Wireless Carriers Sue Over Berkeley's Cell Phone Radiation Warnings

from the premature-encapsulation dept

While there have been arguments for years now about whether or not cellphones cause cancer, the general consensus tends to be that cell phones emit so little radiation as to generally be safe. That’s not to say that you might not run into a problem should you duct tape a dozen cell phones to your face, and I won’t go so far as some to declare there’s absolutely no risk, as that would certainly be quick to draw the ire of the Internet’s “electromagnetically sensitive,” whom I’ve found to have incredible hearing. But studies that have claimed a cancer risk have fairly consistently been contradicted by studies that claim the opposite, and agencies like the FCC state they consistently monitor the latest studies and have found cell radiation is not something that should keep you up at night:

“Some health and safety interest groups have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses, posing potentially greater risks for children than adults. While these assertions have gained increased public attention, currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses. Those evaluating the potential risks of using wireless devices agree that more and longer-term studies should explore whether there is a better basis for RF safety standards than is currently used. The FCC closely monitors all of these study results. However, at this time, there is no basis on which to establish a different safety threshold than our current requirements.”

Still, Maine, San Francisco, and numerous other states and municipalities have pushed for new labels on cellular devices warning consumers about the potential cancer risk, much to the chagrin of the wireless industry. The problem isn’t that many towns and cities are worried about the possible risk, it’s that they choose to enact ordinances before the science fully supports them. That recently occurred in Berkeley, where the local government passed an ordinance (pdf) that requires all cellular devices sold to prominently feature the following warning:

“To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”

The nation’s biggest industry association, the CTIA, has since filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the city of Berkeley that claims, among other things, that the ordinance violates wireless carrier First Amendment rights. That’s pretty much a standard claim used by all telecom lawyers as part of “throw it at the wall to see what sticks” effort (they’re using it to fight net neutrality, too). But the suit also correctly notes how the government’s guidelines are well above where any actual health impact might actually occur:

“The lawsuit said the instructions falsely imply that the federal guidelines are safety limits. The Federal Communications Commission has stated, based on ?overwhelming? scientific authority, that exceeding its radiation-exposure guidelines ?does not pose a safety concern,? because the standards are set 50 times lower than the danger levels, CTIA?s lawyers said. “According to the federal government, no cell-phone model approved for sale in the United States creates a safety concern,” the suit said.

And while I’m probably the last person to buy what comes out of the CTIA’s mouth, the idea that municipalities should wait for real science before terrifying the local populace and building a nation of paranoids generally seems like a good idea. You get massively more radiation from all manner of technology from microwaves and computer monitors to light bulbs, so if municipalities really want to rush ahead and affix extra labels every potential radiation threat under the sun (including the sun itself), they really ought to get busy. And if you really need to worry about radiation, as XKCD recently noted, there’s far better repositories for your anxiety.

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Comments on “Wireless Carriers Sue Over Berkeley's Cell Phone Radiation Warnings”

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Violynne (profile) says:

Ah, radiation.

I remember the days I was forced to stay away from my television set because I’d fry from the inside out and go blind.

It didn’t happen then, and I’m pretty confident a device much smaller and emitting less “radiation” will do any more harm than that old television of ours (the floor console, for those aging readers who fondly remember them).

jilocasin (profile) says:

Of a mixed mind myself.

Yes, there’s no causal link between holding up a small radio transmitter to your head and possible ill health (at least not yet, and/or not conclusively).

Yes, there are other things that transmit lots more, and at higher levels of intensity in your day to day life (though to be honest I don’t usually hold a CF bulb, wireless access point, or microwave pressed up against my head either).

Until we hear something conclusively either way, shouldn’t we just remind people that they are in fact holding a small radio transmitter to their heads.

[Don’t “Phhtttt…” me, you and I may realize that a cell phone uses radio waves, but the average man on the street can’t tell you how an incandescent light bulb actually works, much less a CF or LCD bulb. So you should forgive them if they don’t realize that it’s an RF transmitter, and not say magic cyber dust, that makes it work.]

I don’t see the problem with a small warning, maybe one of those international pictograms, to remind people that they are actually holding a radio transmitter in their pocket.

Personally I think it’s like the warnings on microwaves, laser pointers and food labels, sure it probably doesn’t matter to most people, but it might matter to some people. You can argue over why it might matter (health, religion, philosophy) and if those reasons make sense to you, but I don’t see the harm in including them.

