Mobile Phone Radiation Panic Ignores The Evidence

San Francisco has a law requiring phone vendors to declare their radiation levels. Tom Jowitt says there’s no evidence this measure is needed

Do mobile phones fry our brains? For years now various studies have pondered this question in one form or another, but the recent decision in San Francisco to require clear labelling on all new mobile phones has brought this issue to the fore once again. Effectively phones sold in San Francisco will now have health warning labels, similar to those on cigarette packets.

Last week, San Francicso’s board of supervisors (i.e. their city council) voted 10-1 in favour of a law which requires retailers to display the amount of radiation given off by the mobile phones they sell. This move has been in the offing for a while now, but the decision in an interesting one, especially if San Francisco is the first of many US cities and states to follow this course of action.

Radiation Levels

There have been similar attempt to introduce this type of legislation before in the US state of California and the state of Maine, but these were defeated by a combination of lobbying by the mobile industry, and also by the fact that the health impact of sustained mobile usage is still not resolved, and is a continuing matter of scientific debate.

San Francisco used a report by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) last September, which stated that “recent studies find significantly higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumours among people using cell phones for 10 years or longer. The state of the science is provocative and troubling, and much more research is essential.”

It found that the Motorola Droid, Blackberry Bold 9700, HTC Magic and LG Chocolate Touch topped its radiation charts.

And other research, this time by scientists from the Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University in Sweden, and the Wayne State University in Michigan, apparently found that radiation from mobile phones can delay and reduce sleep, as well as cause headaches and confusion.

Essentially, the research showed that using the handsets before bed caused people to take longer to reach the deeper stages of sleep, and to spend less time in deep sleep.

That seems to be more of a physiological or even psychological issue, but can the use of mobiles fry your brain and cause brain tumours?

Brain Tumours

Not according to the World Health Organisation and National Cancer Institute, both of which has said in the past that there is little clear evidence to prove the link. And in the US all phones sold must comply with the Federal Communication Commission’s safety standards for emissions. Imagine the lawsuits if they got that wrong.

Ah, but some people argue that there has been a rise in the number of brain tumours in recent decades as more and more people use mobile phones. Once again there is no concrete evidence  that this is the case. A recent analysis by Dr Isabelle Deltour of the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, in Copenhagen looked at brain tumour occurrences in Scandinavian countries from the mid 1970s to the early 2000s. It found no substantial change in brain tumour rates in adults, 5 to 10 years after cell phone usage rose sharply in the 1990s.

Given the fact that concerted efforts have yet to prove a link between mobile phones and any form of illness, my humble opinion is that the mobile phone is safe. At the end of the day, the mobile phone emits just another form of electromagnetic radiation. In the world we live in, with mobile phones masts, Wi-Fi networks, and countless other technologies, I suspect that using a mobile phone is not a big risk. Personally, I have greater things to worry about.