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11.24.10

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Hang Up and Thrive

The FCC protects the cell phone industry. Who's protecting us?

By Juliane Poirier


If cell phones caused brain tumors," a friend told me years ago, "we would have been hearing about it in the news." Of course, I thought, just like we heard about poisoned breast milk and deformed babies born to mothers exposed to pesticides—well after the damage was done. By the time the dark side of something profitable gets out to the public, from cigarettes to cellular communication, fortunes have already been made.

Somebody out there has sure made a lot of money from people's ignorance of radiation danger. I'm stunned to learn that my phone habits have exposed me to hundreds of thousands of times more radiation over the last decade than if I had known about and followed some simple self-protection steps; namely, keeping the phone away from the body, using the speaker or a wired headset, not talking when cell reception is low, texting rather than talking whenever possible and turning the phone off frequently to just check messages. Not knowing these practices sooner has caused me to receive the highest possible exposure to radiation for 10 straight years.

"The frustrating thing is that our government doesn't want to engage in this," says Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health in UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. "There's hardly any funding for research on this because it's not considered a health issue. We're burying our heads in the sand, thinking that what we don't study won't hurt us." But according to research—even some industry-funded research—it's already hurting us. People like me who've used a cell phone for a decade or more have doubled the risk for br ain tumors.

Word is getting out, belatedly. In a Nov. 14 New York Times article, "Should You Be Snuggling with Your Cell Phone?," writer Randall Stross discusses a study showing that radiofrequency radiation, present in cell phones, damages brain DNA in rats. Stross also points to a concern mentioned in the book Disconnect, by epidemiologist Devra Davis, about the insufficiency of studies conducted on the effects of cell phone radiation upon children. (The acceptable levels of radiation are based on a 200-pound male.) "Radiation that penetrates only two inches into the brain of an adult," explains Stross, "will reach much deeper into the brains of children, because their skulls are thinner and their brains contain more absorptive fluid."

Two-thirds of children over the age of seven use cell phones, according to Moskowitz, who claims there's growing evidence that radiation also causes memory-processing errors in adults. Warnings issued with cell phones, he explains, are written in confusing language and deeply buried. Some warnings are only available by download. Among these is a warning issued by Blackberry advising young women to keep phones away from their abdomens.

Are cell phones threatening reproductive health? Young men—now advised to keep cell phones out of their pockets—have been found to have lower sperm counts as a result of radiation exposure.

Even more research is needed, but Moskowitz believes there is sufficient evidence to warn the public about risks. Twelve other nations have issued warnings, he says. "Other countries operate under the precautionary principle, the better-safe-than-sorry rule," Moskowitz explains. "In the U.S., a health risk has to be scientifically proven beyond a doubt, and the onus of proof is on underfunded public agencies. It can take decades before you get consensus. The whole system is stacked against protecting public health in favor of protecting corporate freedom."

Moskowitz advises to educate oneself on radiation and take precaution with phones. "If you move the phone away 10 inches, you're getting less than one one-hundredth of the radiation exposure," he says. "We're not telling people to give up cell phones; we're just suggesting there may be safer ways to use them. Do kids really need to sleep with the phone under their pillow in case they get texted in the middle of the night?"

Joel Moskowitz is among the participants from five countries who appeared at a symposium, 'The Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields,' last week at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Video of the event will be available after Thanksgiving at www.electromagnetichealth.org.


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