On the other hand, when I see a trade group (food producers, auto makers, cell phone manufactures) fighting against letting consumers know something about the product they are selling, it tends to make me just a little bit more suspicious than I would have otherwise been.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Of a mixed mind myself.

“Until we hear something conclusively either way”
We probably won’t.

Que Bono – Who would benefit from a study showing they are unsafe?

For a different rabbit hole on another day is the cognitive re-wiring these devices are having on humans who interact with them. Odds are SOMEONE has data on that – and that is why you see claims like Steve Jobs and other high level SV execs limit or forbid their children from time with tablets/phones.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Of a mixed mind myself.

Here’s the harm of including warnings when there’s no evidence to indicate that they’re warranted (aside from spreading needless fear and disinformation):
When warnings are ubiquitous, people develop a higher tolerance for them. In time, they’ll just disregard them, even the ones that are legitimate.
Case in point: California’s Proposition 65 warnings (dealing with chemicals that actually do cause cancer, in sufficient doses). When I first saw the Prop 65 warning signs outside businesses, many years ago, I was alarmed. But those signs are everywhere. There’s one on the front of my apartment building, at the grocery store, the building where I work. EVERYWHERE. But I barely notice them anymore. They’re just part of the background.

Save the warnings for when they’re needed. It’s actually safer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This specific “safety risk” is flat-out impossible and does not constitute a legitimate risk to anyone’s safety

Show the evidence, because the facts of the available evidence does NOT say this. There is evidence that the effects are minor for the majority of people. However, there is evidence that for a small portion of the population, the effects are not so minor. What is unknown, even after 70+ years of on again/off again research is how harmful these effects are in the long term.

My engineering thesis was on this very topic and bluntly, we still can’t conclusively state what the actual effects are or how safe any of this is. It is up to the dividual to look at the evidence for themselves if they are concerned. Like anything, each person is an individual and the effects will depend on their circumstances.

There is some evidence that a certain level of background radiation is necessary for human health (lower levels of cancer in population). Not enough – increased cancer risk, too much – increased cancer risk. But what are the levels? We don’t know.

The whole point is that if we worry about these risks all the time, we forget to live our lives. So take what precautions you feel necessary and then live.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

And while I’m probably the last person to buy what comes out of the CTIA’s mouth, the idea that municipalities should wait for real science before terrifying the local populace and building a nation of paranoids generally seems like a good idea.

Agreed. To anyone with even the slightest inkling of understanding of the physics involved in the EM spectrum, the very idea that radio frequency radiation can cause cancer is so ridiculous that it would be funny if it weren’t for all the serious people who don’t get the joke.

Here’s the simple version: EM radiation has a very broad spectrum, from high wavelength to low wavelength. On the high end are radio waves. In the middle is the narrow band we call visible light. On the low side you find the dangerous ionizing radiation such as UV, X-rays and gamma rays.

The higher the wavelength, the less energy is in each particle. The lower the wavelength, the more energy is in each particle. There’s a strict mathematical relationship between the two. When you get into the UV-and-beyond territory, the photons of light start to have enough energy to knock electrons off of atoms, which makes the molecules they’re in unstable. If they happen to do that to DNA, it can cause cancer.

Visible light, which is in between ionizing radiation and radio waves, does not have enough energy to ionize organic matter, and radio waves carry far less energy than that. Bottom line: if you won’t get cancer from sitting in a room brightly lit with artificial light, which doesn’t emit UV, you can’t possibly get cancer from radio waves from a cellphone. And no one that I’m aware of is afraid of visible light.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Here you go: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/822559

That study was for cancer incidences of people living in proximity to a high-power TV broadcast tower. There was no significant difference in cancer rates between those living within 5km of a broadcast tower and those living between 5 and 10 km from a broadcast tower.

Terrestrial broadcasts are permitted to transmit using 5000kW; your cell phone transmits using 1W. That’s 5,000,000W vs 1W.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Actually, read the article again. You might find this tidbit

have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses, posing potentially greater risks for children than adults. While these assertions have gained increased public attention, currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.

Do you see the phrase other illnesses?

Shit, I’m glad Im not as embarresed as you at this point.

sorry for the slam, but keep learning.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

…and read the very portion that you quoted. The second part, specifically.

“While these assertions have gained increased public attention, currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.

Now, read that again. The first part, that whoever has interpreted certain reports to suggest a link (I refuse to register to read what should be a public document) between wireless device use and cancer is completely irrelevant when placed into context of the second sentence. It flat out says that there is no scientific evidence linking wireless device use to cancer or other illness. I see the phrase “other illness” and place it next to the beginning of the sentence, which says “no scientific evidence.”

