Are Cell Phones Safe? Questions Remain
Because cell phones transmit and receive radio waves, they have
long been suspected as a health hazard. None of the research has
shown a clear danger, but scientists haven't been willing to
conclude that the phones are harmless.
The latest round of research continues the uncertainty. In January
2004, a British government advisory panel reported that research
hasn't proved any health hazards, but it cautioned that the
possibility of harm remains. The report is one of more than 50
scientific papers published over the past year on cell-phone safety.
None proved human health risks.
HARM FOR TEENAGERS?
A study released last June did raise concerns. Investigators from
Lund University in Sweden reported that laboratory animals exposed
to various levels of cell-phone radiation for 2 hours, under
conditions simulating normal human use, showed evidence of
The investigators say the age of the experimental rats make them
comparable with human teenagers, whose brains may be “particularly
vulnerable” to cell-phone radiation. The researchers concluded: “We
cannot exclude that after some decades of often daily use, a whole
generation of users may suffer negative effects, perhaps as early as
in middle age.”
“This study grabbed everyone‘s attention,” said Louis Slesin, Ph.D.,
editor of Microwave News, a newsletter that covers health issues
related to electromagnetic radiation. “Industry would have you
believe that cell-phone radiation is totally benign. But this and
other research over the past 10 years suggests that we're not
transparent to the radiation.”
MORE STUDIES UNDER WAY
Long-term animal studies funded by the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), in Research Triangle Park,
N.C., will begin next spring. The studies will use animals starting
as embryos through 2 years of age--comparable with humans through
their 60s--and should identify any health effects, including whether
cell-phone radiation alters the blood-brain barrier, which protects
the brain from toxins in the bloodstream.
“The sooner we get an answer, the better,” said Ron Melnick, Ph.D.,
the lead toxicologist in charge of cell-phone safety research at the
NIEHS’s National Toxicology Program. “Say we saw an effect. I don’t
think our studies would eliminate cell phones, but it would drive
the technology to look for ways to reduce exposure to the
Meanwhile, three studies overseen by the Food and Drug
Administration and funded by the Cellular Telecommunications &
Internet Association, the industry's trade group, will be presented
in Washington in June 2004. None of the studies has yet been
HOW TO MINIMIZE RISK
The FDA and the Federal Communications Commission, both of which
regulate cell-phone safety, say in a joint statement that “if there
is a risk from these products--and at this point we do not know that
there is--it is probably very small.”
The agencies offer two sensible suggestions, which we echo, for
people who are concerned about avoiding even potential radiation
• Use a hands-free set and encourage children and teenagers to do
the same. A cell phone's main source of radio-frequency radiation is
its transmitter and receiver, so keeping the phone away from the user's head and
body minimizes exposure.
• Limit the amount of time you spend on the phone to limit your
exposure to radio-frequency radiation.