Submitted by sglantz, tobacco.ucsf.edu,
19 March 2017
I have been following the evidence that cell phone radiation can have adverse health effects for several years and think that the evidence for adverse health effects of cell phones is about where it was in the early 1960s for cigarettes. (I use several studies showing damage to sperm as examples in my textbook Primer of Biostatistics.) I have also been impressed at how, like Big Tobacco and global warming deniers, the cell phone industry has tried to keep people in the dark about the emerging evidence.
I have also worked for decades with the California Department of Public Health and come to respect the high quality of the work they do. So I was interested to read in the newspaper a few weeks ago that in 2010 they had prepared a “guidance document” on the health effects of cell phone radiation that had been buried. The 2010 CDPH document summarized the science regarding health risks from cell phone radiation, and offered consumers precautionary recommendations.
It took seven years and a lawsuit in Superior Court brought by my colleague Joel Moskowitz from UC Berkeley (who used to work on tobacco) to force its release.
The CDPH’s cell phone guidance document offers the following conclusions and recommendations:
Cell phones emit a type of energy known as radiofrequency EMFs, or electromagnetic fields. Health officials are concerned about possible health effects from cell phone EMFs because some recent studies suggest long-term cell phone use may increase the risk of brain cancer and other health problems. Several studies have found that people with certain types of brain tumors [gliomas and acoustic neuromas] were more likely to have used cell phones for 10 years or more. Most cancers were on the same side of the head as people usually held their phones. Although your chance of developing brain cancer is very small, some studies found that regular cell phone use increases the risk of developing some kinds of cancer. Some studies have also linked cell phone radiation EMFs to infertility problems.
Pregnant women, children, and teens may be more vulnerable to cell phone EMFs. EMFs pass deeper into a child’s brain than an adult’s. The brain is still developing through the teen years. Therefore, parents may want to limit their child’s cell phone use to texting, important calls and emergencies.
Users can reduce individual risk by taking three factors into consideration: distance from the body, intensity of signal, and duration of use.
CDPH offers the following suggestions:
- Increase the distance between you and your phone by:
- Using speaker phone
- Sending text messages
- Using a headset and carrying your phone away from your body
- Keep the phone away from your body
- Limit your cell phone use when the signal is weak (one to two bars will force your phone to emit a stronger signal)
- Reduce the amount of time spent talking on a cell phone
- Keep phone calls short, even when using a wired or wireless headset
- Use speaker phone mode or corded phone for longer calls
- Take off your headset when you are not on a call
- Do not rely on devices that claim to shield or neutralize EMFs from cell phones
Based on my reading of the evidence, I have been doing this for a long time. In fact, I only carry a phone when I am out of the office and leave it turned off when I am not using it.
The Legal Fight
Joel Moskowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, first learned of the document’s existence in 2013. In January, 2014, he filed the first formal request to the CDPH under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) followed by two subsequent requests. In September 2015 he related this story to an investigative reporter from the New York Times who also filed the request for the document. The CDPH denied all requests on the grounds that the public interest in nondisclosure exceeded the public interest in disclosure.
In May 2016, with the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley Law School and the First Amendment Project representing Moskowitz pro bono, a lawsuit was filed in Sacramento’s Superior Court.
Before Judge Shellyanne Chang the CDPH argued the release of the document could cause confusion, alarm and even hysterical fear. The CDPH further argued that the wireless industry and cell phone manufacturers constitute “a portion of the public”, and it is “likely [they] have no interest in the dissemination of cell phone guidance document”.
In February 2017, Judge Chang issued a tentative ruling in which she overruled eight of the nine objections submitted by the Attorney General on behalf of the CDPH, and directed the CDPH to release the Cellular Phone Use Guidance documentation.
On March 2, before the judge could issue her final ruling, the CDPH emailed the 2014 version of the cell phone use guidance document, entitled "Cell Phones and Health," to a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who had attended the February hearing. The two-page fact sheet was marked: "Draft and Not for Public Release." In her final ruling dated March 13, 2017, http://bit.ly/MvCDPHfinal, Judge Chang ruled the document is not a draft, and ordered it to be released to Dr. Moskowitz without the “Draft” markings. Moskowitz’s attorneys think this will occur within the next week unless CDPH appeals the ruling. Joel will make the document available on his website when the CDPH complies with the Court order. http://www.saferemr.com/2017/03/cell-phone-safety-guidance-from.html
The court documents are available online (case number: 2016 80002358) at
Thanks to Susan Foster for helping me put this blog post together.