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Don't Be So Sure Your Cell Phone Is Safe

Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization[5,6]. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same "carcinogenic hazard" category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

About two years ago, the founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Ronald B. Herberman, MD, sent a memo to UP faculty and staff, as well as to his friends and family, advising them to limit cell phone use based on his interpretation of recent research, some of which is as yet unpublished. While acknowledging that the connection between cell phones and brain tumors was still inconclusive, he said some studies have found that the phones emit radiofrequency energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation, that may damage DNA and could be harmful. The announcement from WHO proves that Dr. Herberman's precaution was correct and was two-years ahead of everyone else.

Not Safe in Europse, Not Safe Here

Dr. Herberman said that his communiqué was prompted by publication of several studies and advisories in Europe — he felt strongly that the findings were important. Two studies in particular caught his attention. One, conducted in Sweden, showed clear biological effects, particularly brain tumors, after 10 or more years of cell phone use. The other was a French study that showed that the brains of young children (between five and eight years of age in this research) absorb considerable amounts of radiation from cell phones when they are held up to their ears, much more so than adults. Meanwhile, cell phone use among people of all ages — kids most especially — continues to grow.

It is important to note that these are not exactly perfect studies. A major issue is that the usage data is based on what people remember and report about their cell phone use. Dr. Herberman acknowledged this is a flaw. "People don't always accurately recall more than a day to a week before they've been asked," he affirmed. That's why his memo was issued as an advisory, rather than a warning.

He advised that until more concrete scientific research can be done, it's smart to be aware of how much you use your cell phone and also how easy it is to reduce the dangers by limiting your exposure. He also said that in his home, he no longer has a cordless phone, because almost all of them now operate in or above the 800 MHz or greater range that is associated with the potential risk shown in the studies.


Smart Use Is Key

Dr. Herberman's memo included 10 practical suggestions for the safe use of cell phones, developed by a committee of international experts, of which he is a member. Here is an edited version...

  1. Do not allow children under 10 to use a cell phone, except for emergencies. (Note: The developing organs of a fetus or child are especially sensitive to electromagnetic fields, so pregnant moms and parents with young children should pay particular attention.)

  2. Hold your cell phone as far away from your body as you can, even while talking — for instance, using a headset or speaker whenever possible. The amplitude of the electromagnetic field goes down to one-fourth when the phone is held two inches away ... and to 1/16 at four inches. A wireless Bluetooth headset has less than 1/100th of the electromagnetic emission of a normal cell phone. Also, be aware that the phones typically ramp up power at the start of a call.

  3. Avoid using your cell phone in crowded places, where you'll be exposing others to your phone's electromagnetic fields.

  4. Reduce electromagnetic emissions by minimizing time spent carrying your cell phone on your person or even sitting nearby — for instance, while sleeping, keep your phone at least two feet away. This is especially important if you are pregnant. Another safety strategy is to use the "flight" or "off-line" mode, which blocks emissions but still lets you play games or check your calendar.

  5. If your cell phone has an internal antenna, keep the back of the phone pointed out and away from you so that the transmitted electromagnetic fields are not directed at your body.

  6. Use your cell phone to establish contact or only for brief conversations. For longer conversations, use a land line.

  7. When making a call, wait till the person you are calling has picked up before putting your cell phone to the ear. This limits both the power and duration of your electromagnetic exposure. Also, regularly switch from one ear to the other while talking.

  8. If your cell phone signal is weak, wait until it is stronger to use it. Similarly avoid using it when you are traveling in a vehicle at high speed — this automatically increases the phone's power output as it repeatedly attempts to connect to a new relay antenna.

  9. Text messages limit duration of exposure and proximity of the phone to the body — use these instead of calls to communicate whenever you can.

  10. Choose a device with the lowest SAR possible (SAR = Specific Absorption Rate, which is a measure of the amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body). Aim for an SAR of below 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight.

  11. If you use your cell phone as an alarm to wake up in the morning, turn on airplane mode on your phone.

  12. When your cell phone's battery is low, recharge it immediately.


  1. Ronald B. Herberman, MD, founding director, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh.
  2. Anti Cancer — A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, Ph.D.
  3. Massive Mobile Phone Health Risk Study Underway
  4. WHO: Cell phone use can increase possible cancer risk
  5. Cell Phones Can Kill You (But Not How You Think)
  6. Cordless Phones May Be As Risky As Cell Phones (Travel and Health)
  7. Radio Frequency Radiation Emissions of Wireless Communication Devices (Travel and Health)
  8. Watch Out for Wireless Antennas in Your Neighborhood—You're Surrounded (Travel and Health)
  9. Wireless Radiation and Brain Tumor Risks (Travel and Health)
  10. Cell Phone Radiation Electromagnetic Radiation & Health
  11. Can WiFi Signals Stunt Plant Growth?
  12. Belgium Boosts Cell Phone Radiation Safeguards (EWG)
  13. The Potentially Detrimental Effects of Wi-Fi
  14. Effects of 2.4 GHz radiofrequency radiation emitted from Wi-Fi equipment on microRNA expression in brain tissue.
    • Long-term exposure of 2.4 GHz RF may lead to adverse effects such as neurodegenerative diseases originated from the alteration of some miRNA expression.
  15. Cell Phone Radiation Could be Changing Your Brain
  16. BioInitiative Working Group
  17. Stop Smart Meter and Take Back Your Power (Travel and Health)