Consider the following: By mid-2011, Nielsen estimates, there will be a US smartphone user base of 150 million, with 300 million mobile subscribers and 120 million mobile Web users. And in 2010, over 25 percent of US households are using mobile phones exclusively, eschewing landlines.
Mobile technology is here to stay, and the benefits of its flexibility, usability, and rich feature set go without saying. Yet there is that nagging concern in the background: Are they safe? And if no one really knows, what do we all do next?
The ten-year-old mobile phone safety debate is well documented. To recap: Numerous studies have been performed; there have been consistent indicators that, over time, mobile phone electro-magnetic radiation (EMR) can cause, or increase the probability of individuals developing, several different types of brain and neck cancers.
Scientifically, there is a concern that there is some bias in these studies that skews their results and may not make them credible; most of the studies, when it’s all said and done, end up being “inconclusive”-- and nobody knows quite what to do next.
The most recent study was performed by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. It spanned 10 years and cost $24 million for a survey of 13,000 people across 13 countries. It was, again, inconclusive.
We may never know the answer to the mobile phone EMR debate, nor the role mobile EMR ultimately plays in our health, when we are cumulatively being exposed to EMR from computers, fax machines, electric blankets, hairdryers, shavers, television sets, cars, planes, subways, fluorescent lighting, and even the sun itself. Knowing this, and understanding that the world is headed toward mobile devices, which may ultimately supplant PCs, some governments are taking action.
Switzerland has recommended that its citizens adopt texting over mobile phone calling. Germany, Russia, Israel, Switzerland, Finland, and France all recommend that parents limit the amount of time their children spend on cellphones, since EMR brain penetration in children is twice what it is for adults. France has legislation pending that would prohibit mobile phone use by children under the age of 14. The US Food and Drug Administration offers no recommendations.
But last month, San Francisco passed a “Cell Phone Right-to-Know” law that requires manufacturers to post cellphone EMR absorption rates in stores where phones are sold. The city is now embroiled in a lawsuit launched by CTIA , the association that represents the wireless community. CTIA cites the FDA statement that “the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.” If San Francisco wins the case, it could prompt other US communities to take similar actions.
Meanwhile, consumers don’t have to wait while the debate continues. They can take advantage of what mobile technology delivers, while also doing simple risk mitigation for EMR. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), which publishes and promotes public information to protect public health and the environment, has a useful Website tool that allows consumers to check their cell- or smartphones for the amounts of EMR they emit. EWG and others also suggest these helpful mobile tips:
- Buy a low radiation phone -- information is available online. In general, smart phones emit higher levels of radiation than most cellphones.
- Use a headset or speaker -- if the mobile device is away from your body, you can eliminate most EMR risk.
- Listen more, talk less -- when you are listening to voicemail, the phone is not transmitting.
- Hold the phone away from your body -- this makes sense for the same reason you would use a headphone or speaker.
- Text, don’t talk -- when you’re texting, you’re not holding the phone against your body.
- Stay off the device if you’re in a poor signal area -- when the signal is poor, the EMR goes up because the device is boosting its signal to compensate for the poor signal quality.
- Limit child use of mobile phones -- EMR saturates children’s brains at twice the rate that it saturates the brains of adults. This is because children’s skulls are thinner.
- Avoid commercial radiation shields -- like poor signal areas, they only cause the mobile device to boost signaling.
— Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data