NEW YORK, 21 October 2006
Dear EarthTalk: Could our health be negatively affected by all the
radio frequencies being bandied about by cell phones and cell phone
towers, wireless pagers and Internet systems, and other uses of radio
frequency and microwave radiation?
â€” Beverly Filip, Santa
Since the middle of the last century technological advancements
in telecommunications and other industries have led to significant
increases in the use of radio frequencies. Equipment employing microwave
and radio waves is today widely used not just in broadcasting and
communications, but also in the health care industry, the food industry,
and in a host of other industries in a wide range of
Health advocates have worried for decades that
exposure to frequencies emanating from these many sources might be
harmful. And the ubiquity of such technology todayâ€”especially considering
the quantum leap in cell phone usage in recent yearsâ€”only makes such
concerns that much more pressing.
Various studies researching
the health effects of cell phone use have yielded mixed results. Some
earlier studies suggested a link between exposure to radiation from cell
phones and an increased risk of acoustic neuromaâ€”a cancerous tumor of the
nerve connecting the ear to the brain--but more recent research found no
such links. The issue is primarily heat. According to the Occupational
Safety and Health Department of the Communication Workers of America
(CWA), "As high frequency radio frequency radiationâ€¦penetrates the body,
the exposed molecules move about and collide with one another causing
friction and, thus, heatâ€¦If the radiation is powerful enough, the tissue
or skin will be heated or burned."
According to CWA, "there
is substantial scientific data that establishes negative health effects
associated with microwave radiation." CWA cites cataracts as one possible
negative health effect from prolonged exposure, as well as well as nervous
system damage and even reproductive problems in both males and females.
This issue was in the news in 1992 over the issue of the safety of police
radar devices, but subsequent studies were inconclusive.
to cell phones, the results of a study recently published in the academic
journal Environmental Health Perspectives do not bode well for habitual
chatterers. Researchers documented brain damage in laboratory rats exposed
to radio frequencies from cell phones at levels comparable to what people
would experience during normal use. The studyâ€™s authors expressed concern
that "after some decades of (often) daily use, a whole generation of [cell
phone] users may suffer negative effects, perhaps as early as middle
The environmental effects of radio frequencies are also
largely unclear. Migrating birds have been known to fly right into cell
phone and other communications towers. Some blame the radiation emanating
from such towers for disorienting the birds and undermining their
navigational abilities. Others chalk such incidents up to poor visibility
associated with bad weather and nothing more. Some farmers have observed
that cows grazing near cell towers are more likely to experience still
births, spontaneous abortions, birth deformities and behavioral problems,
not to mention general declines in overall health. Moving cattle herds
away from such towers has reportedly led to immediate health
CONTACT: U.S. Department of Labor,
Radiofrequency and Microwave Radiation, www.osha.gov/SLTC/radiofrequencyradiation.
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