There’s a suppressed science correlating cell phone use with cancer risk. It is suppressed because the health risks pose a basic threat to the business model of the booming cell phone industry, with looming regulation and a devastating spate of future law suits. In defense of the scientific community, I hasten to add that there was no reason to suspect in advance that radio waves would have any biological effects whatever, based on well-established and conventional notions of how biochemistry works. But the epidemiological evidence has been compelling for several years now, and it’s past time for the community to turn around.
(Unlike x-rays and nuclear power, cell phone radiation is not “ionizing radiation”, and cannot break chromosomes or cause mutations. The mechanism by which it interacts with biological processes remains wholly unknown.)
Last week, data from a major study were released confirming our worst fears. This was based on rats, not humans, so all the provisos about indirect evidence and correlation vs causation don’t apply. Rats live just two years, so the exposure time was short compared to humans.
They chronically exposed rodents to carefully calibrated radio-frequency (RF) radiation levels designed to roughly emulate what humans with heavy cell phone use or exposure could theoretically experience in their daily lives. The animals were placed in specially built chambers that dosed their whole bodies with varying amounts and types of this radiation for approximately nine hours per day throughout their two-year life spans.
Despite the short duration of the experiment and despite the fact that there were only 90 rats in each group, cases of rare cancers were reported in the test rats, but none in the controls.
|An interesting twist in the results is that there is a hint that rats exposed to cell phone radiation lived longer. There is precedent for this in many kinds of hormetic experiments. For example, intermittent, low levels of ionizing radiation cause an elevated cancer incidence, but for those that don’t get cancer, there is a small tendency for increased life span.|
Is this a big cause for concern, or a tempest in a teapot?
Quantifying the risks for humans remains very uncertain. For humans, there are no precise measures of exposure, and for rats, we don’ know how to translate the results to human terms. This kind of uncertainty combined with huge economic stakes leads inevitably to strong language and exaggerated claims on both sides.
For me as a consumer, this has been a subject about which I’m happy to hide my head in the sand. When I’ve been forced to think about it, I’ve concluded that cautionary measures are warranted, but I’ve been slow to follow through. Another big topic which I don’t want to think about is the speculative effect of cell radiation on neural activity–thought in the present moment. Does cell phone radiation affect concentration? Productivity? Headaches? My best guess is that there are some people for whom these effects are a palpable reality.
…so let me take this opportunity to make a public commitment to do at least the easiest things in precaution. We can take advantage of the fact that all radiation falls off steeply with distance from the source. A huge transmitter on a tower half a mile from your home yields much lower radiation levels than a single cell phone transmitter that is half an inch from your brain.
- Always use cell phone with headphones or on speaker phone, well away from the head.
- Get the wifi hubs in your home and office off your desk, and keep them on the opposite side of the room from your workspace.
- Install wired connection for your laptop so the computer that is closest to you doesn’t need wifi for your daily usage.
This much is easy, and it is a minimum. I don’t for a moment mean to imply that it is irrational to do much more to safeguard our bodies and our families from microwave radiation.
I’ve already said that there are powerful theoretical reasons to believe that low-level radio waves should have no biological effects. We now know that there’s something amiss in those powerful theories. For more than a century it has been a foundational assumption of biology that living cells are no more than very complicated chemical reactors, and that the fundamental mechanisms of biochemistry are one with the fundamental mechanisms of inorganic chemistry. I daresay we now know this not to be true. Life is playing some special tricks that non-living bags of chemicals don’t play. It would be overreaching to go back to the 19th Century notion of vitalism; my bets are on quantum processes at the single-molecule level. I learned just last month that visionary biophysicist Stuart Kaufmann has been writing about this subject. I predict that Quantum Biology is the next revolution.