Shit, I’m glad Im [sic] not as embarresed [sic] as you at this point.

sorry for the slam, but keep learning.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

The no scientific evidence statement is ignorant. There is various evidence for both sides dating back to the1950’s. In fact there are 100’s if not 1000’s of experiments documented, showing damage occurring at all sorts of level’s. Many of the damage level’s are at very high em level’s. However, there are experiments showing damage or effects at level’s less than what we would see from a standard mobile phone.

but to say there is no scientific evidence is pure stupidity on the part of the report writer in question.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:10 Re:

Really? From Cancer.gov (emphasis mine):

Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as from radiation therapy, is known to increase the risk of cancer. However, although many studies have examined the potential health effects of non-ionizing radiation from radar, microwave ovens, and other sources, there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk (1).

The only known biological effect of radiofrequency energy is heating. The ability of microwave ovens to heat food is one example of this effect of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency exposure from cell phone use does cause heating; however, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature.

Although there have been some concerns that radiofrequency energy from cell phones held closely to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.

It is generally accepted that damage to DNA is necessary for cancer to develop. However, radiofrequency energy, unlike ionizing radiation, does not cause DNA damage in cells, and it has not been found to cause cancer in animals or to enhance the cancer-causing effects of known chemical carcinogens in animals (3โ€“5).

Whatever. I can get “damage or effects” from eating spicy foods (usually in my bowels). If there were thousands of experiments showing that “damage” was occurring at levels less than a standard mobile phone I find it interesting that a medical journal and the government website for cancer research would both claim there’s no evidence that cell phone radiation can cause cancer. After all, that’s a pretty significant claim; if there really were thousands or even hundreds of contrary claims, I wonder why they chose the word “no” rather than “little.” In fact, the entire page repeatedly states there is no known link between cell phones and cancer.

Maybe not so stupid, after all.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

The microwave stove does not have ionizing radiation either and still an egg or cat does not look the same afterwards.

Clearly, some folks don’t know how a microwave oven works. Actually, very few people know. It works because water is a polar molecule – one side of the molecule is slightly positively charged and the other slightly negatively charged. That’s why those high school physics demonstration with a magnet deflecting a stream of water work.

A microwave oven uses a VERY specific frequency. That frequency allows the polar molecule of water to be flipped by the electromagnetic wave. Flipping the water molecule back and forth makes it heat up, which heats the rest of the food the water is in. It’s a VERY narrow wavelength that can both flip water molecules AND penetrate the object inside the microwave. Neither condition exists in anything other than a microwave oven, and certainly not in a cell phone.

Socrates says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Microwave frequencies

I disagree with the use of capital “VERY”

Consumer ovens usually use 2.45 gigahertz (GHz) while large industrial/commercial ovens often use 915 megahertz (MHz). Other frequencies around this range also work. The narrow bands is to avoid interference with other equipment.

Your explanation of the oven is correct. His example of the egg and the cat is ludicrous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Because clearly being within 1 inch of 5 million watts is comparable to being within 1 inch of 1 watts.

Not to mention the fact that radio waves fall in the non-ionizing range of the EMR spectrum. The only risk of high power radio waves is the heating effect. You could cook to death but you still would receive a dose of 0Sv.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Remove the door from your microwave oven. Rig it so it still runs. Put your face 1 inch away. Turn it on. It’s ONLY 1400W of radio waves (not 5,000,000), so it couldn’t possibly hurt you.

OK, clearly that assumption is wrong.

Since radio waves follow the inverse square law, the closer you are, the more dangerous it is. Being 5 km away from most things is enough to put you out of range (but remember that the sun can burn and kill you from 1 AU away).

Cell phone are in the tenth of a watt power range, meaning that even very close, you are probably not going to suffer any harm because the power is just too low.

That said, if you have a router and hook up giant antennas that are far too big for it and sit 1 foot away from it at your desk, you can actually fry yourself.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s ONLY 1400W of radio waves (not 5,000,000), so it couldn’t possibly hurt you.

That was not the claim; the claim was that it couldn’t possibly cause cancer.

Microwave cooking occurs by electromagnetically heating water within organic matter. Cancer from radiation occurs through the destructive ionization of DNA. They’re two completely different principles that have nothing to do with each other.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I suggest you do more research.

