Dangers of EMFs and your cell phone

Photo: istockphoto.com/Pavel Vlasov
"Limit cell phone use because of the possible risk of cancer," warned Ronald B. Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Have we reached the saturation point with our cell phones? The debate is re-opened Herberman issued this warning after releasing his cancer study , Important Precautionary Advice Regarding Cell Phone Use, just a few days ago in North America. For years, there been whispers in scientific circles about the safety limit of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by power lines, cell phones, wireless computers and other devices. The debate has brought to the public by a report published by an international group of experts in August 2007. The BioInitiative Working Group includes twenty scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals who reviewed more than 2,000 scientific papers and reviews on EMFs. Their report documents scientific evidence that links childhood leukemia to exposure to power lines as well as brain tumors and Alzheimer's disease associated with the prolonged use of cell and cordless phones. This latest report from the University of Pittsburgh is changing those whispers to a very large shout. Need to pay attention For at least the last two years, scientists have warned about health impacts caused when people are exposed to electromagnetic radiation and cautioned the existing safety limits are actually too high and need to be lowered. The limits are currently established by the American Federal Communications Commission (US FCC) and International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection in Europe (ICNIRP). "This report stands as a wake-up call that long-term exposure to some kinds of EMF may cause serious health effects. There is evidence that EMF is a risk factor for both childhood and adult cancers," said public health expert and co-editor of the Report Dr. David Carpenter. "Good public health planning is needed now to prevent cancers and neurological diseases linked to exposure to power lines and other sources of EMF. We need to educate people and our decision makers that 'business as usual' is unacceptable." Dr Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany, New York and founder of university's School of Public Health, estimates that EMFs are a contributing factor in 20 to 35 percent of child cancers. "In my mind the evidence is overwhelming", he said. Dr. Haberman puts it more strongly: "Recently I have become aware of the growing body of literature linking long-term cell phone use to possible adverse health effects including cancer. Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use." Cancer in the home Since 1979, more than a dozen epidemiological studies have associated child leukemia and overexposure to residential magnetic fields. They found that the risk of leukemia doubled when the 24-hour average dose measured as low as 1.4 milligauss (mG). Some studies even found the risk quadrupled above 3 or 4 mG. Based on these studies, in 2001 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified residential magnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic" even though these fields are Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) In Quebec, where 73 percent of homes are heated with cheap electricity, one out of five children receives a daily average dose of at least 2 milligauss (2 mG or 0.2 microTesla), according to McGill University professor and Hydro-Québec researcher Jan Erik Deadman. Health Canada has noted that Quebec also has the highest rate of child cancer in Canada (16.5 cases per 100,000 children). Recommended limits The BioInitiative Report recommends: a 1 mG limit for housing adjacent to all new or upgraded power lines and a 2 mG limit for all other new construction; a 1 mG limit for existing housing to protect children and pregnant women; and a limit of 0.1 microwatts per square centimetre for outdoor cumulative exposure to radio frequencies. That's 10,000 times lower than what's currently suggested by the ICNIRP. Physicians Suzanne and Pierre Dehoux, French experts in healthy housing, recommend the following distance to minimize EMF exposure: 400 kilovolt (kv) lines should be 250 metres away; 225 kV lines 150 metres away; 63 to 90 kV lines 100 metres; 20 kV line 40 meters, transformers 5 to 10 metres away. However, symptoms and disease have also been reported up to 400 metres from cell phone base antennas. The problem is that the demand for electricity is growing worldwide and public exposure has multiplied. Stand-by power is also adding to our exposure since many household appliances are plugged in to receive voltage but not necessarily turned on. In 2007 British scientists discovered that electrically-charged particles increase risks of asthma because they stick to lung and respiratory tract tissue. Underestimating the problem The World Health Organization recently acknowledged further research is needed on EMFs, said that "the use of precautionary approaches is warranted ...exposure limits should be based on a thorough examination of all the relevant scientific evidence." It also stated that the number of cases of childhood leukemia attributable to (EMF) exposure represents 0.2 to 4.9% of the total worldwide. "WHO is grossly underestimating the impact," Dr Carpenter, "It's ignoring exposures from appliances, radio frequencies (from wireless appliances and antennas, etc.) as well as other exposures outside of homes, for example in school. In the mid-1980s, the Savitz study concluded 10-15 percent of all child cancers resulted from magnetic field exposure from powerlines. Nobody pointed out any errors in Savitz's logic." The BioInitiative Report also found a 20 percent increased risk of malignant glioma brain tumours with ten years of cell-phone use and a 200 percent risk for tumours on the same side of the brain where cell phones are held. Hundreds of medical studies have also linked various sources of EMFs to numerous ailments and diseases, ranging from depression to skin, eye heart, reproductive and neurological problems. Solutions As the debates continue there are some things you can do to minimize your exposure to EMF:
  • Avoid living near cell phone transmission towers or any other radio/TV transmitter. Experts agree that 500 metres (0.31 miles) is too close. You should move if you're that close. If you do live near a tower you can paint your home with a coat of anti-EMF paint as a base coat.
  • Some people are reporting success using devices that block EMFs and strengthen the body's resistance. The most respected seems to be EMF-Bioshield followed by BioPro and the more dubious Q-link.
  • Cell phones are the most offenders. have been cited as one of the sources of the highest amount of electromagnetic radiation. Fortunately there are a number of products out there to block their effect. The Wave Shield is one of most respected products out there. The company also sells shields for computers and laptops. By the way, don't use cell phones in cars since the radiation is magnified by the signal having to get stronger to counteract all that steel. Keep your children away from cell phones altogether!
  • André Fauteux, is the editor of La Maison du 21e siecle magazine (21st-Century Housing) , Canada's oldest magazine on green homes. Shelagh McNally, editor of Green Living Online updated this article