After years of maintaining a fairly benign stand on the risks of cell phone radiation exposure, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is an arm of the Who Health Organization (WHO) has reversed its course on the dangers of said radiation to human health. According to their recent statement, the team of 31 scientists from 14 countries at the IARC that have been researching the effects of mobile phones now say that it could be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. Though this is certainly a serious concern in terms of long term human health, especially now that over half the human race walks around with mobile phones in their pockets and purses, I’d be curious to know a bit more information about it. First off, the word “possibly” from the above quote leaves me with a lot of ambiguity. There are lots of things that can “possibly” cause cancer including the microwave ovens, x-rays, smoking, our sun, and a host of other items. The question really comes down to exposure.
There are two main factors that will account for that. The first one is the actual amount of radiation each type of phone releases. This is given in Watts per kilogram (W/kg) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established a maximum Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) as 1.6 W/kg. As it turns out, lots of today’s smart phones approach that limit. You can find a fairly comprehensive list of these levels from the Environmental Working Group here.
The second factor is duration of exposure. That is a bit more difficult to determine since there are so many environmental factors that feed into this. The age at which a person begins using mobile phones is one of them. Children, who have thinner skulls than adults, are susceptible to greater amounts of radiation penetrating into their brains and could have a higher chance of developing various types of tumors at a faster rate than people who began using mobile phones as adults.
Just like with any other carcinogen, the effects of cell phone radiation will differ from person to person. Depending on both level to exposure and amount of the exposure, some people may develop symptoms in as little as ten years. Others may go an entire lifetime without seeing any adverse effects to their health.
But, I believe its always better to err on the side of caution. There are already guidelines in limiting exposure to cell phone radiation. To begin with, use an earpiece that will get you further away from the “guts” of the phone where the transmitter sits. Even when using a mobile phone up to your ear, try to keep it at least an inch away from your ears and face. When calling isn’t necessary, text the recipient instead.
Undoubtedly, more information will be coming out regarding this issue in the months and years ahead. As with most health studies, the claims released this week will be modified, refined, or may even be reversed. Such is the way with science.