by Joyce E. Cutler, BNA/Bloomberg / Electromagnetic Radiation Safety, 10 December, 2013
Radiation standards for wireless devices including phones and tablet computers are essential and long overdue to prevent further damage to children and fetuses, cancer doctors and activists said Dec. 9 in urging that the Federal Communications Commission implement policies adopted in other countries to reduce exposures.
In a Commonwealth Club of California event, specialists in breast cancer, neurology, pathology and radiation said information on specific absorption rates (SARs) from the two-way microwave radio carried by 6.8 billion people worldwide must be readily provided and explained to consumers with warnings about the impacts of radiation on developing bodies.
The question is not “do we have the body count yet” or enough proof of brain cancer cases, speaker Devra Davis said. “Rather than debating whether we have definite proof of harm, we should be asking is there sufficient evidence to consider that prudent precautionary policies are appropriate,” said Davis, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy and president of Environmental Health Trust.
The International Telecommunications Union last February forecast more than 7 billion phones in early 2014. By the end of this year, ITU forecast, mobile penetration rates will have reached 96 percent globally, 128 percent in the developed world and 89 percent in developing countries.
The World Health Organization has classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen, along with lead.
A California Senate analysis of failed 2010 legislation (S.B. 1212) requiring SAR posting said published peer-reviewed studies suggest long-term heavy use of cell phones may lead to an increased incidence of brain and salivary gland tumors as well as other health impacts.
Oakland, Calif., breast surgeon Dr. Lisa Bailey presented anecdotal cases of eight women who developed breast cancer where they placed their phones in their bras, including two 21-year-old women with no family history of breast cancer.
In another five premenopausal women, the area of the cancer diagnosed was in same area where they stored their phones, said Bailey, former president of the American Cancer Society's California chapter.
“Is that proof their cell phone caused their breast cancer? No, it's not. But it certainly makes us highly suspicious that it was a cause or a contributing cause of the breast cancer, particularly in the young women,” Bailey said.
Fat and fluid will respond to heat in a microwave oven and breast tissue is mostly fat, “and our bodies are mostly fluid and water. So it doesn't take much of a stretch of the imagination that microwave might have some effect on the body,” Bailey said.
Dr. Hugh Taylor, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and a professor at Yale School of Medicine, found in a study published in Nature in March 2012 that rats exposed to radio frequency of 800-1900 MHz as fetuses had decreased memory, were more hyperactive and were less anxious than those not exposed to constant radiation .
The rats were “bouncing off the walls, didn't have a care in the world, very inattentive, jumping around, and didn't seem to be bothered by this,” Taylor said. The only difference was that the control group did not have the phones on and emitting all day.
The effect most closely resembles, in humans, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in which people tend to act impulsively, have difficulty paying attention and are more hyperactive, Taylor said. Up to 20 percent of school age children have ADHD, he said.
'Long Lag' Effects.
Taylor compared the situation to that of women whose mothers took DES (diethylstilbestrol) in the 1940s and '50s for morning sickness. In the 1970s, the daughters had higher incidences of vaginal cancers when in their 20s, and couldn't get pregnant in their 30s, he said. The harm was not known at time the women's mothers took the drug and the effects not apparent.
“What happens in the womb we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives,” Taylor said.
Joel Moskowitz, director of the UC Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health, said there is a “very long lag between an exposure and the detection or diagnosis of a tumor. We're talking about many decades and up to four decades.”
Suleyman Kaplan, chairman of the Ondokuz Mayis University's Department of Embryology in Turkey, said the exponential growth in exposure to microwave radiation has come as the number of devices emitting radiation increased. Studies from animals and humans have indicated that even low frequencies can alter the activity of the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system, Kaplan said.
The FCC limit for public exposure from cell phones is 1.6 watts per kilogram. The SAR is a value that corresponds to the relative amount of radio frequency energy absorbed in the head of a user of a wireless handset, according to the FCC.
The FCC last March released a 200-page document officially launching a new proceeding to reassess whether the agency should modify the current allowable limit for wireless radiation emissions .
The FCC's radio-frequency exposure standards were adopted in 1996.
“The standards for your cell phones have not changed in 17 years,” said Davis. “How would you like to put your kid in a car seat relying on 17-year-old safety standards?”
Davis said South Korea has issued warnings about “digital dementia” diagnosed in children. The children were exposed to radiation from wireless devices have memory problems and difficulty hand writing, looking people in the eye and developing empathy. The diagnosed brain condition was confirmed by MRI scans of children, she said.
“This is not some 'Saturday Night Live’ joke. This is the future of the brains of the world's children,” she said.
Turkey also has issued warnings and Belgium's public health minister banned sale of phones to those under age 7. Toronto limits Wi-Fi in public parks, Davis said. France requires SAR values be posted and phones must be sold with headsets, with a ban on phones advertised to children.
San Francisco adopted, and the courts overturned, the nation's first phone radiation labeling law .
Davis said it is “better to err on the side of preventing harm rather than proving danger.”