Ever since I began covering the potential connection between cell phone usage and cancer, I've been receiving email from a Frans van Velden in the Netherlands who monitors the issue more closely and who occasionally forwards me anything signifcant. Before circling back to him, here's a list of some coverage that has so far appeared in this space (not listed: the many stories that mention the issue because it's tangentially connected to the central topic):
- Big CellCos: Big Tobacco repeating itself? (talks about attempts by the cell phone industry to muzzle credible research)
- Getting practical about cell phones and cancer (includes interview of the researcher the cell phone industry tried to muzzle)
- FDA to revisit cell phone cancer risk. It's about time.
- Study finds brain tumor connection to cell phone use (by Dan Farber)
In his last transmission (this morning), van Velden sent a link to a study that was published today by mostly Swiss researchers. The study attempts to explore the connection between well-being, cognitive performance and exposure to cell phone base stations. A cell phone base station is what your cell phone wirelessly transmits-to and receives-from in the process of communicating voice or data. Base stations are sometimes found in premises like buildings and churches where humans are more likely to come into contact with cell phone related electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). The study focused exclusively on UMTS which is the standard 3G wireless technology that most GSM-type carriers will be moving to, if they haven't moved to it already. The European market primarily consists of GSM-type carriers which explains why a European study would focus on UMTS as opposed to alternatives. The primary GSM-based carriers in the US are Cingular and T-Mobile. Sprint and Verizon Wireless are based on CDMA-EVDO, a competing 3G technology.
The study was unable to confirm the findings of a prior study. According to its type level conclusion:
In contrast to a recent Dutch study, we could not confirm a short-term effect of UMTS base station-like exposure on well being. The reported effects on brain functioning were marginal and may have occurred by chance.
But the conclusion does go on to point out the potential irrelevance to any conclusions about cell phone usage:
Peak spatial absorption in brain tissue was considerably smaller than during usage of a mobile phone.
van Velden also pointed out that a study led by a researcher at the Institute of Environmental Health at the Medical University of Vienna found otherwise. The results of the recently published study (I have a PDF copy) stated:
Despite the influence of confounding variables, including fear of adverse effects from exposure to HF-EMF from the base station, there was a significant relation of some symptoms to measured power density; this was highest for headaches. Perceptual speed increased, while accuracy decreased insignificantly with increasing exposure levels. There was no significant effect on sleep quality.
Despite very low exposure to HF-EMF, effects on wellbeing and performance cannot be ruled
out, as shown by recently obtained experimental results; however, mechanisms of action at these low levels are unknown.
In other words, there is disagreement among researchers which is why I continue to say that the jury is still out and to act accordingly (conservatively).
Furthermore, some recently published findings (Genetic damage in mobile phone users: some preliminary
findings) by an Indian researcher in the Department of Human Genetics at Guru Nanak Dev University concluded:
These results highlight a correlation between mobile phone use (exposure to RFR) and genetic damage and require interim public health actions in the wake of widespread use of mobile telephony.
Hmm. Required? No vascillation there.
The technical detail was pretty shocking. The researchers observed that 40 percent of the people studied who regularly use a mobile phone had cell damage ["DNA migration"] versus 10% of the people observed that don't use mobile phones [the methdology attempted to neutralize other factors such as smoking]. Additionally, the study found that mobile phone use correlated directly to chromosomal damage (micronucleated cells). But here's something you don't find too often in one of these studies: mention of some potentially mitigating factors. Said the Indian study:
Punjabi people have a fairly good intake of fruits and vegetables, which are associated with reduced risks for cancers. The carotenoids and carotenoid-rich foods can influence DNA damage and repair by modulating discrete stages in the DNA repair mechanisms. The effects of mobile use can be curbed depending upon the availability of dietary antioxidants, consumption of ethanol, conditions like psychological stress and strenuous physical exercise. This emphasizes the speculation that some individuals may be more susceptible to the effects of RFR exposure.
Indian food anyone?
OK, so in addition to going out for some sort of veggie-loaded yummy Indian feast on a regular basis. Consider these other ideas as long as the jury is out:
- When not using your phone, try as much as possible not to keep it right next to your body. Brain tissue isn't the only tissue that can absorb cell phone radiation.
- When using your phone, consider using wired or wireless (Bluetooth) hands-free head gear. While the same degree of scrutiny has yet to be applied to Bluetooth, the Bluetooth radios aren't nearly as powerful as cell phone radios because they don't have to transmit as far. That said, this doesn't mean you should where a Bluetooth radio on your ear 24 hours a day. The lesser of everything (power, duration of exposure), the more conservative you're being.
- Pick phones with lower Specific Absorbtion Rate (SAR) ratings. CNET Networks has an online service for looking up the ratings of most phones available on the US market.
- Really heed this advice for your kids. As long as you know the jury is out (and it most definitely is), you have a responsibility to minimize the degree to which your children are exposed to cell phone and base station radiation.