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This article discusses consumer concerns about cell-phone radiation or electromagnetic field (EMF) or electro-magnetic radiation EMR and related terms such as EMF, radio frequency - RF, hertz or cycles, megahertz, medium frequency MF, very high frequency VHF, ultra high frequency UHF, megahertz MHz, gigahertz GHz, terahertz THz . We include cell phone radiation exposure standards and suggestions from various sources on how to reduce cell phone radiation exposure
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Our page top photo of a cell phone signal tower whose appearance was improved to resemble a steel tree was taken along the New Jersey Turnpike.
Scientific research on possible health hazards from cellphone use to date (2010) has produced inconclusive and conflicting results, varying by study. According to an article in June 2010 the New York Times,
A widely cited January 2006 Swedish study (Kjell Mild) of both cordless home telephone use and cell phone use by children and teenagers found that that population were more likely to suffer brain cancer if they used mobile telephones. The U.S. FDA has questioned the reliability of the study, including pointing out that the study had not reported on the mechanism of action that caused the brain cancers cited.
Professor Lennart Hardell (University Hospital, Orebro, Sweden) who led the study reported at a September 2008 conference hosted at the Royal Society by the Radiation Research Trust "people who started mobile phone use before the age of 20" had more than five-fold increase in glioma", a cancer of the glial cells that support the central nervous system. The extra risk to young people of contracting the disease from using the cordless phone found in many homes was almost as great, at more than four times higher.
So can using a cell phone increase the risk of brain tumors or not?
Attempts to sort through the confusion of multiple studies of possible cancer risks associated with cell phones have been made with some success. See "Mobile Phone Use and Risk of Tumors: A Meta-Analysis", Seung-Kwon Myung et als, 2009. This meta study of 465 articles from MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library (Aug. 2008) concluded that
The cell phone tower in our photo (above left) is located in Westchester County, New York. Exposure of electromagnetic radiation from cell towers is normally a separate question from EMR exposure from use of cellphones themselves.
Definition of cellphone radiation - cellular telephones, because they include a radio transmitter, emit electromagnetic fields (EMF, or EMR).
In the United States the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) specifies the allowable limits of cell phone radiation. If ultimately cell phone radiation is shown to be a health risk to some users, a possible concern is the exposure of the human ear and brain to cellphone radiation, especially as newer digital cell phones operate at higher power and at frequencies in the 1800-2000 MHz range. Presently some cell phones may exceed the FCC EMR or SAR (defined below) limit that was set when most cell phones were analog in signal design and emitted lower-strength EMFs in the 800-900 MHz range.
What type of radiation is emitted by a cellphone?
Older cell phones emit and receive low level radio frequency waves from 200 MHz to more than 800 MHz. Newer cell phones operate in the wider 900 MHz to 2.4 GHz or more (approaching the power and frequency of microwaves and infrared waves).
How much radiation is emitted by a cellphone?
The answer depends on the cell phone technology (cell phone model, analog versus digital signal), the cell phone transmitter strength (newer phones may be more powerful), and other factors. Cell phone radiation, measured in watts per kilogram of body tissue, ranges from 0.2 watts/Kg to 1.6 watts/Kg. [We have read articles claiming that some phone models exceed the current legal limit of 1.6 w/Kg. - citation needed].
Cellphone Model Radiation Rate Data: independent test labs publish measurements of the levels of radiation emitted by specific cellphone models. In June 2010 the New York Times reported on a San Francisco law that will require cellphone manufacturers to list the radiation rate of each cellphone model sold in that state. Retailers will be required to post the SAR (specific absorption rate) for each cellphone model.
What is SAR - Specific Absorption Rate?
The level of human exposure to cell phone radiation, which is not necessarily the same as the cell phone radiation rate, is measured in SAR, Specific Absorption Rate - the rate at which radio frequency energy (RF energy) is absorbed into human body tissues. The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) during cell phones in use depends on the distance the cellphone is held from the human head (further away is safer), and the distance to the nearest cell phone tower. While most of the human head is protected by bone, the ear is an area of soft tissue into the skull that might be an area of greater risk of injury by EMF from cellphone use.
Cellphone Antennas vs. Cell Tower Antennas
Don't confuse a cell tower antenna - the large usually outdoor antenna that receives and/or broadcasts cellphone frequencies to relay cell phone signals through the cell system - with the small, often hidden antenna within the cell phone itself (illustrated below at Suggestions for Reducing Cellphone Radiation Exposure).
