Earlier this morning, the CNN Breaking News alert popped up on my iPhone that the World Health Organization (WHO) announced today that radiation from cell phone usage can cause cancer. At first I totally blew off what I had just read. Then I thought, wait, haven’t people been saying this for years? I thought that this was a rumor when cell phones first became popular and it was proved to not be true? Then what doesn’t cause cancer now and if this is true aren’t we all in trouble?
Walking through our campus to class on any given day I would bet you that at least half of the students are either talking on their cell phones or text messaging someone as they walk to class. In class, cell phones have become such an issue that most professors have their own cell phone policy strictly outlined in the course syllabus. Honestly, how many people do you know that do not own a cell phone? For me, it’s one, my grandmother, and even she owned a cell phone at one time.
Our cell phones have become such a large part of our lives that most of us can’t imagine going a day without it. And why should we? They do practically everything for us. What used to just be able to make and receive calls can now text message, e-mail, play games, be a GPS, camera, take videos, get on the internet, play music, you name it- there is a phone that can do it. We all have that friend, or maybe we are the friend, who texts constantly, the one who is never seen without their phone in their hand. It’s annoying, but it is becoming more and more common. However, unlike other bad habits like smoking and tanning beds, I never thought that cell phones could have a negative health risk. Since the WHO has released the information that radiation from cell phones could cause cancer do you think that we will see a decrease in cell phone usage? Consumers became very concerned with what pesticides and processed foods were doing to their body causing the pastoral push for more pure, organic foods. Will this startling information cause a pastoral push back to using cell phones only to call? Or will it just go in one ear and out the other?
Cell phone usage now appears on the same “carcinogenic hazard” category as lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform according to the World Health Organization. This decision was made after a team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, looked over peer-reviewed studies that were linked to cell phone safety. Inside those studies the scientists found enough scientific evidence to classify our exposure to our beloved Blackberries and iPhones as “possibly carcinogenic.”
This evidence is not definite. The biggest problem is that cell phones have not been around that long and further, their increased usage is a recent event. Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California says that, “the biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences.” This classification of cell phones as hazardous may be the prediction, like Rachel Carson’s prediction of pesticide usage leading to health and environmental problems in the first chapter of her book Silent Spring.
The good news is that the radiation coming out our cell phones is non-ionizing. This means that the electromagnetic radiation does not carry enough energy in each quantum to ionize the atoms. X-rays are an example of ionizing radiation; we all know that it is dangerous to be around. An example of non-ionizing radiation is microwaves. It is unclear whether or not the energy waves are causing cognitive memory function as well since we hold the phones next to our ears, but the World Health Organization is looking into it.
The European Environmental Agency has already started more research on this topic, since cell phones are a much larger public concern than smoking. University of Pittsburgh, known for cancer research, sent an email to all employees earlier this week asking them to limit cell phone usage because it could be harmful. Since results are inconclusive do you think we are jumping to conclusions? It seems that everything that we are doing is harmful. In my life I have seen, cigarettes go from being popular to almost non-existent and tanning go from being the cool thing to do to what you do if you want lectures about how you’re going to die. Are cell phones next?
Dr. Henry Lai, research professor in bioengineering at University of Washington who has been studying radiation for over 30 years says that this information is more of a warning to the public since brain cancer takes a long time to develop, they didn’t want it to be such a surprise that the long-term exposure could be causing the brain cancer.
Cell phone manufacturers like Apple and Blackberry already warn consumers to keep their device away from their body. The iPhone 4 is recommended to stay 15mm away from the body during calls and wireless data transmission while the Blackberry is recommended to stay 25 mm. To me, that seems almost impossible, do they expect you to hold the phone away from your ear while talking? What about holding it in your hands while your texting?
From the foods we eat, to the cars we drive, to the cleaning products that we use- Americans have made a huge pastoral movement back to a simpler time, concerned with the chemicals that we are using and the effect that they are not only having on our bodies but on our environment as well. I for one never thought that cell phones would be an area that we would see a pastoral movement any time soon, but with the possibility of health risks it may be something that we see sooner than a lot of us thought.