A Cell phone, the murderer
A while ago, I did something I don’t often do — I read the manual for a new gadget I had purchased, specifically my new cell phone. What I discovered in the fine print was troubling. The manufacturer warned that I should keep the device 5/8 of an inch away from my head. After asking “who the hell does that?” I did a little digging. The manufacturer’s legal department threw that into the manual to protect the company from civil claims arising from possible cancers. A little more digging and I discovered that there are indeed a lot of concerns about low-level radio waves emitted by our cells and tablets. These concerns rise as the age of the user drops. Kids are particularly at risk, according to some of the people who study this kind of thing.
I must admit I have always doubted that low-level radiation could cause tumors. I had been taught that the energy in these radio waves is too low to cause the kind of DNA damage that we know causes various cancers. Open and shut case, I thought. After all, since the arrival of the cell phone in the last couple of decades, there has been no increase in the occurrence of brain cancer. What my recent research into the subject shows is that among people in their 20s (the first generation of kids to have cells) there is an increase in brain cancer that is masked by lower incidents in older adults in the overall sample. When the facts change, you need to change your mind.
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One of the groups working on cell phone safety is the Environmental Health Trust, founded by Devra Davis (founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the U.S. National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences) and the late Ronald Herberman (founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the UPMC Cancer Centers and also a professor of medicine and Biology at Pitt).
The EHT is working to get the FCC to revise its safety guidelines for cell phone and tablet use, which are 17 years old. When it came out with these recommendations, the FCC used as its basis a 6’2″, 220-pound man, with an 11-pound head and presumed phone usage of less than 30 minutes a day. About 3% of the population meets or exceeds these dimensions; the guidelines are too lax for the other 97%. These days, 30 minutes of cell phone use is not that uncommon. In other words, the guidelines are inappropriate.
Children are particularly vulnerable because, quite frankly, they aren’t just little adults. Their bodies are still growing and changing rapidly. For instance, their skulls are thinner and possess more absorptive fluid that those of adults. That means that they get hit harder by RF waves. When you consider that a cell phone in your pocket emits somewhere between four and seven times the amount of radiation the FCC considers safe, clearly there is a risk, and for kids, it’s worse.
Save your own life, read the helpful tips
The genie is out of the bottle, though, and we aren’t going to uninvent this technology. Nor are we going to convince our kids to give up their cells and tablets. So, the EHT offers these safety tips:
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• Read the manual to discover the minimum safe distance, which will vary depending on whether the device is in use or in standby mode.
• If your child is going to play with a tablet or cell, airplane mode is safer.
• Limit your child’s use of these devices to two hours a day.
• Texting limits exposure far more than making a call, so for quick exchanges, hit the keyboard.
• For long conversations, use a landline.
• When shopping for a new device, get the one with the lowest Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body.
• When carrying a device, put it in a purse rather than a pocket. Men should avoid putting a cell phone in their trouser pockets, and women should keep it away from their breasts.
• If you have to carry a wireless device in your pocket, have the keyboard face you — that way the majority of the energy will move away from you. And if you aren’t expecting a call, putting your phone on airplane mode or off line ends the radio wave emission.
Happy Christmas, and practice safe tech.