The increasingly youthful age of people using cell phones has spurred California's Department of Public Health to issue guidelines.
David Borja

Cell phones not only allow your mother to find you, wherever you are, but they offer so many applications like music, games, and films that concern has developed over how much young people are exposed to the radio-frequency (RF) energy that mobile phones emit.

California’s Department of Public Health is the latest agency to enter the fray, offering advice such as, “[S]imple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults,” from Director Dr. Karen Smith. Asked why Public Health would offer such recommendations without conclusive scientific evidence to back them up, spokeperson Corey Egel stated that the department was responding to public requests for guidelines. The state agency lists brain cancer, tumors of the acoustic nerve and salivary glands, lower sperm count, headache, and learning and memory effects among the “suggested possibilities” indicated by studies.

Part of the concern derives from the fact that cell phones in the U.S. tripled between 2000 and 2014, from 110 million users to 327.5 million. Globally, the number rose to 5 billion. Since most people hold a cell phone to their head when using it, high-profile cases of brain tumors awaken anxieties. And because children as young as 10 years old routinely use and sleep with their cell phones, precautions are considered prudent as their brains are smaller and their lifetime with cell phones longer.

How many health studies have been done? Dozens, of more than a million adults. But conclusive cancer studies tend to occur over decades. The massive increase in mobile-phone use plus the improvements in decreasing the radiation from the phones make the already wobbly results from self-reported studies inconsistent at worst, difficult to interpret at best. But a National Toxicology Program report in 2016 of rats exposed to nine-hour-a-day doses of cell-phone-equivalent radio frequencies for two years ignited more controversy – both over cell phones and cancer and over animal cruelty. The rats developed rare cancers in two cell types of the brain and heart.

But that was the only study – which have been of humans for the most part – that found any correlation between cell phone radiofrequency energy and any illness. To be on the safe side, however, California health officials recommend:

• Keep the phone away from the body. Wireless (Bluetooth) and wired headsets emit less. As the phone tries to stay connected to a cell tower, it will emit more RF energy; hold it in a bag or briefcase, not a pocket or bra.

• Text.

• When the signal is weak – only a few bars show — RF levels are highest; use the phone less.

• Reduce cell phone use for large files like audio or video streaming, or keep it away from your body when doing so.

• Keep the phone a distance away from the bed at night, or put it in airplane mode.

• Remove the headset when not on a call; it generates a bit of RF constantly.

• Products that claim to block RF energy, like RF shields, may actually increase exposure.


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