Children absorb more radiation than adults. Their skulls are thinner and the opportunity for damage is greater because their cells are dividing more. Studies into whether mobile phones increase the risk of brain tumours are starting to indicate that young people are more at risk. Studies of brain tumour risk in adults are generally negative (i.e. no effect when you look at the first 10 years of using a mobile phone. After 10 years of use most studies have found significantly increased risks of developing some brain tumours, when the tumour is on the same side of the head to which the phone was held. A Swedish group have found that the greatest risk of brain tumours was in those that started to use a mobile or cordless phone under the age of 20. Children may be at a greater risk of damage from wireless phones than adults. Using a mobile phone also alters the activity of the brain.
Since our brains are still developing into our late teens, the changes in activity could alter brain evelopment. A study recently in the news described how exposure to a mobile phone was beneficial in mice that had some of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. This could be very exciting. But the radiation used was not modulated, as mobile phone signals usually are, so it was not exactly the same as mobile phone radiation. In some previous studies modulated mobile phone signals have resulted in brain cell damage and a decrease in learning ability or memory in rats or mice. So we don’t yet know whether mobile phones could help long-term in reducing Alzheimer’s risk, or in fact lead to dementia through brain damage.
There are still many unanswered questions and much more research needs to be done. But there is enough known to suggest that these technologies may not be safe for everyone. The precautionary principle could be used when it comes to wireless technologies. This would mean taking the safest option when there is the potential for serious harm to health or the environment, based on scientific evidence, even if there are still some uncertainties about the risk.
What we can do?
Changing the legal limits for exposure needs political action and possibly public awareness and pressure. But whilst governments debate the possible risks and weigh those up against economic considerations, we can decide for ourselves which technologies we want to use and when.
When it comes to pregnancy, the Russian National Committee for Radiation Protection recommends that pregnant women do not use mobile phones at all. Maine in the USA is planning to introduce warning labels for pregnant women and children on all new mobile phones. The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety also recommend safer use of mobile phones around pregnant women.
If you want to take a precautionary approach then when pregnant you could choose not to use a mobile or cordless phone, but use a corded landline telephone. You could avoid using a wireless laptop on your lap or close to your bump when pregnant. Better still, use a computer or laptop connected to the internet via a wire (and switch off the wifi function on the computer). At night, it might be advisable not to sleep next to your mobile or cordless phone (unless it is completely switched off), and to use an alarm clock, not your
phone to wake yourself up. Similarly if you have a cordless phone, you could place the base station away from where you sit or spend a lot of your time.
In the summer, if you don’t have a bag to carry your mobile phone in, don’t carry it in your bra! (it does happen). Texting is considered safer than speaking with your phone close to your head because the phone is further away from your body. But be careful when pregnant that you aren’t texting on your mobile phone whilst holding it close to your bump. Again, taking a precautionary approach, you could choose not to use your mobile or cordless phone when holding your baby or toddler, and don’t offer it to then to ‘speak’ on or to listen to. You could have a corded phone for children. Don’t keep your mobile phone switched on in the pocket at the back of your pushchair where it is next to your baby’s body. Don’t be tempted to give your toddler or child your mobile phone or other wireless gadgets to play with to keep them quiet or entertained. Think whether you really want a wireless baby monitor, or whether you could manage without one.
For men who want to father children, many scientists and health advocacy groups now advise that you don’t carry your mobile phone in your trouser pocket when switched on or in standby mode. Don’t use a wireless laptop on your lap and better still use a laptop or computer which is connected via a wire. Sperm take approximately 3 months to develop, and after that time new ones are produced.
When it comes to public places then society and governments need to work out whether there are human rights violations in exposing everyone to pulsed microwaves at exposures that could potentially damage their health. Moral questions arise when it comes to exposing others to second hand radiation. Employers need to consider their responsibility to provide safe working environments for their employees and people using their premises.
In public places we currently don’t have much of a say about our exposures. But if you aren’t happy having the mother and toddler group in the local library next to the wi-fi transmitters, then why not let the library know? If you would rather the antenatal group wasn’t held in a building with phone mast transmitters all over or next to it, then perhaps say so. Mother and baby groups could choose to meet in nonwireless cafes rather than wireless ones. The technology does exist for fast fibre optic or wired broadband in our homes, offices and libraries. In France, some towns are installing fibre optic networks to all homes and offices, as they are faster, more secure and safer than wireless.
Perhaps parents should question when and how they use wireless devices and whether they should expose their babies or children. Should we be developing safer technologies and should new ones in the future require safety testing, as we insist on for new medicines? More and more technologies are being developed that will enter the body or be absorbed by it. Whatever the technologies of the future are, we need to make sure that they are safe for babies, children, in fact all of us, and that they won’t damage our DNA.
We need healthy DNA for healthy future generations.
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