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Cell Phone Use And Health Concerns Draw Attention
July 14, 2008

Toronto Public Health is advising parents to make sure their children take simple precautions to minimize exposure to radiofrequency (RF) waves if they use a cell phone.

Cell phone use has risen consistently in the last decade in Canada, health officials describe. In particular, the number of children who use cell phones has increased greatly. A new report responds to the Board of Health's request for further information on the use of cell phones by children and youth and their consequent exposure.

However, mobile phone providers, citing the authority of the World Health Organization, maintain the technology poses no health risks and that radiation from cellphones falls well below government safety guidelines. The Board of Health also cites the World Health Organization (WHO), and suggestions to limit the length of phone calls, or using "hands-free" devices like headsets or ear phones, to keep the cell phone away from the head and body.

There are currently no specific Canadian recommendations with regard to cell phone use by children. Some jurisdictions in Europe recommend that children decrease their exposure to RF by strictly limiting their use of cellular phones and some have strongly recommended that use be avoided completely.

The Toronto Board of Health and Toronto City Council recently endorsed a Prudent Avoidance Policy that will help ensure that public exposure to radiofrequencies (RFs) from cell phone towers is 100 times below the current Health Canada exposure standard known as Safety Code 6.

This policy does not address public exposure to RFs from the use of telecommunication devices such as cell phones. RF exposure from using a cell phone can be considerably higher than environmental exposure to RFs from local cell phone towers or antennas, the policy adds.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), an industry group of wireless telecom providers, is an important information source on these matters, as it reports maintaining close liaison with government agencies including the CRTC, Health Canada and Industry Canada. CWTA also maintains close liaison with key US and international organizations including the World Health Organization.

CWTA says that the overwhelming evidence in the scientific community as determined and published in numerous studies worldwide supports the conclusion that there is no demonstrated public health risk associated with the use of wireless phones.

Health & Safety issues related to wireless communications have increasingly been the focus of media attention. These issues fall into one of three categories including: health concerns in relation to hand-held devices and antenna installations; the responsible use of mobile phones while driving; and the use of mobile phones for emergency 9-1-1 calls.

The wireless industry in Canada as well as around the world is 100 per cent committed to a completely open process in the study of health and safety issues related to wireless technologies. All research is made public and fully open to scientific and public scrutiny.

Government agencies responsible for establishing safe limits for signal levels of radio devices also support that wireless telephones are not a health risk. The signal levels from all wireless devices are well below the safety limits established by Health Canada and other international governmental departments.

Health Canada's Safety Code 6 sets the limits for safe exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields at home or at work. The Code also outlines safety requirements for the installation and operation of devices that emit radiofrequency fields, such as mobile phones and base station antennas. This code is based on current, accepted scientific data and is among the most stringent in the world.

In its May 2008 report entitled, Children and Safe Cell Phone Use, the Toronto Board of Health stated that Radiofrequencies (RFs) are energy waves that are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. RFs occur between FM radio waves and microwaves. People are exposed to many sources of RFs. Cell phone towers, cordless phones, pagers, remote control devices, wireless Internet services (also know as WiFi) and cell phones all emit low levels of RFs.

Health Canada's guidelines for exposure to RFs (known as Safety Code 6) protect the public from short-term, high exposure effects of RFs. Studies of adults who have been using cell phones generally conclude that there are no effects on their health; however, it is still not clear what the impacts might be from using a cell phone for many years.

It says research on the health effects from cell phone RFs on children is very limited since the use of cell phones by young people is a relatively new trend. Scientists are not yet sure what the health effects in children are from using a cell phone. While research continues in this area, many scientists feel that children may be more susceptible to harmful effects of RFs from cell phones for several reasons:

Pre-teen children have a smaller head and brain size, thinner skull bones, skin and ears.

Their nerve cells also conduct energy like RFs more readily than an adult's or teenager's nerve cells.

Children's brains and nerves are also still developing so they are likely to be more sensitive to exposures of RFs, the report describes.

Today's children have started to use cell phones at a younger age, therefore their lifetime exposure to cell phone RFs will likely be greater. As a result, the chances that a child could develop harmful health effects from using a cell phone for a long time may be greater.

The Board of Health cites the World Health Organization (WHO), and its suggestions limiting the length of phone calls, or using "hands-free" devices like headsets or ear phones, to keep the cell phone away from the head and body.

The amount of RF energy absorbed decreases quickly with increasing distance between the antenna and the user, the report noted. People can also use the speakerphone mode if appropriate, or use text messaging instead.

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), the level of RF waves emitted can be obtained by using the FCC ID number usually printed on the case of the phone. Information about each individual ID number and corresponding cell phone is availablr from the a US government website, at www.fcc.glv/oet/fccid.

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