Esp this statement – Cancer from radiation occurs through the destructive ionization of DNA.

Ionizing radiation doesn’t ionize the dna. Ionizing radiation ionizes the water in your cells, creating H+ OH- ions.
Generally, cancer is created by an out of control mutation. Radiation that directly interacts with the DNA (breaking it or causing a change in the bonds or components) is the cancer culprit.

Yeah, check out interactions for alpha, beta, gamma etc.. and matter. FYI to, in a sense non-ionizing radiation is just like gamma, but lower energy.

Richard O says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Microwave ovens are not a good comparison. These work specifically because the radiation is at a frequency that resonates with the water molecules in foods. This causes them to vibrate which in turn heats the rest of the food through conduction. (The frequency is near 2.5 GHz. That’s why some wireless access points have a hard time around them.) But it does not strip electrons. So if your cellphone is broadcasting around that frequency, you might find some molecules in your head slightly warmer.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

basically, wavelength = frequency

Actually, that’s wrong: wavelength = c / frequency, where c = the speed of light. The speed constant is different for different materials (e.g. the speed of sound in air), but no matter what, they’re inversely proportional.

Given two waves of the same amplitude, the wave with the lower frequency (longer wavelength) will generally travel farther. On the other hand, Wi-fi signals and TV/radio transmitters send out waves at very different amplification levels, so they can’t be compared this way.

Socrates says:

Re: Electronic excitation

Einsteins research to determine the threshold (short) wavelength to eject a single electron were the foundation for the discoveries that earned Einstein the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. So it has been known for some time. Electronic excitation must be considered though.

While soft UV is non-ionizing, it still cause electronic excitation in biological molecules, and thus damage them by means of unwanted reactions. An example is the formation of pyrimidine dimer in DNA, which begins at wavelengths below 365 nm (3.4 eV), which is well below ionization energy. Pyrimidine dimers are assumed to be the primary cause of melanomas in humans.

Blue light close to the UV spectrum seem to have some effects similar to UV light close to the visible spectrum. The sun gives us a generous amount of both. UV proper is far more important though. The eye is able to chemically detect the entire visible spectrum, so at least specially crafted molecules is affected by these wavelengths. Photosynthesis uses the red and blue spectrum, so again, at least specially crafted molecules is affected by these wavelengths. The reason plants are green is because this wavelength isn’t absorbed.

Young children can see (a little) into what generally is considered to be soft UV.

Radio frequency radiation is too long to cause any of these effects, and will not cause cancer. If it induces any other harm it it too small to show up in the tests that have been conducted.

Anonymous Coward says:

I saw other commenter posting on this subject at other sites. Some of the commenters here are showing the same ignorance with the subject.

I would like to point out the non-ionizing radiation falls proportional to the inverse of distance. Logically, the field increase exponentially as you decrease distance. So having a phone in you pocket all day is a very bad idea.

And yes, you should be cautions of visible light. Imagine a 100 watt bulb at five feet. Now look directly at it from .25 inches. Perhaps you might understand how the ‘intensity’ increases exponentially with the distance.

Admit it guys, you are biased. You love your phones and devices and you don’t want to hear about the risks.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s caused by many things, usually exposure to UV sunlight or artificial UV light. UV light, even in the non-ionizing spectrum, can cause free radicals to induce cellular damage, which can be carcinogenic [1].

You know what it’s not caused by? Cell phones. I could not find a single study that had a conclusive case of skin cancer linked to cell phone usage. Cell phones have the same carcinogenetic rating as coffee, as in, it could cause cancer, we’ve just never seen any evidence it actually does.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If my cell phone was 100 watts I’d be nervous. But since it’s a tenth of a watt, I really don’t care. People have now been using cell phones for over 30 years. And in the early days, they used a lot more power. I really haven’t seen an increase in brain cancer or anything, so I think that they are pretty safe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You really can’t make a statement like that. Perhaps you are partially correct re: cancer, but three factors have to be determined, TIME DISTANCE AND SHIELDING.

A 100 watt device may do damage at 1cm on raw skin if left for a month.

I am ashamed of you ‘John Fenderson,’ I thought you were a critical thinker.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

What are you ashamed of me about? Where did my critical thinking skills disappoint you?

I thought it was fairly obvious that I was talking about cell phones, which gives the answer to your three considerations: zero shielding, zero distance, and having it against your body for most of the day.

