Home Opinion Greg Blass Greg Blass With U.S. research and regulation nearly nonexistent, we must look...

Greg Blass
With U.S. research and regulation nearly nonexistent, we must look abroad for information on dangers of cell phone use

Stock photo: Fotolia

Is the way we use cell phones actually dangerous? Do other countries know far more about the health risks of chronic use of cell phones than we do? Why is that? What’s the health impact of wireless phones and iPads on the developing brains of teenagers, toddlers and infants? And are there simple precautions when using wireless telephones — precautions that most of us know nothing about?

Ever since the U.S. Navy started using radar, sailors aboard cold, windswept decks found refuge by standing in front of the ship’s radar screens. They found this a warm and comfortable reprieve, while the chocolate, gum, etc. in their pockets melted. Thus the accidental discovery of the fast-cooking properties of radar waves. But private industry had to market this cooking technology more attractively to homemakers. They gave it a more suitable, culinary name than radar-wave cooking, favoring us with the now-ubiquitous “microwave” oven.

Microwave technology quickly blessed the world with 6 billion cellphones and other wireless telephone devices, such as baby monitors. Some are more powerful than others, but all use the same irregular, pulsed signal and that is where the health problem lies. This pulse on wireless phones goes up and down in frequency and intensity. Its maximum release of radio frequency waves occurs when it rings and we answer it. The risk lies with chronic exposure.

Some of us harmfully absorb wireless phone RF more than others, similar to sun rays, where the amount of a dose of sun we absorb depends on such things as a light or dark complexion, thickness of skin, etc. Yet serious study of the health effects of wireless phones is discouraged by the industry.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense joined Motorola Corp. in funding a study of the health effects of wireless phones. It proved that children and smaller adults absorb more radiation than larger adults. But as soon as that part of the study was published, and before this research could delve into the health impact, DOD and Motorola inexplicably stopped all funding and shut this study down. Some research efforts in the U.S. have since cropped up here and there, but have been woefully inadequate, much to the industry’s delight. Hope dims further now that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, potentially a key player in such research, is headed by a former, active corporate kingpin in the wireless phone industry.

Other countries have not only studied long-term cell phone use, but also have acted. India has deactivated many cell phone towers, and cut others in size to one-tenth the international standard. Since 2014, Belgium prohibits the sale of cell phones and contract plans to children under the age of seven, and as in Israel, requires that all cell phones be sold with headsets. Israel also prohibits Wi-Fi in kindergarten, with plans to expand that ban. France requires that cellphones be sold with earpieces, and bans their advertising to kids under 12.

Canada’s government recently blasted industry research for its failure to take into account what chronic doses of cellphone RF do to human brain tissue, and in particular during the developmental immaturity of the young brain. It has declared RF radiation from wireless devices to be a serious public health issue and through a public awareness campaign is encouraging limited cellphone use for everyone under the age of 18.

The World Health Organization offers alarming proof of damage to brain and liver cells in prenatal animals after exposure to wireless RF for merely 15 minutes per day for seven days. They report that heavy cellphone use for more than 10 years doubles the risk of brain cancer for most of us. They have placed cellphone and wireless radiation in the same health risk category as DDT and engine exhaust. The World Health Organization has also proven human sperm damage from RF exposure, how it affects the brain stem and bone marrow and warns schools to keep laptops on tables — out of children’s laps. But here in the U.S., the iconic Parents.com ignorantly advertises baby seats equipped with iPads, touting the iPad as the “best babysitter.” How proud should we Americans be that 13 percent of kids at age two can access their own apps?

Enter Dr. Devra Davis, who heads the Environmental Health Trust. Not since Ralph Nader have we had such a pioneering advocate for consumer safety. Where Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” alerted us to the auto industry’s dangerous reluctance to spend money on auto safety, so too has Davis called out the big shots about the risks their profitable cellphones pose. Definitely check out this video of her eye-opening lecture in Australia (another responsible country in this issue).

As the push for more research in the U.S. crawls onward, we know enough to urge these precautions for wireless phone use: Keep the phone away from the body, out of your breast pockets, bras, pants pockets and bed. Use the speaker, hands-free device and texting rather than speaking into the phone while it’s against your ear. Simply don’t carry the device on your body. Use an “air tube” headset and put the phone in airplane mode when not in use. Avoid using cellphones on elevators, trains or cars, where RF dosage rises, and in poor reception areas.

These are just some basic warnings. Many can be found in our cellphones’ version of the “fine print,” if you go to settings, scroll down to “legal,” and click on “RF exposure.” Odd, isn’t it, that it’s so hard to find. Though these warnings make sense, few of us bother. Youngsters are at the most heightened risk from these wireless carcinogens. With so much still to learn, note that every user guide clearly warns us not to place the device against our heads. Let’s consider how far our unreflective confidence in science and technology has really taken us.

Greg Blass
Greg has spent his life in public service since he enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager. He is a former Suffolk County Family Court judge, six-term Suffolk County legislator and commissioner of Social Services. Now retired, Greg is active in volunteer work and is a board member of several charities. He lives in Jamesport. Email Greg