Saturday, May 01, 2010
EVERYWHERE you look, from schoolyards to the halls of government, people are glued to their cellphones. An estimated 4.6 billion people worldwide use cellphones - 300 million of them in the U.S.
The average American spends more than 14 hours a month on a cellphone, far more than the residents of any other nation. With the emergence of smart phones and apps for everything from making dinner reservations to locating public restrooms, many people can't imagine modern life without them.
Neither can I. But new technology brings new risks. Using a cell- phone while driving is distracting and dangerous, which has led states across the country, including California, to pass hands-free laws. Now, although the science is far from settled, concerns have been raised about the possible health risks of cellphone radiation.
Cellphones emit low levels of radiation. This radio-frequency radiation, measured by specific absorption rate (SAR), is how the phone communicates with the wireless network - but the radiation enters your head or body at the same time it travels toward the cell phone tower. Emitted radiation levels vary not only by make and model but also by the distance to the nearest cell tower, type of network and other conditions.
While studies cited by industry groups and the Federal Communications Commission show no correlation between cellphone use and negative health impacts, the scientific literature on the potential harm caused by cellphone radiation is far from unanimous.
Recent peer-reviewed, independent studies from around the world have found that long-term, heavy cell phone use increases the risk of brain, salivary and acoustic nerve tumors as well as decreased sperm count.
Of particular concern is the use of cellphones by children. The FCC's recommended safe levels haven't been updated since 1996, when cellphones were an expensive luxury for adults. Now cellphones are marketed to children whose heads are smaller and skulls are thinner, making them more susceptible to radiation, even at low levels. The European Parliament and health agencies in six nations (Switzerland, Germany, Israel, France, the UK and Finland) have recommended reducing children's exposures to cellphone radiation.
The FCC has posted guidelines for reducing potential risks associated with wireless devices.
The precautions include using an earpiece or headset, keeping wireless devices away from the body when they are turned on, using the cellphone speaker, texting rather than talking and buying a wireless device with a lower SAR.
While manufacturers must report SAR values to the FCC, this information is not currently given directly to consumers. Radiation levels are listed on the FCC website, but finding that information requires a difficult and tedious search.
The Environmental Working Group, the sponsor of SB 1212, has published a user-friendly radiation guide (www.ewg.org/cellphone-radiation) that shows the radiation levels of today's best-selling smart phones are pushing the limits recommended by the FCC.
It is time to start a national dialogue regarding cellphone radiation. We don't want to look back and ask why we ignored the warning signs.
That's why I have introduced Senate Bill 1212, a consumer right to know measure, which requires cell phone companies in California to list cellphone radiation levels alongside the price at the point of purchase so consumers can make better and informed choices.
In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom has introduced similar local legislation.
As we wait for the science to become more conclusive on the potential risks of cellphone radiation, it is common sense that we make this information easily accessible to consumers. As the saying goes, better safe than sorry.
Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, has represented Marin in the state Senate since 2008.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Experts concerned about health effects and industry witnesses who maintain WiFi, cellphones are safe set to appear Tuesday
Ottawa — From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Monday, Apr. 26, 2010 7:46PM EDT
Last updated on Tuesday, Apr. 27, 2010 12:16AM EDT
Cellphone towers, cordless telephones and the wireless networks that link home computers send out microwaves that pose myriad human health risks, say witnesses who will tell federal politicians Tuesday that existing exposure limits are too high.
Magda Havas, a professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., works with people she says are “electrically sensitive.”
“When they are exposed to this microwave energy from an ordinary cordless phone, their heart goes crazy,” said Dr. Havas, who will appear at a meeting of the Commons health committee. “They simply cannot survive in our normal urban environment any more. They either seclude themselves in their homes [where] they have special paint that they put on their walls and fabric for their windows to keep the radiation out,” or they move to rural areas.
Microwaves have also been linked to cancer, an inability to control diabetes, sleeping disorders and a range of neurological ailments. Dr. Havas and others who fear the effects of electromagnetic energy want the allowable exposure levels reduced, and they want the government to publicize the dangers they perceive in the communication devices that exist in most Canadian homes.
But for every study that says the waves are dangerous, there is another that says they are perfectly safe.
Health Canada, which sets the guidelines for microwave exposure, says that as long as the recommended limits are respected, the department has no scientific reason to consider exposure to low-level radiofrequency fields, such as those from cell towers, dangerous to the public.
Bernard Lord, the former New Brunswick premier who is now the president of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, will also appear before the Commons Health committee on Tuesday.
“The wireless industry fully complies with the regulations that are in place,” Mr. Lord said. “Not only do they fully comply, the members also believe that they are safe. We are all users of this technology. Not only do we use it on a day-to-day basis with our own wireless devices in our hands, but many of us have WiFi networks at home. And you have Internet cafés with WiFi waves. It’s all around you. It’s everywhere.”
François Therrien, a spokesman for Save Our Children From Microwaves who will also appear before the committee, said the members of his group understand that cellphones are here to stay.
“But we want to make them safer,” Mr. Therrien said. “We want warnings on cellphones and we want the cellphone companies to stop selling these products to children.”