From Devra Davis, The Environmental Health Trust:
One year ago, advisors to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) pronounced radiation from cellphones a “possible human carcinogen”—a category that includes diesel exhaust, chloroform, jet fuel, lead and DDT.
So what has happened since then? Many tech-savvy nations have stepped up efforts to issue warnings. Health Canada posted a notice about the value of using headsets and speakerphone, protecting children and the pregnant abdomen, keeping phones off the body and calls short, and avoiding use when signals are weak. France and Turkey have banned advertising with and for young children. The Israeli health, environment and labor ministries created a new national institute to study the issue, required that all phones be sold with headsets and are pondering warning labels on all phones and advertising.
At the federal level in the U.S., the General Accountability Office is expected to release what will be its fourth declaration (since 1993) on the need for more research on the health impacts of these microwave radiating devices—sidestepping altogether the appalling lack of allocation of funds for major research, training and monitoring.
At the local level, draft advisories giving people the right to know that cellphones are basically two-way microwave radiating radios that should not be held next to the brain and body now sit in governments from California to Maine. Industry has sued San Francisco—challenging the city’s simple Right-To-Know law that informs people before they make a purchase about how to practice safe cellphone use.
U.S. inaction on cellphones is no accident, but the result of well-funded media efforts that have overwhelmed understaffed regulatory agencies. In 1994, when scientists Henry Lai and V. J. Singh found that low levels of pulsed, cellphone-like radiation appeared to damage brain cells, industry responded by attacking the science, the scientists and those who would fund them. An industry memo sent to public relations firms at the time explained—“war-game the science.”
Just as happened with tobacco, science becomes a form of public relations. Calling for more research is easy so long as no major funds are set aside to see that this gets done and what limited studies are conducted are led by those whose concerns with sustaining their own research are paramount. As one industry memo counseled, “Doubt is our product.”
Some two decades later, American confusion reigns about cellphone safety. Ignoring new virus-based cybersecurity threats or long term health issues from wireless communications, the White House has just mandated that all federal agencies make information available on mobile devices. The assumption that cellphones must be safe is fueled by an industry war chest of a quarter of a billion dollar emergency public relations fund aimed at attacking the WHO and any studies suggesting phones could be a problem.
In fact, brain cancer is hardly the only health issue of concern linked to cellphone radiation. Controlled studies in rabbits, mice and rats find that pulsed digital signals from today’s smartphones damage sperm, brain, liver, eyes and skin of exposed offspring, and impair memory and behavior. According to independent studies at the Cleveland Clinic and Australia’s national research center, men who use cellphones four hours per day have about half the normal count and three times more damage to their sperm’s DNA than those with much less use. Other experimental work from Turkey concludes that such exposures produce offspring with smaller brains and fewer brain cells.
Understanding that direct cellphone and other wireless radiation should be controlled and reduced has already created phenomenal business opportunities. While the market is flooded with magical devices that falsely claim to block radiation, there are a number of effective practical tools at hand. Although banned by iPhone, Tawkon is an app that allows smartphones to sense and flash a red light when releasing levels of radiation that exceed FCC limits. Pong Research produces cases for smartphones and tablets that deflect some microwave radiation while also extending battery life.
IARC’s evaluation of cellphone radiation should allow us to prevent harm rather than wait for it to happen. The global effort to control tobacco only started after massive epidemics of lung cancer became undeniable. If we await such evidence with cellphones, our grandchildren may face an entirely avoidable public health crisis.
Devra Lee Davis, PhD, MPH, is an award-winning scientist and writer, president of Environmental Health Trust (www.ehtrust.org), and the author of Disconnect—The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation (Dutton, 2010).
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