of ways that a mobile phone may pose danger to humans. The first, is that since a cell phone sends and receives high frequency radio waves, these transmissions could pose a medium-to-long term risk to health. The second way that mobile phones are dangerous comes from the batteries that the devices use. In extreme heat or cold conditions, these components may become unstable and pose both a direct risk to the phone user as well as to the area the phone is located (primarily as a fire hazard).
Risk of Mobile Phone Radiation Absorption
There have already been a number of scientific studies conducted which have looked into the potential symptoms of mobile phone radiation exposure. These studies look at the aspect of the human body absorbing at least a portion of the radio waves that are transmitted by a mobile phone. Depending on the model of phone, the output power of the device can range up to 3.6 watts depending on the model of phone. Newer phones do not require as high of a peak output power level, while most phones automatically increase or decrease the output power based on base station reception quality of the device.
Since mobile phone radiation levels have become a public concern, most developed countries have adopted the practice of setting maximum levels of absorption rate permitted by phones as measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). For example, in the United States, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) as set the SAR limit to 1.6 W/kg averaged over one gram of tissue for the head. In the European community, the limit has been set to 2 W/kg but averaged over 10 grams of tissue. Due to the difference in measuring baselines, the SAR levels are not able to be compared across the different geographic standards; however, most major cellular manufacturers will provide analysis for each standard.
What are the Thermal Effects of Mobile Phone Radiation?
Similar to a microwave oven, mobile phone radiation heats living tissue in the surface of the head. Due to the low power output, this heating effect only results in a slight rise in temperature that is less than simply walking outside on a sunny day and being exposed to sunlight. The human eye does not have as much resistance to this type of thermal impact from radiation; however, so it has become a new area of research for potential health impacts from the use of mobile phones.
What are the Non-Thermal Effects of Mobile Phone Radiation?
Another area of research in the past several years has been in the impact of low-frequency pulsing of cell phone carrier signals. There has been postulation regarding the biological impact of these signals being interpreted as heat by the body resulting in increased metabolic stress in both the brain and surrounding body tissue. Despite several studies being completed at the time of this writing, this specific area of potential cell phone danger to the human body remains under study.
What are the Effects of Mobile Phones on the Blood/Brain Barrier?
A single study conducted by researchers at the Lund University in Sweden found that microwave radiation had the impact on the rat brain of forcing leakage of albumin into the rat brain through the “blood-brain” barrier. Although this work confirms an early study, the results have not been able to be confirmed by subsequent studies in whole.
Mobile Phone Impact on Cancer
One of the largest studies completed to date regarding the impact of mobile phone use on cancer was published in 2006 by a Danish group. The study covered more than 420,000 Danish citizens for a timeframe of 20 years and did not show any significant increase in the rate of cancer across the group. There have been a number of additional studies on the impact of mobile use on cancer to include the 13 nation INTERPHONE project that was released in 2011 and did not find a link between using a cell phone and brain tumors. This does not mean that the debate on cell phone use and cancer is done; however, as the increase in use of mobile phones since the INTERPHONE study was completed now requires new studies to be conducted to see if there are any dangers that require mitigation; specially in the use by children.
As a result, most countries recommend that until more studies can be completed targeting children, that parents should limit their child’s exposure to mobile phone radiation by doing the following: reducing overall call time, only allowing a child to make a phone call where there is good reception, using only hands free or speaker options with phones, or sticking with text options only.
There have been some studies; however, that have found potential links between mobile phone use and the risk of contracting a malignant glioma. Specifically, this study by Dr. Lennart Hardell from Örebro University in Sweden found that: A tumor is more likely to occur on the side of the head that a cell phone handset is used, and that cell phones result in a higher rate of acoustic neuromas over a period of use of 10 years or more.
What are the Cognitive Effects of Mobile Phone Use?
A more recent area of focus in mobile phone safety studies has been on the cognitive effects of exposure to the RF energy emitted by a cell phone. In 2009, there was a study completed measuring this impact that confirmed slower response times when completing spatial working memory tasks after being exposed to radiation from a GSM mobile phone that was placed next to the head of male test subjects. During the study, the longer the periods of exposure to cell phone radiation, the greater the impact on the performance of the test subject. This area of research continues to require additional research to provide sufficient scientific evidence to improve mobile phone safety.
