Saturday, September 27, 2008

Scientists warn US Congress of Cancer Risk For Cell Phone Use

I buy an iPhone and this pops up again, Scientists warn US Congress of cancer risk for cell phone use. The article is mostly cautionary saying we don't yet know, some studies show a greater chance of tumors on the cell phone side of the head and that extra caution should be taken with children because the radiation penetrates further into their smaller heads. It also seems alarmist saying we shouldn't wait 50 years like we did with cigarettes.

Most kids text message so the phone isn't at the head. And I use my iPhone more as a PDA or iPod so far so it's not next to my head. I assume headphones are better than a phone next to your skull, but I'm not sure about a bluetooth headset that's constantly broadcasting bluetooth to the phone.

The comments to the article are skeptical to be mild. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the issue so far.


DKB said...

Bluetooth is much lower power, and higher frequency than any mobile-phone band. While the higher frequency may not make anything better, I'm sure the lower power would. I think the bluetooth power output for class 2 is at least an order of magnitude less than the transmit power of a GSM phone, and that in turn is less than CDMA. Just don't sleep with the iPhone on your pillow next to your head and you should be fine.

Richard said...

The issue with these studies is that a definitive answer is hard to come by. Studies on model systems (cells, or DNA near cell phones or microwave sources) fail to capture the nature of real systems while epidemiological studies can have many other factors that influence the results. Maybe it takes 50 years to get good enough data to understand the problem, but by then you have been running a very serious experiment on a lot of people. dkb is right in mentioning the other sources of EM radiation that we are exposed to besides cell phone microwave radiation. How about Wi-fi? I suppose it only matters if you put it next to your head.

The argument is not helped by the uneven nature of the quality of the studies. For instance Science has a report on fraud in one of the studies -

"The only two peer-reviewed scientific papers showing that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from cell phones can cause DNA breakage are at the center of a misconduct controversy at the Medical University of Vienna (MUV). Critics had argued that the data looked too good to be real, and in May a university investigation agreed, concluding that data in both studies had been fabricated and that the papers should be retracted.

The technician who worked on the studies has resigned, and the senior author on both papers initially agreed with the rector of the university to retract them. But since then, the case has become murkier as the senior author has changed his mind, saying that the technician denies wrongdoing. He will now agree to retract only one paper, and he also says his critics have been funded by the cell phone industry, which has an obvious interest in discrediting any evidence of harm from its products."

- that isn't going to help anyone's case to stop or set bounds on cell phone use. We can (and probably should) continue to study the issue, while avoiding unsupported dire pronouncements about needing warnings, a measured compromise that would be too boring to report on in the press.