|Apple's new Watch has reignited debate over the risks of|
exposure to radio frequency radiation.
by Catherine Ho, San Francisco Chronicle,
25 September 2017
The newly released Apple Watch — with its added feature of cellular connectivity — is reigniting concerns among some public health researchers and medical experts over the potential health risks of longterm exposure to radiation from cell phones.
There is no definitive data from federal health regulators showing a direct link between cell phone radiation — also known as radio frequency radiation — and health problems in humans. But recent research indicates that exposure to cell phone radiation is the likely cause of malignant growths in the brains and hearts of male rats, and can cause neurological damage in rats born to mothers that were exposed to the radiation during pregnancy.
The advent of Internet-connected wearables like watches — which come in direct contact with the body virtually 24/7, not just for short bursts throughout the day, like phones — raises questions about whether constant, direct exposure to cell phone radiation could cause harm to consumers.
“That’s going to up the exposure and probably increase the risk to the user over the long term,” said Joel Moskowitz, a researcher at UC
Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “I don’t think there’s anyone who can say definitively this is going to hurt the user. But many scientists would say we don’t have enough information to claim these devices are safe.”
“Many scientists would say we don’t have enough information to claim these devices are safe.”
Joel Moskowitz, researcher, UC Berkeley School of Public Health
Moskowitz successfully sued the state of California to release records showing public health officials had drafted — but did not release — guidelines warning the public about the potential health risks of cell phones. The draft guidelines were made public earlier this year after a judge ordered health officials to do so as a result of the lawsuit.
The National Toxicology Program, a division within the National Institutes of Health, last year released partial data on studies that found incidences of malignant gliomas in the brains and tumors in the hearts of male rats who had been exposed to radio frequency radiation similar to that emitted by cell phones.
“The tumors in the brain and heart observed at low incidence in male rats exposed to (cell phone radiation) in this study are of a type similar to tumors observed in some epidemiology studies of cell phone use,” the draft report said. “These findings appear to support the International Agency for Research on Cancer conclusions” on the possible carcinogenic potential of cell phone radiation.
Dr. Devra Davis, an epidemiologist and toxicologist who has studied cell phone radiation for a decade, said there is emerging evidence to suggest that exposure to radiation can affect fertility.
“We have evidence that levels of radiation far weaker than those of a cell phone can be damaging to human sperm as well as to the progeny produced by animals that are pregnant and exposed to this throughout their pregnancy,” said Davis, a visiting professor of medicine at Hebrew University and founder of Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit that studies environmental and health issues.
One 2017 study published in the Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology journal, for instance, found that maternal exposure to Wi-Fi radio frequencies led to adverse effects in neurodevelopment of the offspring.
Experts say that people should try to keep cell phones away from their body because even a tenth of an inch of distance can significantly reduce the amount of radiation exposed to the body.
Representatives for Apple did not return requests for comment. Apple includes a legal notice in the Settings section of iPhones that says the phone has been tested and meets the limits for radio frequency exposure. The phone is tested by positioning it against the head, with no separation, and against the torso, with two-tenths of an inch of separation.
CTIA, the national trade group representing the wireless communications industry, did not immediately return a request for comment. The group has said the Federal Communications Commission has concluded that cell phones are safe, and has sought to block efforts by consumer advocates and local officials to pass ordinances in Berkeley and San Francisco requiring retailers to display warnings about cell phone radiation in stores that sell the phones.
Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Cat_Ho