Are Cell Phones Dangerous ?

Do cell phones present a threat to our health? Are they dangerous? Here is a distillation of what I found out from popular and scientific research as well as in conversation with Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington, an expert on non-ionizing radiation. (See below for TIPS ON REDUCING CELL PHONE RADIATION):

• We don’t know precisely what impact cell phones have on our health, but we do know, without question, that they do have some impact, as we’ll see when we look at the research. Dr. Lai agreed with this assessment.

• There are now over 5 billion cell phones in use around the world.

• When we use our cell phone, we place it on our ear right next to our brain. When we stop using our cell phone, it still emits radiation so it can pick up any incoming calls.

• Children are considered at far greater risk from cell phone radiation because their skull bone is thinner and because their developing cells and tissues are more vulnerable. Many experts on cell phones recommend against the use of cell phones by young children. Health authorities in Britain, France, Germany and Russia have warned against allowing small children to use cell phones.

• Cell phones emit signals via radio waves which are comprised of radio-frequency (RF) energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Cell phone radiation is in the same range as microwaves, and cell phone radiation can be referred to as a microwave or a radio wave.

• When you talk on a cell phone, a transmitter encodes your voice sounds into a continuous sine wave which fluctuates evenly through space. Once the encoded sound has been placed on the sine wave, the transmitter sends the signal to your phone’s antenna. The antenna sends this signal out into space where it is picked up by receiver in a cell phone tower.

• Your exposure to radiation from a cell phone is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The specific absorption rate (SAR) measures the amount of radio or microwave frequency absorbed by the body. . A phone’s maximum SAR must be less than 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg). (In Europe, the rate is 2 W/kg). Interestingly, this testing is primarily done by manufacturers themselves.

• Cell phones vary in how much radiation they give off. Search “Cell Phone Radiation Levels” on the internet and you’ll find lists of cell phone SAR’s. The highest SAR is 1.6 and the lowest a .24. Different phone models have different SAR’s, ie. the lowest I-Phone is .79 and the highest a 1.38; the lowest Blackberry is .24 and the highest a 1.55.

• Risk of brain cancer is the danger most often associated with cell phones especially when the phone is held against the ear in close proximity to the brain. Tissues next to where the phone is held absorb non-ionizing radiation.

• It is an accepted fact that cancer, especially brain cancer, takes a long time to develop. Long-term exposure to cell phone radiation, ie. over many years, is an important consideration in evaluating cell phone risk.

• Health damaging risks from cell phone use have been postulated, including the possibility of unknown disturbances to cells and genes from the heat produced from cell phone radiation, unknown effects on male sperm count, unknown effects on pregnancy, and the possibility of other health effects such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and other nervous system and metabolic disturbances not yet determined.

• The cell phone industry has always contended that cell phones are safe. The small amount of radiation emitted by phones, they say, is negligible. The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and the Food and Drug Administration have stated that the risk of cancer from cell phones is unproven.

• Critics, such as Dr. Devra Davis in her book “Disconnect”, feel the cell phone industry is covering up the potential harm from cell phone usage. Critics have compared the present attitude regarding cell phones to the ignored risks of tobacco until the early 1970’s.

• In the Spring of 2011, the World Health Organization announced it was listing mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Cell phones were added to a “carcinogenic hazard” list that includes lead, engine exhaust and chloroform. The determination was based on the evaluation of 31 scientists from 14 countries who found some evidence of increased glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer in cell phone users.

• In the Winter of 2011, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that 50 minutes of cell phone use speeded up brain activity, shown by an increase in glucose, in the area closest to the phone antenna. This was the first study to document that cell phones alter brain activity. The researchers noted that it was not known what effect such changes might have on a person’s health.

• Some critics considered the NIH study alarming. They noted that increased glucose occurs in infections and other inflammatory conditions. They felt the heat caused by cell phone radiation could lead to potentially damaging reactive oxygen radicals and alter the ways cells and genes work. They questioned whether the increased glucose metabolism was perhaps secondary as a response to some other disturbance, such as “activation of heat shock pathways”.

