Lorna Vanderhaeghe, BSc
Nine million Canadians use cellphones: That number grows by more than 5,000 new users per day, with teenagers comprising the fastest growing segment.
Nine million Canadians use cellphones: That number grows by more than 5,000 new users per day, with teenagers comprising the fastest growing segment. While not surprising, that statistic is alarming, given that The Lancet, a renowned medical journal, recently published claims that children who use cellphones are at risk for memory loss, sleep disorders and headaches. And even though six out of every 100,000 North Americans will be diagnosed with brain cancer this year, cellphone manufacturers still can't guarantee that cellphones aren't putting us at increased risk of brain cancer.
Although I use a cellphone, each time I put it to my ear I question how the electromagnetic waves emitting from this little device are impacting my health. The cellular phone industry has tried to assure consumers that cellular phones are completely safe, but after the ambiguous 20/20 Oct. 20, 2001 television program on the possible link between cellphone use and health risks, along with other confusing reports, more uncertainty is apparent. Dr. George Carlo, who ran the cellphone industry's $25-million research program in the United States, stated on 20/20 that, "The cellular phone industry has said there are thousands of studies that proved wireless phones are safe, when in fact there were no studies performed that were directly relevant."
We are the first generation to point low-intensity microwave radiation directly to our heads for many minutes, many times per day. Cellphones must meet government radiation safety limits, yet 20/20 found that some popular cellphones it tested exceeded the safe radiation limit depending on the length of the call and whether or not the cellphone's antennae was pointed directly at the head.
According to the Canadian Cancer Institute, adequate information and research are not available to confirm whether exposure to cellphone radiation puts us at risk of cancer, particularly brain cancer. Several large studies currently underway may clarify this relationship. Colin Blakemore of the University of Oxford, United Kingdom argues that "radio frequency radiation below the recommended guidelines has a demonstrable effect on cells and tissues, and this suggests that a precautionary approach is warranted." He recommends that researchers agree on a suitable mammalian model and then carry out long-term, well-planned studies. Further warnings are also given for people who have built-in cellphones in their vehicles with rear-positioned antennae. If you have infants or small children, placing them in the back seat of the vehicle below this antennae may lead to problems associated with exposure to strong microwave radiation. In the UK, they recommend not placing children within range of these very powerful antennae.
In a report published in The Lancet, Kenneth J. Rothman shows that the overall evidence for an association between cancer and cellphone use is weak. Yet he reports that, on the other hand, among cellular phone users who did develop brain cancer, tumours were located on the side of the head where the phone was positioned during use.
Proving a cancer connection may be difficult. Years of research may continue to turn up conflicting evidence about cellphones causing health problems. While we wait for research to allay our fears, use your cellphone only when you have to. Shut it off when you aren't using it, and don't carry it in your shirt pocket next to your heart or in the pocket of your jeans near your ovaries or testicles, or lymph nodes in your groin. If your phone or your ear gets hot during use, hang up, as delicate tissues are being damaged. My recommendation is to protect your brain cells and keep your cellphone use to a bare minimum, especially for teens.