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Name five adults you know who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a cell phone. Not possible, right? We take owning them for grantedÃ¢â‚¬”but thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also continued concern about the potential health risks of cell phone radiation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently opened an inquiry to determine if it should update its current policies and limits on exposure to cell phonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
A phoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a measure of the amount of radiofrequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body when the phone is being used. The FCCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s current limit for public exposure is set at an SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram, and all cell phone manufacturers have to comply. This standard has been in effect since 1996Ã¢â‚¬”long before cell phones became so pervasive. The FCCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s website states, Ã¢â‚¬Å“While the FCC has continuously monitored research and conferred with experts in this field, and is confident in its RF exposure guidelines and the soundness of the basis for its rules, it is a matter of good government to periodically reexamine regulations and their implementation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
One thing that should make you say hmmm: Your cell phone manual contains a warning about a safe distance at which you should keep your phone from your bodyÃ¢â‚¬”and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s usually a fraction of an inch. Who knew, right? And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the problem: Most of us hold our cell phones right up to our ear or against our leg in our pocketÃ¢â‚¬”potentially increasing the amount of RF energy thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s being delivered to our bodies to beyond the tested and touted amounts.
So whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the general consensus of research on the dangers (or lack thereof) of cell phone radiation? ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the thing: There really isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t one. While some studies say cell phones donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cause harm, others indicate that they do. For example, analyses of data from the large and multi-national Interphone study, published in 2010, drew mixed conclusions about whether long-term cell phone radiation exposure had any association with the risk of developing glioma, a type of brain tumor, and no causation was established.
In 2011, a group of 31 scientists from 14 countries met at the World Health OrganizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to evaluate the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as the ones emitted by wireless communication devices. In the end, they classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as Ã¢â‚¬Å“possibly carcinogenic to humans.Ã¢â‚¬Â That means that, while not conclusive, the evidence was strong enough to say that there could be a risk. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Ã¢â‚¬ËœpossibleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ means we canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t give assurance of safety because there is some signal of harm, and yet itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not so definite,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, director of the University of Southern California Institute for Global Health and chairman of the IARC working group.
But other researchers already say they feel certain that cell phones are a cause for concern: Henry Lai, PhD, a research professor in the University of WashingtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s bioengineering department, has been studying radiation for more than three decades. He says that, while a causal relationship hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been established yet, Ã¢â‚¬Å“the bottom line is that there is some evidence suggesting that theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not safeÃ¢â‚¬”and this is something that we use everyday.Ã¢â‚¬Â
No oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s entirely sure yet what the long-term effects areÃ¢â‚¬”cell phones havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t been around long enough. (Some tumors, for example, can take upwards of three decades to develop.) Many of the studies also have flawsÃ¢â‚¬”for example, with self-reported data, people may not be able to remember how often they really used their cell phones. So unfortunately, the only clear consensus from experts is that more research needs to be done.
What itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s safe to assume: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to take a while for experts to reach any sort of formal conclusion. For that reason, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably best to be on the safe side and adjust your cell phone habits. Consider putting these four ways to reduce your exposure to radiation while using your cell into action.
The verdict: You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to give up your cell phone, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably smart to make some habit tweaksÃ¢â‚¬”like investing in headphones and not sleeping with it next to your bed. When thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s this much on the line, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s definitely better to be safe than sorry.
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