Definition of EMF - an EMF or electromagnetic field is the field or area of force caused by movement of an electrical charge and containing some amount of electromagnetic energy.
Definition of EMR - Electromagnetic radiation, or electromagnetic radio frequency radiation EMFR. EMR or electromagnetic radiation is electrical and magnetic energy emitted by various types of energy sources: radio waves, microwaves, light, x-rays, and nuclear energy and sometimes expressed or measured in photons (particles) or as waves (discussed here).
EMR or EM radiation is the result of oscillating electrical and magnetic fields that move as an energy force in wave form through space.
According to the US FDA,
Definition of SAR & SAR Limits - Specific Absorption Rate of Radiation - measures the amount of radiation that a human body absorbs from a source such as from a nearby radio transmitting antenna or cellphone (radio receiving antennas do not emit EMF).
In the United States the FCC requires that the SAR for cell phones is required to be no more than 1.6 watts per kilogram.
Quoting from the US FDA:
Recent Epidemiological Reports on Cell Phone or Cell Phone Tower Hazards & Cancer Risks
study Reports No Cell Phone Mast Exposure Link to Cancer
Study Reports No Child Hood Cancer Risk Connected to Mobile Phone Base Stations
Excerpts quoted from "Mobile phone base stations and early childhood cancers: case-control study":
While the jury is out on health risks from cellphone use, those who agree that prudent avoidance is wise, even a cursory scan of the literature indicates that holding a cellphone further from the head (try using the speaker phone feature?) reduces exposure.
While hands-free sets have been sold to possibly reduce the exposure to cell phone EMF, we have read that the hands free wire connecting the cell phone to the ear piece can actually act as an antenna to increase the level of EMF exposure at the head by a factor of three.
If the cellphone has an extended antenna, pointing the antenna away from the head may also reduce exposure. As does limiting cellphone use.
Watch out: SAR is not the whole story of cellphone safety. As our cellphone photo shown here demonstrates, cellphone design, cellphone antenna placement, and cellphone use style (holding phone further from the ear) can make a difference in the potential EMF exposure of the cellphone user.
Both of the flip-type cell phones in our photo include an upper segment that includes the earphone - a portion of the cell phone that most users hold against or close to their ear. But the design of the cellphone at right, using an extendable antenna, places the antenna roughly two inches further from the user's head than the phone shown at left.
Further, talking or texting while driving may be a more immediate life-safety hazard to both the cellphone user and to others exposed to automobile injury from this dangerous practice.
Other Cellphone Hazard Reduction Suggestions - US FDA
The US FDA advice on cellphone hazard reduction is reiterated and commented-on just below. Of these two are most useful: [paraphrasing]
The FDA recommendation for use of headsets, wired or wireless, does not address other sources who warn (as we repeated above) possible increases in EMR exposure when using a headset on which the wire acts as an antenna. Further, we have not found sources describing any increase or decrease associated with using a wireless bluetooth-connected headset.
Watch out: buying a "cell phone radiation shield" is not recommended by the FDA:
RF EMF Measuring Equipment: Please do not contact us with a request buy EMF or RF measuring equipment. We do not sell anything. To do so would be a conflict of interest for this website. These devices are readily available from many electrical equipment and home inspection equipment suppliers.
See Evaluation of Low-Cost EMF Instruments This article describes several low-cost and reasonably accurate EMF measurement devices that are readily available suitable for measuring EMF from power transmission lines or home electrical wiring and appliances. See Radio Frequency RF Detection Meters This article describes several low-cost and accurate radio frequency or RF detection and measurement devices suitable for radio, TV, cellphone, microwave, and similar signals.
Readers of this article should also see EMF RF FIELD & FREQUENCY DEFINITIONS and EMF ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS & HUMAN EXPOSURE. Specific RF measurement tools (radio, TV, cell tower, microwaves) are described and their sources listed at Radio Frequency RF Detection Meters suitable for radio, TV, cellphone, microwave, and similar signals.
Also see Electric Power Lines, Electromagnetic Fields, Cancer Risk, & "Enviro-Scare" - The Normal Curve Cycle of Public Fear of Environmental Issues which discusses the impact of EMF and other environmental concerns on property values. And see EMF ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS & HUMAN EXPOSURE which discusses EMF exposure in the workplace.
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