Enough and more has been written about the harmful and the not-so-harmful effects of cell phone use, particularly the effect of radiation on the brain and (male) fertility. The recent review by the WHO provoked polarized debates and as usual the industry and the academicians are on opposite sides of the table.While the WHO in its study lists mobile phone use in the same “carcinogenic” category as engine exhaust, lead and chloroform, it also says that the adverse health effects have not been conclusively established. The warnings therefore fell lightly on most ears. The study was accused of using poor statistics, weak research practices, and even having a selection bias.
To a large extent this debate would remind many of the tobacco debate. Although I wasn’t around to cover the issue, literature shows that there was a lot of debate on the health hazards arising from the active and passive use of tobacco. Today however, we all know that even passive smoking is pretty harmful.
I am not going to go into the entire cell phone radiation debate here but I’d like to share some precautionary principles from the latest issue of Alternative and Complementary Therapies. In an interview debating the Safety of Cell Phone use, Devra Lee Davis, a scientist and president of Environmental Health Trust, a non-profit in Wyoming, argues why there are no free lunches with technological advances and why being smart about using the cell phone is a good idea. (If you take non-profits with a pinch of salt, she is the founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the U.S. National Academy of Science.)
Davis says that the fineprint warnings that come with cell phones today tell users that we should use them at a distance of 2.54 cm from the body, or 0.98 inches for a Blackberry. “But people do not see the warning because it appears in fine print. This information should be made clearer and more public, and, frankly, the safe distances involved need to be expanded because the original data were developed for a 6’2”-tall man with an 11-lb head, which is about 3% of U.S. men.” (Disclosure: I checked my Blackberry  case from 2009 and there’s no warning label.)
Instead, she suggests, cell phones should come with warning labels that say: This device emits microwave radiation and should not be used next to the brain and body.
The cell phone is a two-way microwave radio; it constantly sends radiation to the nearest tower and part of that radiation is absorbed by the body – that’s the simple logic behind all the warnings. While the scientific community gathers more data (which unfortunately will happen only with time), and while the intellectuals rip apart the WHO review, there are simple steps that we can take as we, willy-nilly, find cell phones more integral to our lives.
* Do not hold a cell phone next to the head or keep the phone turned on and next to the body.
* Use a speakerphone or a headset or put it on the desk or table in front. Do not sleep with a phone under the pillow or next to the head.
* When the signal is weak, one should not use the phone unless it is an emergency, because, whenever the signal is weak, the phone needs to use more energy to try to reach the tower. If a phone is getting a weak signal, it should be turned off if possible, because, if one uses it next to the head, the person is going to get a lot more radiation exposure at that point in time.
*Advertisments may show babies talking on phone but don’t give phones to babies to play with. iPhone users download apps of white noise – that play sounds of the ocean or the rain—and put the phones under the babies’ pillow to help them to fall asleep. Ummm…bad ideas
Professor Om P Gandhi, chair of the department of Electrical Computer Engineering at the University of Utah has shown every millimeter of distance between your body and the phone reduces the absorption of microwave radiation into the brain or body by 15%.
So, when using your cell phone, keep that distance!
Sure using a headset or handsfree or speakerphone impinges on the very ‘mobility’ that this device epitomizes, but even with 10-year-data, it’d be foolish to not take these precautions. We can’t, and shouldn’t, stop using the cell phone, but we can certainly be smart about it.