Cellular phones, cordless phones, and Wi-Fi hubs all communicate using radiofrequency (RF) radiation in the 3 KHz to 300 GHz range. This type of radiation is much less powerful than the radiation found in gamma rays, x-rays, or even bright sunlight. Because these devices are so ubiquitous, it is important to consider whether the radiation has the potential for harm, especially in vulnerable populations like pregnant women and infants.
From a research perspective, such a question is problematic for a number of reasons. First, the word “harm” encompasses an exceedingly wide variety of possible effects. There is no obvious association between RF radiation and negative health effects, so any actual harm is likely to be subtle. Properly assessing that risk means investigating a great many specific questions, each one requiring volunteers, funding, and professional oversight. Secondly, it is difficult to recruit individuals for a control group who have not been exposed to RF radiation for long periods of time. Adverse health effects in exposed people cannot be linked to the RF radiation without also demonstrating that non-exposed people do not suffer the same effects at a similar rate. Finally, the effects of cellular phone radiation are likely to arise over long periods of time. The longer the study, the harder it is to execute and the more likely it is to encounter significant confounding influences.
There have been several large studies on the risks of cellular phone radiation over the last decade. While these studies have suggested several loose associations between cell phones and subtle neurodevelopment differences, no study has thus far found solid evidence of a causative link between the radiation exposure and the specific harm examined.1-4 Research projects on animals and cultured human neuronal cells have identified some specific changes in reproductive and neurological function, but no follow up studies have ever identified those same effects in humans.5-7
The FCC regulates radiation emissions from mobile devices to what they consider a “safe” level. So far, no major health organization has issued guidelines regarding the use of cell phones as they relate to health risks, other than limits on radiation emission and the increased risk of accident or injury while using them. The EMF project, a division of the World Health Organization, is the largest coordinator of information about the health risks of cellular devices in the world. As of August 2014, they were still collecting their findings. For those individuals who remain concerned about their RF radiation exposure from cell phones, the following are tips for reducing the risk even further:
- Radiation drops off rapidly with distance.
- Using speakerphone or a hands-free headset significantly reduces the amount of radiation that reaches the body.Avoid having long, continuous conversations via cell phone.
- Place the phone in standby or airplane mode when carrying it close to the body.
This article was adapted by James Abbey, MD from an original written for the InfantRisk Center.
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