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Cell Phones Could Damage Your Cells
San Francisco Gate
Journalist: Jonathan Curiel
January 14, 2007

The hoopla over last week's Macworld Conference & Expo -- symbolized by media coverage that portrayed the new iPhone as a kind of manna from heaven -- was lost on Arthur Firstenberg, a leading activist in what amounts to a war against cell phones and cellular technologies.

Firstenberg says the millions of people who are expected to buy Apple's iPhone should consider this first: Mobile phones emit radiation, cause damage to brain tissue, and produce the kind of cancer that kills rats in laboratory experiments. Surfing the Internet on BART, listening to your favorite iPod song and texting a message to your lover -- all at the same time -- may seem like the ultimate in 21st-century bohemia, but it's really a new form of self-torture, say Firstenberg and others who have spent years worrying about the effects of electromagnetic radiation.

"Nobody wants to think they're putting a harmful thing next to their head," says Firstenberg in a phone interview from Santa Fe, N.M., where he moved after living for several years in Mendocino. "This radiation is not confined to your cell phone -- it goes everywhere, and everyone is being affected, whether they know it or not."

People who use cell phones for hours are basically heating their brains to dangerous levels, says Firstenberg. Even a one-time, two-minute use of a cell phone damages blood vessels in the brain, he says, pointing to a study by Swedish neurosurgeon Leif Salford, who exposed rats to cell-phone levels of radiation. Salford has warned that prolonged, yearslong exposure to radiation from cell phones, cell-phone towers and other wireless technologies can increase the likelihood of people getting Alzheimer's or dementia, even in middle age.

The views of Firstenberg (who attended medical school for three years) and Salford run contrary to recent studies, including one from Denmark last month that concluded there is no link between cell-phone use and cancer. The report, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, studied 420,000 Danish cell-phone users, some of whom had used the phones for 21 years.

Critics say the study was flawed from the beginning. For example, the study labeled as a cell-phone user any Dane who made at least one call a week for six months or more, says George L. Carlo, a scientist with the Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington. "Finding a cell phone-related cancer risk among this group," Carlo wrote in an article responding to the study, "would be akin to identifying excessive lung cancer risk among people who smoke one cigarette a week."

Theoretically, cell phones emit radiation that's non-ionizing, meaning radiation that doesn't ionize (or dissolve) atoms and molecules in the brain, and is therefore safe, but Salford's study on rats suggest otherwise. And cell-phone companies certainly don't like to advertise that their products emit radiation.

Legally, the Federal Communications Commission requires the companies to do so in the guise of a phone's "Specific Absorption Rate," which refers to the amount of radio frequency radiation absorbed by cell-phone users when they make calls. Firstenberg says the FCC's standards are faulty because they're based on studies in which researchers irradiated a synthetic head, not an animal head, in laboratory conditions.

When he lived in Mendocino, Firstenberg led a group of people who tried to ban wireless technologies because of concern that cell-phone towers and Wi-Fi antennae would harm residents' health. His organization, Wireless Free Mendocino, succeeded for a while, but then Mendocino officials approved the towers ("the dike broke," as Firstenberg describes it), and he moved to Santa Fe.

The New Mexico capital has cell-phone towers, but Firstenberg thinks its location (Santa Fe is almost 7,000 feet above sea level) lessens the effects of the towers. Still, if the city allows widespread installation of Wi-Fi antennae, "I'll leave," Firstenberg says.

Critics have called Firstenberg a "quack" and other derogatory names, but his alarms are being sounded by a number of groups, scientists and environmental specialists, including the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union and Andrew Michrowski, president of an organization called the Planetary Association for Clean Energy.

The neighborhood association has lobbied to keep Wi-Fi antennae from being put near homes, schools, health care centers, day care facilities, senior centers, playgrounds, places of worship and other "inappropriate locations." Michrowski, whose organization is made up of 3,600 scientists from 60 countries, urges people to avoid using cell phones "unless you really have to."

People who have cell phones attached to their ears constantly are asking for trouble, warn Salford, Firstenberg and other critics.

So the real buzz could be far less joyful than we're led to believe. The iPhone or any other fancy cell phone may look alluring, but what if these devices are ultimately ruinous to your health?

The ability to place calls to your office, your spouse or your local pizza place on a cell phone isn't worth dying a horrible death from cancer. There's no solid proof that cell phones are hazardous, but then tobacco companies once claimed that about cigarettes. So did makers of cookies larded with trans fat.

At the least, those millions of consumers who apparently can't wait to buy an iPhone and spend all their waking hours playing with this latest high-priced, high-tech, must-have gadget might want to think twice.

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