The World Health Organization’s new report on the health risks associated with radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (REF) has caused a stir and that’s even before it’s been published. The press release signaling the recategorization of mobile phone use with regards to the risk of developing certain brain cancers was released yesterday and already the feathers are flying.
After reviewing current scientific evidence, the WHO working group has cautiously classified the REF from mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic”. A recent Medpage article gives a good guideline as to what this classification means, placing mobile phone use in the same cancer risk category as taking certain prescribed medications.
The REF and cancer connection has always been controversial. Critics of previous studies clearing mobile phones (and their signal towers) of any risk have pointed out that telecommunication industry funding is often involved. On the other hand supporters of the industry claim that current studies uses old phone technology and not 3G phones, which (while not admitting any risk with the other ones) they say are safer.
Already there’s robust rebuttal of the report, or at least the media release. The pro-mobile phone lobby points out there’s not a significant rise in brain cancers across the general population to support the classification, while the anti group states that many cancers are slow growing and it will take time for this trend to emerge.
The full report will be published in The Lancet July 1 2011. In the meantime you might like to read these responses to the press release.
New research on mobile phones and brain function
A recent study showed that mobile phones held close to the head (in use or not) can affect the functioning of the brain, in particular how it metabolizes glucose. However scientists do not agree what the clinical significance of this may be.
From a naturopathic perspective I’m wary of REF. Considering the time it takes for some neurological tumours to develop, even without conclusive evidence, it makes sense to be cautious of REF exposure until proven safe. As the human brain continues to grow until the late teens (and even the adult brain has plasticity), the trend for children to use mobile phones from an increasingly young age is of concern. But beyond cellular phones – perhaps we need to rethink our relationship with other sources of REF including all forms of wireless communication. Obviously we can’t control them all but at least we can attempt to reduce exposure.
Gill’s tips to limit REF exposure
• Text instead of talking whenever possible.
• Keep calls short and infrequent.
• Don’t make calls when the signal is weak (low bars) or when moving at high speed (in car), as the phone is continually searching for a better antennae signal, which results in higher bursts of radiation.
• Use hands free, away from the body on speaker when possible. Opinion is divided on earpieces, wired is currently considered less risk than blue tooth.
• Don’t hand your phone to a child to speak to someone, always use on speaker.
• If your teen must have a phone find a plan that encourages text use, rather than free calls, to deter talking on phone.
• Remember that antennae is always looking for a connection, even when you are not talking, so try not to carry the phone close to your body.
• Cordless phones also emit REF
• If possible use a cordless handset on speaker phone.
• For long or frequent conversations use a fixed phone (where the hand piece is connected to the unit).
• When possible turn off routers at night or when not in use.
• Ideally don’t sleep near your wireless connection.
• Don’t base a wireless router in a baby or child’s room.