Health risks and mobile/cellular phones, revisited

Four years since our last report update, we are revisiting the discussion on possible health risks associated with mobile/cellular phone use

Earlier this week, news reports stated that the city of Berkeley, California (USA), had recently passed a law “requiring cell phone stores to inform customers about safety recommendations” (Source: CNN). Specifically, the stores must communicate to their customers the US federal guidelines on the amount of radiation that mobile/cellular phones can emit and provide instructions on safer phone use.

The health risks associated with mobile/cellular devices has been a longstanding area of concern. Even here at ICT Pulse, we had written a few articles, and highlighted the then most recent findings on the health risks associated with prolonged mobile/cellular phone use. In our 2011 article, Can your mobile phone make you sick?, the then current findings were:

  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) had classified the radiation emitted by mobile/cellular phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”; a designation that has also been applied to lead, gasoline, caffeine and pickled vegetables.
  • The IARC was also of the view that there is a link between electromagnetic radiation from mobile/cellular phones and the occurrence of gliomas, malignant tumours found in the brain and/or spine, and acoustic neuromas, benign brain tumours in the inner ear.

In the four years that have passed since publication of the IARC/WHO position, and the studies conducted to date, no clear association has been made between the radiation from mobile/cellular phones and cancer. Consequently, some experts are beginning to questions whether the lack of more decisive evidence on the subject is its own conclusion.

Mobile/cellular phones, similar to cordless telephones, and microwave ovens, all emit non-ionizing radiation, which unlike ionizing radiation such as X-rays and CT scans (for example) do not have the potential to damage DNA. Additionally, the considerably lower power of mobile/cellular phones, when compared with cordless telephones and microwave ovens, further lowers whatever harmful effects that could be experienced. However, scientists are also quick to admit that although there is some understanding of how ionising and non-ionising radiation affects the body, there are still “a lot of gaps in knowledge” (Source: CNN).

In summary, studies on possible health risks associated with prolonged exposure to the radiation emitted by mobile/cellular phones are still ongoing, and studies on the impact of this radiation on children are also being undertaken. However, it is also emphasised that widespread and intensive use of mobile/cellular devices is a recent phenomenon of the past 10 years or so, as handsets and calling rates became cheaper. Hence sufficient time might not yet have elapsed to fully observe the effect of mobile/cellular phone radiation on human health.

As a result, and erring on the side of caution, the following practices will help minimise your body’s the level of exposure to the radiation emitted by mobile/cellular phones:

  • keeping conversations on your phone short
  • do not carry the phones on your person, and
  • use accessories or features that allow hands-free use.


Image credit:  Davvi Chrzastek (flickr)