Raise awareness of environmental health issues in order to better protect our children and future generations.

30 May 2013

Cell Phones and Children: Follow the Precautionary Road

The journal of Pediatric Nursing has published an excellent article by Suzanne Rosenberg, MS, RN, Assistant Professor, Health Sciences, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, New York, in its March-April 2013 edition. Following are the abstract, recommendations and conclusions of her article. Click here for document in full.


Children are increasingly using cell phones. "Family package" deals make it easy for parents to obtain phones for their children, and the phones provide parents with the comfort of easy access to their children. However, cell phones emit radio frequency (RF) radiation (Bucher & the Committee on Appropriations, 2010). While the government has deemed RF radiation to be safe, there is no current significant research to make this claim. To determine the relationship between cell phone radiation and brain cancer requires long-term studies lasting decades and with inclusion of frequent users in the subject pool. Further, to extend the results of any study to children requires controlling for the differences between juveniles and adults regarding the composition of the head, and bone density and neural tissue. Dr. L. Hardell of the University Hospital of Sweden noted that "it is necessary to apply the precautionary principle in this situation," especially for long-term exposure that is likely to affect children (Hardell as cited in Mead, 2008, p. 1). There is cause for concern. (Pediatric Nursing, 2013 Mar-Apr; 39(2):65-70. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23705297)


Ten-year longitudinal studies that are not sponsored in any way by telecommunication services or manufacturers of cell phones need to conducted on adults and children to learn definitively the relationship between RF, cell phone use, and primary brain tumor. These studies have to be designed to obtain precise data that include radiation emission from the cell phone, amount of time (both call length and frequency) the phone is used, which side of the brain is exposed, age of the subject, and radiation exposure. The protocol should contain an ethically sensitive clause that if early results indicate a connection between RF and brain cancer, the subjects will be informed, and the study stopped to decrease risk to participants. A trial case study comparing patients who have cancer with healthy patients using phone log data in which only the subject is using the phone is needed (Mukherjee, 2011).

Consumers need to be educated about the most recent findings. Nurses are a particularly valuable resource for educating children and parents about health-related concerns. Nurses in clinics and hospitals attended by parents and children can create educational wall posters that display how RF exposure can be reduced. School nurses can also post information about RF on display boards and be available should parents and children request further information. As trusted professionals, nurses are in a good position to communicate to older children, teens, and parents about RF emissions from cell phone antennae and what steps can be taken to reduce this exposure and still benefit from the technology. Using a Bluetooth or the earpiece reduces the amount of radiation to the brain; the radiation effect drops exponentially as the antenna moves away from the head. Even using a speakerphone several inches away from the head reduces exposure significantly. Text messaging is another option because the cell phone is held away from the head while in use.

Nurses can become politically active and request their legislators to craft legislation that provides warnings and protects children from radiation exposure as France, Toronto, India, and Israel have done. Through their specialty nursing associations, nurses can create position statements and submit them for publication in professional journals and lay publications. Nurses can encourage their professional organizations to advocate for research on this topic and participate in research if the opportunity becomes available.

Specific recommendations by the American Cancer Society and the Environmental Working Group to reduce RF exposure are listed in Table 1.

Table 1:  Recommendations for Minimizing Radio Frequency Exposure

1. Use a wired headset or speakerphone. The antenna is the major source of radiation frequency. Keep away from head.

2. Purchase a cell phone with a lower specific absorption rate (SAR). Cell phone companies are required to post SARs on insert literature. Parents can find information from manufacturer on line.

3. Limit children’s use of cell phones until they are 16 years of age. Parents and schools can limit the time periods children may use cell phones by taking away cell phones when they return to the house and monitoring minutes used.

4. Teach children to switch ears daily and not to press close to the ear until connection is made. Reduces exposure to the same side and reduces accumulation to tissue.

5. Parents might check areas where the signal is weak and not allow children to use cell phones in these areas. Weak areas require increased energy from source to reach the antenna; thus, more radiation exposure.

Note: Interventions l and 2 are recommended by the American Cancer Society (Snowden, 2009). Interventions 3, 4, and 5 are recommended by the Environmental Working Group (2009).
Nurses have the opportunity to post and promote these recommendations.


Several studies are in process that will give valuable information regarding the safety of exposure to radio frequency. When available, these data will contribute to the scientific database and guide governmental agencies to better determine public policy with regard to cell phones. Many noteworthy scientists and public safety agencies have requested additional research because at present, not enough information exists on which to base conclusions and make recommendations about long-term effects of cell phone radiation, especially with regard to children.

Clinical conditions caused by environmental exposure often develop over a prolonged period of time; the exposed person might not exhibit any symptoms. The dangers of asbestos and cigarettes were not known until after years of exposure and research. Given the new information on the possible dangers of RF and the limitations of previous studies, a precautionary principle should be implemented. Informing parents and children about the recommendation to reduce RF exposure through monitoring SARs, and using devices and strategies to decrease exposure may prevent damage to children. The wireless industry is unlikely to initiate this policy, but nurses are in a position to inform consumers of the findings.

Safeguarding children can occur if nurses are facilitators in their workplace and can disseminate information, which would result in a “precautionary” approach until findings are conclusive.

Nurses can keep themselves and the public informed by monitoring various Web sites that update information on cell phones (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Web Sites for Updated Information on Cell Phone Concerns

1. Environmental Health Trust (EHT)

Provides information about the concerns of radiation and cell phone usage and what people can do to protect themselves.


2. Environmental Working Group (EWG)

A search result within the EWG Web site that provides various resources about cell phone concerns, including radiation.


3. Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Provides information on specific absorption rates for phone models.


Nurses are health advocates, and thus, responsible to keep the public informed of scientists’ concerns about the long-term effects of exposure to RF. By teaching parents and children how to minimize exposure, yet enjoy the benefits of wireless technology, nurses can promote the health and wellbeing of families.


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