Mobile Phone Impacts on Hypersensitivity
Over the past several years, there have been reports by some mobile phone users feeling a variety of symptoms related to hypersensitivity after using a phone. These symptoms range from tingling or burning sensations in the extremities and skin of the head to sleep disturbances, fatigue, loss of mental attention, dizziness, memory retention issues, headaches, heart palpitations, and slower reaction times. Most research conducted in the area has not been able to differentiate between the impact of stress and cell phones.
What is the Impact of Mobile Phones on Sleep?
The area of impact of cell phones on sleep patterns has been a focus for more than 10 years. The majority of research completed has validated some type of effect on sleeping patterns by mobile phone users. What is under debate; however, is if the negative impacts come from the radiation from phones or simply having a communication device that is “always on” next to one’s head in bed. The likely cause of the negative impact is from having a mobile phone with audible alerts set that interrupts sleep; however, the field continues to remain under study at the time of this writing.
What are the Health Hazards of Mobile Phone Base Stations?
Yet another area of health concern for consumers is the potential impact of mobile phone base stations on individuals. The stations are designed to provide the primary link between cellular networks and mobile phones and continuously send and receive information through RF transmissions. Since base stations operate at an overall signal strength of under 100 watts, the ration at ground level is not as much as you would think; however, similar concerns arise for long-term safety of adults and children who are exposed to a base station’s radiation for a prolonged timeframe. Some countries have imposed specific regulations on how close the antennas for these stations can be to expected human activity; however, others such as South Africa do not have any rules in place that govern the overall location of the base stations.
Over the years, there have been a number of surveys completed that have collected data from individuals who have experienced negative symptoms from living close to a base station. The reports have been significant enough that countries such as Franc have mandated that mobile phone base station antennas should not be placed within 100 meters of a living place in order to minimize potential impact to the health of those living close to the antenna(s).
The Dangers of Using Mobile Phones while Driving
The most significant danger associated with mobile phone use over the past ten years is the use of phones for talking or texting while driving. There have been a significant number of deadly crashes associated to using a phone while driving and the act has been made illegal in a number of countries and states in the United States. Although some of the restrictions placed on the use of mobile phones while driving are targeted to the teenage age group, distracted driving has become the number one danger associated with the use of cell phones with an estimated 20 to 50 percent of all reported crashes in the U.S. attributing driver inattention to the major cause of crash.
Mobile Phone Safety Tips
In order to help make using a mobile phone while driving a little more safe, the following are some major safety tips to consider following when going on the road with one’s mobile phone.
#1 – Only use a mobile phone when your car or vehicle is stopped. This doesn’t mean to use it at a red light; rather, pull over to the side of the road and stop the car if there is a call you must make or return.
#2 – Enable a bluetooth connection in the car or GPS to use the phone in a hand’s free mode while driving. This lets you maintain both hands on the wheel of the car while watching the road. If worried about exposure to cell phone radiation, it also keeps the phone away from your head while making or answering a call.
#3 – Ensure you do not compose or read text messages while driving. The facts show that taking your eyes off of the road while driving for just a moment or two can result in a wreck!
#4 – Input any frequently called number into the mobile phone’s address book. This will let you keep any manual dialing of numbers while using a hands-free option to a minimum.
#5 – Even though you increase your odds of getting a ticket, hold the phone at eye level if you have to dial a number while driving. This will ensure that you maintain at least some view of the road ahead of the vehicle to help minimize the risk of a collision.
#6 – Avoid making an emotional phone call while driving your car. This includes arguing about a bill, arguing with your spouse, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.
#7 – If you find yourself needing to take a note or write a phone number down while driving, pull the car over and take your notes. A number of car accidents have occurred when the driver has been extremely distracted during a phone call that requires information to be recorded for later use.
#8 – Ensure your phone is close to the driver’s seat while you are driving. This will avoid you having to bend the body over to look for the phone in the floorboard or back seat while the vehicle is in motion.
#9 – Be aware of your surroundings when pulling over to receive or place a call. A number of motorists have not done so and have found themselves the victim of a carjacking or other crime.
#10 – If you are going to jump your vehicle, disconnect the mobile phone from the charger before doing so. Some car and mobile phone models will allow a power surge during this process than can result in significant damage to a cell phone.
#11 – Program 911 or the local emergency phone number into your phone. This will allow you to make a hands free call for emergency services with the least amount of effort in the event of a car accident or other need for emergency services arising.