• The Interphone study published in 2010 found no link between cell phone use and brain cancer. Heavy users of cell phones, over 1640 hours, had a 40% greater risk for glioma’s and acoustic type brain tumors, but the study discounted this result as being perhaps due to a bias error. The European study took four years to be released, apparently because its authors couldn’t agree on its conclusions, and at least one member of Interphone, cautioned that there was sufficient evidence to support precautionary policies. The study was done when cell phone usage was much lower (2000-2004).. The design of the study, a “case control” type, is considered a relatively weak one.

• The radiation emitted by cell phones is only one of many sources of non-ionizing radiation we are exposed to including computer and television screens, cordless phones, radio waves, electrical wires and appliances, wireless applications, microwave ovens, lasers, and communication transmissions.

• One source of cell phone radiation is that occurring in groups, ie. in large stadiums with thousands of people when everyone, reacting to an exciting event, uses their cell phones at once.

• The placement of cellular phone base stations and antennas is controversial because neighborhoods near these facilities are exposed to greater amounts of non-ionizing radiation.

• Non-ionizing electromagnetic fields are considered among “the fastest growing forms of environmental pollution”.


Technology has given us wonderful tools like cell phones that often help us in daily living, but as we’re increasingly learning, there is a cost, sometimes an overwhelming one. There is a lot of information to be processed about cell phones and more research to be done.

Perhaps we won’t be able to use cell phones as casually as we do now. Perhaps when the plane lands, we won’t be able to reach for the phone to say, “I’m here!”. Perhaps thousands of people in a stadium simultaneously calling home to say, “Did you see that?” won’t be possible.

Certainly cell phone manufacturers are researching ways to make phones safer even as they deny the problem. Like the futile search for safe tobacco, it’s difficult to see how the issue of exposure to non-ionizing radiation will be resolved.

The bigger picture is that cell phone radiation and EMF’s are environmental issues we as a society can’t afford to ignore.

What we can do on a personal level is to take reasonable steps to reduce our exposure, and our children’s exposure, to cell phone radiation. Here are some tips:


Keep cell phones away from infants and children. Consider not allowing young children to use or play with cell phones and in general consider limiting their exposure to cell phone use.

More important than looking for a low-SAR phone is how you use it.

Putting the phone on speaker reduces exposure.

The further a cell phone is held away from the body, the less radiation is absorbed. Exposure is reduced exponentially as you move your phone away from your body. The back of the phone contains the antenna which emits the non-ionizing radiation.

During a conversation, draw the phone away from the ear when you’re talking and bring it closer to ear when you’re listening. Radiation emission is more when a cell phone is transmitting signals than when it is receiving. .

Using a headset or a wireless headphone with a low-power Bluetooth reduces radiation exposure. Some experts caution that the wire on a headset can act as an antenna for radiation. Other experts feel a wired Bluetooth is better than a wireless one. All experts recommend turning off a wireless headset when not in use.

The more a cell phone is used, the greater the exposure.

Texting causes less exposure than talking, but if the cell phone is held next to the body or even near the body exposure still occurs.

Keeping a phone in your pocket or clipped to a belt exposes the body to cell phone non-ionizing radiation.

Cell phone radiation is increased when you make initial contact with another cell phone. You can reduce exposure by waiting until after your call has been connected to place your cell phone near your ear.

Cell phone radiation is increased when you are moving rapidly, ie. in a car or a train, because bursts of radiation must be used to connect with different towers as it moves in and out of range.

When a cell phone has a weak signal, it has to work harder and emits more radiation. When you are using the phone inside a building or an elevator, or in rural or isolated areas, there will be more radiation because the phone again is working harder.

Just to be cautious, pregnant women should consider keeping the cell phone away from their abdomen. Babies should be protected from cell phones. Men should keep cell phones turned off when they’re kept in a pocket because of a possibility of the effect of radiation on the sperm count.

Consider cutting down on using your cell phone usage by cutting down on unnecessary calls and use a landline (not a mobile phone) when possible.

Dr. Arn Strasser is a Portland Chiropractor.

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