Cell Phones Provide Easy Access to Friends and Family, but at a Cost to One's Health

We have all been there. It is an awful experience: You need to make an important call and realize that you don’t have any change. Then you beg for change, only to wait 20 minutes for a public phone because the person ahead of you can’t decide what he wants for dinner. Now that the phone is available, you can’t find your friend’s number.

Luckily, the icon of the 21st century, the cell phone, is here to save you from that aggravation. You can call your buddy on your cell phone using Pacific Bell’s Free Mobile to Mobile. As the name suggests, it’s free, you don’t have to wait for anyone else to finish, and you can store friends’ numbers so that all you need to do is press “”TALK”” to reach them.

These are some of the reasons why, according to a Gallup poll released on April 26, 2000, half of all Americans own a cell phone. Nearly half of all cell phone owners are between the ages of 18 and 29. Not surprisingly, 67 percent of them reported that they use their phones every day or several times per week. According to the numbers, cell phones seem to be dominating our lives.

According to “”Time”” magazine, in the United States, cell phone users spend an average of 150 minutes a month talking on their cell phones.

“”This is the most popular product known to man,”” said Ed Snyder, who follows wireless technologies for the Chase H&Q investment firm. “”More cell phones will be sold this year than all the computers, TVs, personal digital assistants and pagers combined.””

What many people do not realize is that wireless phones can affect our lives negatively as well as positively. A cell phone, like the microwave and broadcast antenna, emits radio waves that are a form of nonionizing radiation, which can harm body tissues in high doses. Microwave radio waves are 1,000 times more powerful than those of a cell phone. However, a microwave keeps its waves inside a steel box, whereas cell phones are kept close to people and are pressed to the head for long periods of time.

In another “”Time”” study, it was determined that when mice were exposed to two 30-minute daily doses of cell phone radiation for up to 18 months, the mice developed twice as many brain tumors as the mice that were not exposed. Other findings link the radiation to changes in brain function.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health recently reported the findings of a public health scientist, George Carlo. Carlo is one of the most outspoken critics of cell phones and launched a series of studies on their effects.

Carlo found that the risk of acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor of the auditory nerve that is in the range of phone antenna radiation, was 50 percent higher in people who reported that they have been using cell phones for six years and more. The relationship between the amount of cell phone usage and this tumor seems to follow a dose-response curve, which means that the more a person uses a cell phone, the higher the response for a tumor.

Carlo sees a distinct correlation between brain tumors occurring at the right side of the head when the phone was used on the right side of the head.

He also found that the risk of a rare neuroepithelial tumor on the outside of the brain more than doubled in cell phone users. This is, according to Carlo, a statistically significant increase when comparing people that use cell phones to those that do not.

In 1995, Carlo recognized that digital phones were interfering with cardiac pacemakers.

The most troubling of Carlo’s findings was that radiation emitted from a cell phone antenna may actually cause functional chromosomal damages and that it follows a dose-response curve as well.

Another researcher, biologist Roger Coghill, also strongly believes that cell phones are harmful to the human body. Coghill observed that mobile phones are linked to headaches and memory loss because radiation affects those part of the brain.

He suggests that the waves generated by cell phones may damage the ability of white blood cells to fight off infection and disease. This is the result of a study in which Coghill took white blood cells from a donor, kept them alive with nutrients and exposed them to different electric fields. After seven-and-a-half hours, he saw that only 13 percent of the cells exposed to cell phone radiation remained intact and able to function.

Coghill also claims that the body’s immune system is partially controlled by electromagnetic fields emitted by the body, so cell phone radiation will damage the body’s own electromagnetic fields. This will cause the dysfunction of one’s immune system.

Of course, some people are still skeptical about the negative effects of cell phone use. Other studies have been less conclusive than those by Carlo and Coghill. Even the World Health Organization has stated that there is no definite answer to the relationship between cell phone usage and adverse health effects. It states that most experiments have only been done on animals, and only short-term effects have been considered.

According to the Gallup Poll, few Americans believe that cell phones pose a serious health risk. A mere 14 percent say that they have heard a great deal about cell phone and health risks, 37 percent say they heard a moderate amount, 30 percent said that they heard a little, and 18 percent report that they have not heard such reports at all.

When the same individuals were asked how serious they felt the risks actually were, only 8 percent answered that risks were serious, 30 percent said somewhat serious, 35 percent said not very serious, and 18 percent said not very serious at all.

Nevertheless, long-term research is underway at the National Cancer Foundation, which will compare risk factors in 800 cell phone users with brain tumors to 800 users without tumors. The study will also take into consideration genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. The results of this study will come out within the year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will also oversee the safety of cell phones. Cell phone companies have already taken precautions by printing informational pamphlets that detail how much radiation their phones emit.

The amount of radiation is measured in units called “”specific absorption rates,”” so one can compare the 1.49 level SAR in the Ericsson T28 World model to the 0.24 SAR of the Motorola StarTAC 7860. At the same time, cell phone companies are printing a second pamphlet that says that any phone below the Federal Communications Commission SAR ceiling of 1.6 is safe.

Chuck Eger, Motorola’s director of strategic and regulatory policy for personal communications products warns customers, “”There’s no evidence that any number below the threshold is safer than any other.””

Mikael Westmark, a health and safety spokesman for Ericsson, concurs, “”Numbers without context do not help any consumers.””

No one expects the $50 billion cell phone industry to shrink any time soon. “”Time”” points out that more than 400 million mobile phones are used worldwide and predicts that manufacturers will sell another 400 million units this year.

People should not throw away their cell phones just because of some negative findings, but it is not wise to ignore them. Hands-free extensions and limiting your cell phone calls are advised until more concrete findings are revealed.