Europe Issues Alert Over “More Or Less Potentially Harmful” Cell Phone Radiation

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By Matthew Lasar

The global movement for governments to err on the side of electro-magnetic caution got a huge boost this month. The Council of Europe has issued a new draft resolution and report on device radiation safety that urges its 47 member nations to adopt a “precautionary principle” when it comes to cell phone safety. Such a principle would apparently include banning all mobile phones, DECT phones, WiFi and WLAN systems from classrooms as a measure to protect children.
Yes, you read that right. Here’s resolution 8.3.2 of the draft: “ban all mobile phones, DECT phones or WiFi or WLAN systems from classrooms and schools, as advocated by some regional authorities, medical associations and civil society organisations.”

The document will be discussed by the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly at their meeting in Kyev, Ukraine on Friday. Authored by Luxembourg MP and Green Party activist Jean Huss, it contends that even if science isn’t certain about low frequency radiation emanating from mobile phones and power lines, its member states should recognize that these devices “appear” to have “more or less potentially harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on plants, insects and animals, as well as the human body when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values.”

Despite the tentative conclusions of extant research on this problem, the report urges governments to “respect the precautionary principle” and revise their estimates of the levels at which non-ionising radiation can be regarded as unsafe.
“Waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco.”

Anxieties and fears
It’s not every day that one reads an international report that more or less implies that using your iPhone might be as dangerous as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. But the Council’s stated mission is to “develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles,” and it’s clear that public worries over this issue will not wait for conclusive scientific research on the question of the impact of non-ionising frequencies on the human body.

This draft is obviously responsive to that global mood:
The potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on the environment and human health have not yet been fully elucidated and a number of scientific uncertainties continue to exist in that regard. Nevertheless, anxieties and fears remain in wide sectors of the population over the health hazards posed by the waves, and also of the demands voiced by high-level scientists, by groupings of doctors and by the associations of concerned citizens which abound in many Council of Europe member states.
The resolution urges governments “to take all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly the exposure to children and young people who seem to be most at risk from head tumours.” These would include launching “information and awareness-raising campaigns” on their supposed risks.

And the document wants Europe to “pay particular attention” to “electrosensitive” people, defined as those “suffering from a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields and introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network.”

This category of sensitivity would presumably include Mrs. Janice Tunnicliffe of the United Kingdom. The Telegraph reports that the Nottinghamshire woman “cannot bear to be anywhere near electromagnetic fields of any kind,” including television sets, radio, or mobile phones.
iPhones “make me feel really sick within about 20 minutes of being near one,” Tunnicliffe told the newspaper. “Wifi makes me feel like I have a clamp at the back of my head which is squeezing the life out of me.”

Unblinded by science
This Council report is no doubt being read with interest here in San Francisco—my neck of the Ars Orbiting HQ. The city has been in a tizzy over the mobile phone radiation question for about a year, but recently backtracked on its cell phone emissions disclosure law, which would have required mobile phone retailers to display the Specific Absorption Rates of their devices in the show rooms. Fear of lawsuits from the mobile phone industry appears to have been the reason for taking the ordinance back to the drawing board.
The Euro-draft says that skepticism about the safety of these devices is understandable, given the recent past.

“It is certain that one cause of public anxiety and mistrust of the communication efforts of official safety agencies and governments lies in the fact that a number of past health crises or scandals,” the document notes, “such those involving asbestos, contaminated blood, PCBs or dioxins, lead, tobacco smoking and more recently H1N1 flu were able to happen despite the work or even with the complicity of national or international agencies nominally responsible for environmental or health safety.”

Other recommendations include encouraging governments to “pay heed to and protect ‘early warning’ scientists” and formulating “a human rights oriented definition” of precautionary ALARA (“as low as reasonably achievable”) emissions principles.

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Richard Parker
While there are no conclusive studies showing a link between cellphone use and cancer and many experts believe there is no link at all, the World Health Organisation suggested earlier this month that mobile use should be classified as “possibly carcinogenic” and further investigated.
In today’s connected world it’s not practical to suggest we do away with mobiles altogether, however if you’re concerned there are some commonsense steps you can take to reduce your exposure.

Moving the phone just a centimetre away from your body can dramatically reduce radiation exposure. Signal strength has a “square relationship” with distance so when you double the distance of the cellphone from your body, the signal strength is four times less and if you triple the distance it’s nine times less and so on. You could also try and carry your phone in a bag or briefcase, rather than in your pocket.

Try and keep conversations short, or switch to a landline if you can. If you don’t need to physically speak to the other person consider texting, emailing or instant messaging them instead.

Both these options will keep your phone away from your head. You may still be exposed to some radiation when using a headset, but it’s a lot – more than 90 per cent – less.

This may seem to defeat the purpose of having a cellphone but there are times when turning off your phone, or at least turning off the cellular radio by switching to flight mode, is not so inconvenient, such as when you’re asleep.

The further away you are from the cell tower, the harder your phone has to work to get a signal and the harder your phone has to work, the greater the radiation it emits.
If you’re moving from place to place the phone will have to work harder to ensure you keep your signal.

Cellphone manufacturers are required to publish the specific absorption rates (SARs) of their phones – which indicate the amount of energy absorbed into tissue when held against the body. The maximum rate allowed is 2 watts per kilogram. Experts warn not to put too much weight on these ratings, as the way phones are tested may not reflect how they are used, but they at least give you some idea of a phone’s emissions.

Cellphones communicate using radio frequency signals, which can penetrate your body if the handset is held close. The amount of radiation emitted by cellphones differs from model to model, and depends on factors such as how hard the phone is working to find and keep a signal. The harder the phone is working the greater the radiation.
If cellphone use does pose a risk, many experts believe children will be especially vulnerable, given they are likely to begin using mobiles earlier and have smaller heads and thinner skulls than adults.

Some companies have manufactured shields that they claim will block or reduce radiation, but the United States’ consumer protection agency the Federal Trade Commission has found no evidence the shields perform as promised.

Israeli firm Tawkon has developed a smartphone app that claims to monitor cellphone radiation exposure and alert users when exposure is likely to be high. Tawkon says the app – which has not been independently verified – does this by measuring the ‘specific absorption rate’ (SAR) of the phone at any given time, taking into account factors such as the position and proximity of the phone to the body using GPS and data from the phone’s accelerometers.

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