Is Your Cell Phone Putting You at Risk?

By Chelsea Schreiner BSc, ND By now, we’re generally becoming more aware of toxics on our health. We recognize these in our personal care and beauty products, in our environment - what we breathe and drink, and in our food. We are becoming well-versed in the likes of parabens, phthalates and pesticides, to name a few. We’ve recognized and pushed for policy changes on things such as cigarettes, pesticide use, genetically modified foods and artificial additives. But, could there be something else we’re missing that puts us at increased risk for cancer? Something we’re exposed to on a daily basis, something we could prevent? Some would say yes, and that something is radiation. Specifically, the radiation from that all-important and pervasive technology we call the cell phone.

The evidence for radiation as a health risk isn’t supported by many people in the cell phone and communications industry. However, there are numerous organizations that are blowing the whistle. The real issue is the lack of evidence for harm. There simply isn’t enough credible evidence to determine that cell phone radiation poses a health risk, or further, causes cancer, or so the industry says.

Dr. Devra Davis, Epididemiologist, Toxicologist and author, has warned of cell phone radiation and cancer risk before. Her book, “The Secret History of the War on Cancer,” though mainly focused on cigarette smoking, also offers insights on radiation and cancer risk. In this book, Davis highlights the journey from cigarette glorification to evidence-based warnings. Drawing parallels between smoking and cell phone radiation, Davis cites our current blind obsession with cell phone use as similar to the early years when smoking was a popular lifestyle choice. Just as cigarettes were proudly smoked by both genders and increasingly younger ages, so too has become the way of the cell phone. Just as cigarettes were found to be harmful to our health and cancer-promoting, what will we later discover about cell phone-induced radiation on our health? Davis’ more recent book “Disconnect,” details the concerns about cell phone radiation exposure, cancer risk and policies for protection. It is an eye-opening account of just how big of an issue this really is and sets the stage for considering preventative action.

Central to this cell phone radiation argument is the potential increased risk for brain cancer, and specifically the effect on children. Children’s smaller size, weight and developmental age make them generally more impressionable to toxic effects. We really don’t have good evidence on safety of radiation and children’s development. Why take the risk?

We’re realizing that new technology means there’s less opportunity for long-term evidence showing safety concerns. Let’s face it, cell phones won’t be going by the wayside anytime soon. If you choose to use this technology, why not use it responsibly. The Environmental Working Group puts out annual guides on safer cell phone use and their 2012 guide is included below. Just like smoking, will we wait until the evidence mounts with increased cancer rates before we take action? The choice is yours to make.

Environmental Working Group’s Six Tips for Safer Cell Phone Use

1. Use a headset or speaker

Headsets and speakers help keep the radiation source away from your head. Depending on your choice of wireless or wired headsets, you still may be exposed to low-level radiation. Removing the headset when not in use further reduces your risk of exposure.

2. Keep your cell phone away from your body

When you’re not using it, there is no need to let your phone continue to emit radiation that you’re going to absorb. Avoid putting your phone in your pocket or on a belt clip or other device. Instead, put it in a purse or bag or a nearby surface. The farther it is from you, the less radiation you are exposed to.

3. Text more, Talk Less

Texting emits less radiation and keeps the phone (and radiation) away from your head.

4. Call when the signal is strong

Using your phone when it’s on one bar versus three actually makes the phone work harder to transmit the call. This increases your radiation exposure.

5. Limit children’s phone use

Environmental Working Group is one of many agencies which suggest limiting children’s cell phone use to emergencies only.

6. Skip the “radiation shield”

Certain accessories which protect your phone may not be protecting you. For example, use of keyboard covers has been reported to increase radiation.


References and Resources

Environmental Working Group Cell Phone Tips:

Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Is Doing to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family by Devra Davis

The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis