Cell Phone Radiation Is Harmful, But Few Want to Believe It

For more than a decade, Joel Moskowitz, a researcher at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and director of the Berkeley Center for Family and Community Health, has sought to prove that cellphone radiation is dangerous. But, he says, most people don't want to hear it.

"People are addicted to their smartphones," Moskowitz said. “We use them for everything now, and in many ways we need them to function in our daily lives. I think the idea that they potentially harm our health is too much for some people.

Since cell phones hit the market in 1983, they have gone from bulky devices with poor reception to today's stylish multifunction smartphones. And although cell phones are now used by nearly every adult American, considerable research suggests that long-term use poses health risks because of the radiation they emit, Moskowitz said.

“Cell phones, cell towers and other wireless devices are regulated by most governments,” Moskowitz said. "Our government, however, stopped funding research into the health effects of radiofrequency in the 1990s."

Since then, he said, research has shown significant adverse biological and health effects — including brain cancer — associated with the use of cell phones and other wireless devices. And now, he said, with the fifth generation of cellular technology, known as 5G, there's an even bigger reason to worry.

Berkeley News has spoke with Moskowitz about the health risks of cellphone radiation, why the topic is so controversial, and what we can expect with the rollout of 5G.

Berkeley News: I think we should address up front how controversial this research is. Some scientists have said that these findings are baseless and that there is not enough evidence that cell phone radiation is harmful to our health. How do you answer that?

Joel Moskowitz: Well, first of all, few scientists in this country can speak knowledgeably about the effects wireless health technology. So I'm not surprised people are skeptical, but that doesn't mean the results aren't valid.

A big reason there isn't more research into the health risks of radio frequency radiation exposure is that the US government stopped funding such research in the 1990s, except from a $30 million rodent study published in 2018 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. ' National Toxicology Program, which found "clear evidence" of the carcinogenicity of cell phone radiation.

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, adopted exposure guidelines that limited the intensity of exposure to radio frequency radiation. These guidelines have been designed to prevent significant tissue heating from short term exposure to radio frequency radiation, not to protect us from the effects of long term exposure to low levels of modulated or pulsed radio frequency radiation, which are produced by cell phones, cordless telephones and other wireless devices, including Wi-Fi.

Yet the preponderance of research published since 1990 reveals adverse biological and health effects of a long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation, including DNA damage.

More than 250 scientists, who have published more than 2,000 articles and letters in professional journals on the biological and health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields produced by wireless devices, including cell phones, have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which calls for stricter health warnings and exposure limits. Thus, many scientists agree that this radiation is harmful to our health.

I heard you for the first time about the health risks of radiation from telephones notebooks at Berkeley in 2019, but you have been doing this research since 2009. What made you pursue this research?

I entered this field through accident, in fact. Over the past 40 years, most of my research has focused on the prevention of tobacco-related diseases. I first became interested in cellphone radiation in 2008, when Dr. Seung-Kwon Myung, a medical scientist at the National Cancer Center of South Korea, came to spend a year at the Center for Family and Community Health. He has participated in our smoking cessation projects and we have worked with him and his colleagues on two literature reviews, one of which looked at tumor risk from cell phone use.

At that time, I was skeptical that cell phone radiation could be harmful. However, since I doubted that cell phone radiation could cause cancer, I immersed myself in the literature concerning the biological effects of low-level microwave radiation emitted by cell phones and other wireless devices.

After reading numerous animal toxicology studies that found that this radiation could increase oxidative stress - free radicals, stress proteins and DNA damage - I became more and more convinced that what we observed in our review of human studies was indeed a real risk.

While Myung and his colleagues visited the Center for Family and Community Health, you reviewed case-control studies examining the association between cell phone use and tumor risk. What did you find?

Our 2009 review, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that heavy cell phone use was associated with increased of brain cancer incidence, particularly in studies using higher quality methods and studies not funded by the telecommunications industry.

Last year, we updated our review, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, based on a meta-analysis of 46 case-control studies - twice as many studies as we used for our 2009 review - and found similar results .

Our main conclusion from the current review is that approximately 1,000 hours of lifetime cell phone use, or approximately 17 minutes per day over a 10-year period, is associated with increased statistically significant 60% of brain cancer.

Why the go government stop funding this kind of research?

The telecommunications industry has near total control over the FCC, according to Captured Agency, a monograph written by journalist Norm Alster during his 2014-15 fellowship at Harvard University's Center for Ethics.

There is a revolving door between FCC members and high-level people within of the telecommunications industry that has been going on for a few decades now.

The industry spends about $100 million a year lobbying Congress. The CTIA, which is the main telecommunications lobbying group, spends $12.5 million a year on 70 lobbyists. According to one of their spokespersons, lobbyists meet about 500 times a year with the FCC to lobby on various issues. The industry as a whole spends $132 million a year on lobbying and provides $18 million in political contributions to members of Congress and others at the federal level.

The influence of the telecommunications industry on the FCC, as you describe, reminds me of the tobacco industry and the advertising power it had in minimizing the risks of smoking cigarettes.

Yes, there are strong parallels between what the telecommunications industry has done and what the tobacco industry has done, in terms of marketing and controlling messages to the public. In the 1940s, tobacco companies hired doctors and dentists to endorse their products to reduce public health problems related to the risks of smoking. The CTIA is currently using an academic nuclear physicist to assure policy makers that microwave radiation is safe. The telecommunications industry is not only using the tobacco industry playbook, but it is more economically and politically powerful than Big Tobacco ever was. This year, the telecommunications industry will spend more than $18 billion advertising cellular technology worldwide.

You mentioned that cell phones and other wireless devices use modulated or pulsed radiofrequency radiation. Can you explain how cell phones and other wireless devices work, and how the radiation they emit is different from the radiation from other household appliances, such as a microwave?</ p>

Basically, when you make a call, you have a radio and a transmitter. It transmits a signal to the nearest cell tower. Each cell tower has a geographic cell, so to speak, in which it can communicate with cell phones in that geographic region or cell.

Then that cell tower communicates with a switching station, which then searches who you're trying to call, and it connects via copper or fiber optic cable or, in many cases, a microwave radiation wireless connection to the wireless access point. Then this access point communicates directly through copper wires through a landline or, if you call another cell phone, it will send a signal to a cell tower in the receiver's cell, etc.

The difference is the type of microwave radiation that each device emits. When it comes to cellphones and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, there's an information-gathering component. The waves are modulated and pulsed in a very different way than your microwave oven.

What, specifically, are some of the health effects associated with a long-term exposure to modulated low-level radio frequency radiation emitted by wireless devices?

Many biologists and electromagnetic field scientists believe that the modulation of wireless devices makes energy more biologically active, which interferes with our cellular mechanisms, opening up calcium channels, for example, and allowing calcium to flow into the cell and into the mitochondria inside the cell, interfering with our natural cellular processes and leading to the creation of stress proteins and free radicals and possibly DNA damage. And, in other cases, it can lead to cell death.

In 2001, based on biological and human epidemiological research, low frequency fields were classified as "probably carcinogenic" by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) . In 2011, the IARC classified radiofrequency radiation as "probably carcinogenic to humans", based on studies of cellphone radiation and brain tumor risk in humans. Currently, we have much more evidence that would warrant a stronger classification.

Most recently, on March 1, 2021, a report was released by the former director of the National Environmental Health Center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which concluded that there is a "high probability" that radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones causes gliomas and acoustic neuromas, two types of brain tumours.

Let's talk about the fifth generation of mobile phone technology, known as 5G, which is already available in limited areas in the United States. What does this mean for mobile phone users and what changes will result?

For the first time, in addition to microwaves, this technology will use millimeter waves, which are much higher in frequency than the microwaves used by 3G and 4G. Millimeter waves can't travel very far, and they're blocked by fog or rain, trees and building materials, so the industry estimates it will need 800,000 new cellular antenna sites. .

Each of these sites may have cellular antennas from various cell phone providers, and each of these antennas may have microarrays consisting of dozens or even hundreds of small antennas. Over the next few years in the United States, we will see about 2.5 times more antenna sites deployed than are currently in use, unless wireless security advocates and their representatives in Congress or the judiciary n put an end to it.

How are millimeter waves different from microwaves, in terms of their impact on our bodies and the environment?

Millimeter wave radiation is widely absorbed by the skin, sweat glands, peripheral nerves, eyes and testicles, based on millimeter wave research. In addition, this radiation can cause hypersensitivity and biochemical alterations in the immune and circulatory systems - the heart, liver, kidneys and brain.

Millimeter waves can also harm insects and promote the growth of drug-resistant pathogens, so they are likely to have widespread environmental effects on the microenvironments around these cell antennae sites.

What are some simple things each of us can do to reduce the risk of radiation damage from cell phones and other wireless devices?

First, minimize your use of cell phones or cordless phones - use a land line whenever possible. If you're using a cell phone, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if you're not using them. However, when you are near a Wi-Fi router, you are better off using your cell phone on Wi-Fi and turning off the cellular, as this will likely result in less radiation exposure than using the cellular network.

Second, distance is your friend. Keeping your cell phone 10 inches from your body, versus a tenth of an inch, results in a 10,000x reduction in exposure. So keep your phone away from your head and body. Store your phone in a purse or backpack. If you have to put it in your pocket, put it on airplane mode. Text, use wired headphones or speakerphone for calls. Don't sleep with it next to your head - turn it off or put it in another room.

Also, I encourage people to learn more about the more than 150 local groups affiliated with Americans for Responsible Technology, who work to educate policy makers, urging them to adopt cell tower regulations and exposure limits that fully protect us and the environment, damage caused by wireless radiation.

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