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Picking up the phone may put your health at risk

posted 20 Jul 2010, 02:38 by Ramy Caspi

Last week, San Francisco became the first city to regulate the use of mobile devices, requiring cell phone packages to clearly disclose radiation levels for consumer consideration, which was a bold move to educate the public about the potential dangers of prolonged exposure to radiation that is emitted from mobile devices. According to Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who was the chief sponsor for the San Francisco bill, it was about "helping people make more informed choices."

The Federal Communications Commission and Food and Drug Administration currently regulate the emission standards for cell phones, but the San Francisco law may set a new precedent for other jurisdictions to explore ways to encourage the FCC and the FDA to make their standards more rigorous.

More Americans now rely on cell phones for convenience and safety, as well as for entertainment and Internet access--supporting a $153 billion wireless industry. While there are now more than 270 million Americans who own cell phones, African-Americans use mobile devices more than any other subgroup.

According to research conducted by the Pew Center, African-Americans are the most active users of the mobile Internet, with 48 percent of African-American participants in the study saying they have "at one time used the Internet on a mobile device." In fact, the growth in mobile Internet use among African-Americans was twice the national average between 2007 and 2009.

Some may gravitate toward using mobile devices for their sheer convenience--to be accessible anywhere is a luxury that many of us now enjoy. Combine that with the fact that cell phone services are often more affordable on a monthly basis than traditional "land line" communications, and a "main line" that is also a "mobile line" is often more attractive to those who are on a budget and looking to streamline expenses--but this decision may come with a hidden risk.

Scientists have discovered a slight increase in the rate at which cell phone users contract a tumor called "glioma" and other benign tumors on the side of the head on which the cell phone is mostly used.

Some physicians claim that the danger may be particularly acute for children, who may view cell phones as toys, and who risk long-term exposure to greater amounts of radiation in their lifetimes.

The methodology used in such studies has been imperfect, so while they may have successfully elevated concerns abroad and domestically about the potential dangers associated with long-term cell phone use, the FDAcontends that "the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems."

While more research needs to be conducted to fully understand the health risk of cell phones, and whether they cause increased risk of cancer, brain tumors, or other adverse health conditions as a result of exposure to radiation, the mere fact that there are so many unknown details about the effects of radiation exposure by cell phones should give many users pause.

Experts advise that we limit exposure by sending text messages instead of talking into a phone, use headsets that prevent us from putting phones directly up to our heads, and pay attention to the cell phone radiation emission levels that are listed on the Environmental Working Group website.

The best thing the public can do is stay informed. Protecting one's health should not come secondary to the convenience of cell phone use--even if we're on a budget.

By Monique W. Morris