As global cell phone subscription soared from 12.4 million in 1990 to 7 billion in 2013, cell phones have become a universal and indispensable tool for modern life. Cell phones emit low-intensity radio-frequency (RF) energy, a type of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation (EMR). When you hold your cell phone next to your head or wear it on your body, you can absorb over 50% of the transmitted RF energy. While cell phones bring enormous convenience to our lives, the possible health consequences of exposure to cell phone radiation have aroused considerable public attention and scientific debate.
What Science Says
Since the inception of cell phones in 1970s, thousands of scientific studies have been conducted on the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation. The results are largely mixed and sometimes contradictory. Most studies are for acute and short-term exposures. The reported health effects include cancer, impaired brain and nervous functions, sperm damages, behavioral problems in children, to list a few. For example, a 2011 U.S. study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
demonstrated that just 50 minutes of cell phone use changes human brain glucose metabolism in the region of brain closest to the phone antenna. The researchers noted that the results are preliminary, and possible health outcomes from this increase in glucose metabolism are still unknown. In the past decade, several large population-based studies were carried out around the world on hundreds of thousands of human subjects to determine if there exists a link between cell phone use and brain tumors. The results are conflicting and confusing.
- In 2010, a 13-country study coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found no overall increased risk of brain cancer. But the researchers observed an increased rate of glioma, a type of brain cancer, for the heavy users (defined in the study as those who accumulated 1640 hrs or more call time or an average of 27-min daily call time for 10 years.)
- In 2011, a study involving nearly 360,000 cell phone users in Denmark found no association between cell phone subscription and the incidence of brain tumors. But the researchers noted that a small to moderate increase in risk among heavy users of cell phones for 10-15 years or longer cannot be ruled out.
- In 2013, a study involving 790,000 women in the United Kingdom found no association between cell phone use and risk of brain or other cancer. But the researchers found a possible increased risk of acoustic neuroma in women who had used a cell phone for more than 5 years compared to women who never used a cell phone, and the risk of acoustic neuroma increased with increasing duration of cell phone use.
- A 2012 Swedish article reviewed the existing long-term exposure data and reported a significantly increased risk of glioma associated with long-term (> 10 years) use of cell phones or cordless phones.
When it comes to children, health experts generally agree that in theory children are more vulnerable to cell phone radiation due to their thinner skull and skin, smaller heads and still developing nervous systems. Children also have the potential of accumulating more years of cell phone exposure
than adults do. Research data of the effects of wireless radiation on children is very limited. A 2011 Swedish study
suggested that people who start cell phone use before the age of 20 are 5 times more likely to develop a brain tumor. A 2011 multicenter European study
, the first study focusing on children, produced confusing results – while the study found no association between childhood cell phone use and brain tumors, the researchers noted that they could not rule out the possibility of a small increase in risk. Besides brain tumors, there is also evidence showing that prenatal, postnatal and childhood exposure to cell phone radiation
is linked to hyperactivity disorders and other developmental and behavioral problems.
New studies are underway to gain better insights into this issue:
A large study on the long-term health effects of cell phones was launched in Europe in March 2010. This study, known as COSMOS, has enrolled approximately 290,000 cell phone users aged 18 years or older to date and will follow them for 20 to 30 years. Another study under way is called Mobi-Kids, which will include 2000 young people aged 10-24 years with newly diagnosed brain tumors and 4000 healthy young people. The goal of the study is to learn more about risk factors for childhood brain tumors. Results are expected in 2016. In summary, existing scientific evidence is inconclusive on whether cell phone radiation is safe or harmful to humans. While a definitive link between cell phone and brain tumors or other diseases is not established yet, more research data is needed on its long-term health effects and the effects on children.
What Expert Organizations Say
In May 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting. ” Expert health organizations in the U.S., including the American Cancer Society
(ACS), The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
(NIEHS) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC
), share the same view that although the weight of the current scientific evidence does not establish a definitive link between cell phone use and cancer or other illnesses, more research is needed to understand the long-term effect of cell phone radiation and the effects on children.
U.S. Safety Standard Reassessed
In the United States, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) sets the RF exposure safety standard for general public to be 1.6 W/kg in Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). While the wireless technology and consumer’s use pattern have changed dramatically over the past decade, the safety standards have not been updated since 1997. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted “the outdated FCC’s RF energy exposure limit may not reflect the latest research
” and called for reassessment. In March 2013, the FCC officially opened an inquiry into whether the current U.S. safety standard is adequate to protect consumers from any potential adverse effects from cell phone radiation. Read a’lara's response to the FCC’s inquiry
What if You Are Concerned
It may take another decade or longer for us to have a definitive answer to the question whether cell phone is safe or harmful. While waiting for the conclusion, it is up to individual consumers to make their own judgment and decisions. If you are concerned, you should follow the manufacturers’ instructions to keep your device certain distance away from your head and body (for example, 5/8 inch for Apple iPhone 4 and 0.98 inch for Blackberry Curve 9330). You may take precautionary measures recommended by health organizations worldwide to reduce your exposure, such as reducing the amount of time spent on your cell phone and using speaker mode or a hands-free device to place more distance between the phone and your head. Brink Case offers a science-based solution to reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation. With its patented built-in antenna technology, alara’s cell phone cases redirect RF energy away from you while optimizing your device’s outbound signal. The efficacy of the alara cases is independently proven by FCC-certified laboratories.