Roughly 270 million Americans do it several times a day: talk on a cell phone. Seems harmless. But when you make and receive calls, your cell phone emits low levels of radio-frequency radiation — a fact that has fueled heated and ongoing scientific debate on the health risks of mobile-phone use.
T-Mobile's MyTouch, left, Apple's iPhone, and the Samsung Impression
On Sept. 9, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public-health advocacy, released a lengthy review of past research linking long-term or frequent cell-phone use with increased rates of brain tumors, migraines and kids' behavioral problems. For their part, the phone industry and the Federal Government say cell phones are safe. The "majority of studies published have failed to show an association between exposure to radio-frequency from a cell phone and health problems," states the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration on its website. But concerns are high enough that the U.S. Senate on Sept. 14 held hearings — led by Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Arlen Specter, a brain-cancer survivor — to examine the subject. The outcome: inconclusive. “The current [industry] safety standards are not sufficiently supported," said Dariusz Leszczynski, a Finnish radiation researcher who spoke at the hearing, "because of the very limited research on human volunteers, children and on the effects of long-term exposure in humans."
Despite the government's view that cell phones pose no danger, other researchers note that most of us have been using them for less than a decade. If there is indeed a cumulative risk to using a mobile phone, it's possible users won't be aware of it until it's too late — just as it took doctors decades to connect cigarette-smoking with lung cancer. "We all wish we'd heeded the early warnings about cigarettes," says Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist at EWG and the author of the recent report on cell phones. "We think cell phones are similar."
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