With new evidence on the dangers of mobile phones, we examine the worrying
risks you’re NOT being told about
By Tom Leonard
6th October 2010
Timebomb? A new book claims we have underplayed the threat from mobile phone
radiation for too long
Could mobile phones be giving us brain cancer? And has the mobile phone
industry spent years trying to bury the scientific evidence that it does in
order to protect its $3 trillion, 4.6billion-customer, global business?
According to Devra Davis, an eminent American scientist and one of the
country’s leading epidemiologists, the answer to both these questions is a
With mobile phone use soaring, especially among the young, Dr Davis says we
could face a ‘global public health catastrophe’ in as little as three years
if the problem is ignored.
Mobile phones are low-powered radio frequency transmitters which produce
The debate over the cancer risks from this radiation has been going on for
years. Yet the lack of any conclusive evidence has allowed the industry to
claim phones are safe and led to sceptics being dismissed as scaremongers.
But now the alarm has been raised by an award-winning academic and
toxicologist who was in the group that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
So should we think twice before clamping a mobile phone to our ears?
In a new book provocatively titled Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone
Radiation, What The Industry Has Done To Hide It And How To Protect Your
Family, Dr Davis says we have underplayed the threat from mobile phone
radiation for too long.
She says: ‘Is it possible that the pervasive use of mobile phones is causing
a host of subtle, chronic health problems, damaging our ability to have
healthy children and creating long-term risks to our brains and bodies?
‘The fact we do not have clear answers to this question at this point in the
history of electronic technology is not an accident.’
Dr Davis says crucial scientific evidence, some of which has existed for
decades, has been ignored – particularly that involving experimental
research on animals and human cells.
Her work includes supporting research from studies in the U.S., Sweden,
Greece, France and Russia. For example, a team at the University Of
Washington found that just two hours of mobile phone-level radiation
splintered the DNA of brain cells in rats, making them similar to cells
found in malignant tumours.
In humans, the evidence is less dramatic, but equally worrying.
In Moscow, a study has found that while the brains of children who regularly
use mobile phones look the same as the brains of those who do not, users
have poorer memories and other learning problems.
Dr Davis, who is a grandmother, is worried about the effect on children,
arguing that their thin, pliant skulls make them more vulnerable.
Last year, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority warned that
regular use of mobiles could damage children’s brains, confirming previous
warnings in the UK, France and Israel.
Dr Davis believes children are ‘growing up in an unprecedented flood of
radio frequency signals’. She says they should only use mobile phones in
emergencies. ‘The dangers for children are not definitively proven but do we
really want to risk it?’
The most troubling research, she says, threatens male fertility. Research in
seven countries, including the U.S., China and Australia, suggests that
keeping a switched-on mobile in a trouser pocket can have a drastic effect
on sperm count.
‘All the research shows the same thing – if you take young men who are
trying to become fathers, those who use mobile phones at least four hours a
day have about half the sperm count of others,’ says Dr Davis. ‘Sperm
exposed to mobile phone radiation in the lab is sicker, thinner and less
capable of swimming.’
Using a mobile for four hours a day sounds a lot, but Dr Davis says 20 per
cent of the young males in a 2008 study, by America’s Cleveland Clinic, used
their mobiles for this long. However, her most compelling evidence about the
health dangers, and that mobile phone manufacturers are probably aware of
the risks, is buried in the small print of the instructions that accompany
every new phone.
Those for the latest BlackBerry (the Torch), warn users to ‘use hands-free
operation if available and keep the device at least 0.98 inches from your
body (including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of
teenagers)’ when it is switched on.
Apple tells iPhone users to keep them 0.625 inches away from their body and
to point the dock connection towards their shoulders ‘to increase
separation from the antenna’.
Dr Davis says at least two senior scientists who work for mobile phone
companies told her they were ‘deeply concerned’ about the health risks.
Insiders say phone manufacturers are now developing safer models.
Many studies looking into the cancer risks of mobiles have been
Revealed: How other gadgets affect your health
Gadget Health Danger graphic
In May, the hotly-anticipated Interphone report for the World Health
Organisation drew no conclusions, but suggested that heavy phone users could
be at risk.
The research team was divided about their findings, but that didn’t stop the
UK-based GSM Association, which represents the global mobile industry, from
deciding the report supported a consensus that there was ‘no established
Dr Davis specialises in how the environment affects our health and wrote a
book about how the tobacco industry was not initially honest about the
links between cigarettes and cancer. Similarly, she says, the debate in
Britain over the dangers of asbestos lasted a century.
She insists the mobile phone industry has behaved the same way, working,
often with government help, to discredit independent scientists while
ensuring that others toe the line for fear of losing their funding.
‘Those studies that have been paid for by the industry tend to find that
there’s not a problem,’ said Dr Davis. ‘Studies that are independent –
while there are fewer – tend to show there is a problem. I don’t think
that’s an accident. This has had a chilling effect on the ability of
policy-makers to form policy.’
She said the debate has been distorted by a ‘show me the bodies’ approach to
But it is too early to expect mobile phone users to develop brain tumours,
The same slow development of problems occurred when the Hiroshima bomb
survivors were tested: after ten years researchers found no evidence of
brain cancer, but 30 years later many cases were found.
While defenders of the safety of mobile phones point out that official
statistics show the incidence of brain cancer is falling in countries like
the U.S., Dr Davis says people typically don’t develop it until they are
over 65 and, at present, people in that age group have not been big mobile
‘The absence of an epidemic right now is hardly cause for great relief,’ she
In most countries, heavy mobile phone use is recent. Even in Scandinavia,
home of many of the world’s biggest mobile phone makers, only half the
population owned one in 2000.
Dr Davis finds it frustrating that there are simple precautions that
users could be taking. She says fashion will have to adapt, with people
keeping phones in bags and the knee-level pockets of cargo trousers, well
away from their ovaries or testicles.
Her book, published in Britain next month, has already been challenged in
America over its science. But Dr Davis doesn’t dispute that mobile phone
radiation is weak – she stresses the cumulative effect on people using
phones for several hours.
Her solution is for a ‘major, independent research programme, not a fake
one like those we’ve had for decades’.
As for her own habits, she has cut down her dependence on her mobile but
still uses one.
‘We’re as dependent on mobile phones as we are on our cars,’ she says. ‘They
do a lot of good – they save lives in emergencies – but we have to be
smarter about how we use them.’