The reason that I wouldn’t worry is because I’ve seen no evidence that convinces me that I should.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Apology? Did you actually read what you linked? Because if you had you’d have read that it’s a Group 2B carcinogen, in other words, possibly carcinogenetic. It’s in the same category as gasoline (in general, including fumes), Citrus Red 2 (FDA approved food dye), pickled vegetables, and coffee.

All common, everyday objects that cause panic in absolutely no one. You are much more likely to be killed by a gasoline fire than gasoline caused cancer.

Continuing on, reading the first paragraph under “effects”, states the following (emphasis mine):

A 2007 assessment published by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR)[6] concludes that the three lines of evidence, viz. animal, in vitro, and epidemiological studies, indicate that “exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans“.

In fact, most of the rest of the page is filled with studies that didn’t link cell phones and cancer.

Holy crap, if you’re going to quote Wikipedia, at least make sure the page agrees with you first.

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It is somewhat difficult to understand precisely why, after 30 years of usage, there is still nothing but contradictory science/claims pertaining to the safety of these devices.

Is science simply incapable of determining the facts because the facts are so ephemeral and or difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty?

Or is this due entirely to the modern habit of corporate concerns flooding the system with paid-for pseudo science designed specifically to help sell a product, by pretending to show product safety?

I would think that 30 years was sufficient time to determine the absolute scientifically defined truth about cell phones, but this is certainly not the case.

So, is science incapable of determining the dangers of cell phones because the question is too complex to answer (or because nobody is funding such real research), or is it simply that real science is overwhelmed by the number of pseudo-studies disseminated and designed by commercial interests to help sell an unsafe but super-popular product?

Shel10 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In the 1970s, the U.S. Congress mandated that all Federal Agencies must create a methodology for compliance with EPA regulations. In the late 1980s, the FCC devised a protocol for determining how to measure the effects of exposure to RF emissions. This was based on how much RF energy it would take to damage one square centimeter of human tissue, over a continuous period of time, of less than 60 seconds. Effectively, there is no way to set a standard for damage based on exposure for a few seconds every “X” seconds over “X” period at “X” power level.

What I have personally observed is someone grabbing an antenna attached to a mobile transmitter at 450 MHz, with 40 watts. Doing this for less than 2 seconds, and receiving a burn.

Cell phones generally transmit at less than 1/4 watt (normally), and even less in a standby mode. They don’t do a continuous transmit. Mostly, they are receiving.

The Bezerkeley requirement is bullshit based on scientific bullshit.

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

…bullshit based on scientific bullshit.

I’m assuming that what you’re saying is that, even the apparently “Real Science” studies that are paid for by government from taxpayer dollars, are actually just more of the same friends-of-commerce, paid-for pseudo-science that cell phone manufacturers themselves create, and that the whole “correct analysis methodology” process for determining safety of these devices is rigged right from the start to insure that any independent studies can be dismissed out of hand for not following the official rules.

…like they do for the tobacco, oil, alcohol, pharma, and pesticide, etc., industries…

Or, in simpler words, science would have no trouble determining the true safety/danger of cell phones, if someone would, some day, simply utilize real science methods to study them.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It sounds to me like you’ve already decided that cell phones are dangerous and any research done that indicates otherwise must have been paid for by wireless carriers. This sounds, how do I put this, rather unscientific?

I also like how the “independent studies” must inherently be unbiased, because reasons. Why can’t I just as easily make the assumption that any study showing that cell phones are dangerous is funded by people trying to harm the wireless industry?

Sure, that’s silly. See a pattern?

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

“It sounds to me like you’ve already decided that cell phones are dangerous… “

Oh indeed I have – at least more dangerous than the manufacturers are admitting.

I cannot say how dangerous they are because the science needed to make that judgement has been absent from this determination.

And that is the point.

However, my reasoning is a tad simpler than yours.

The fact that science has been utterly unable to determine the safety or harm of cells phones after nearly 40 years of massive use, tells me that something is doing its damnedest to insure that such proof is never allowed to surface.

To be able to prevent science from ascertaining harm or safety takes money and lots of it – I offer the tobacco industry as an example of this process.

The only type of proof that would warrant such an effort would be the proof of harm since the proof of safety would aid commercial sales tremendously and any such proof backed by irrefutable science would have been plastered upon every flat surface in every city on earth by the industry.

The lack of such “proof of safety” tells me only that it is difficult to disseminate such proof without actual science to back it up effectively and thus there must be no actual science available for this proof, which of course gives rise to what we see today – the back and forth of claims that are unsubstantiated by science, or that deny the science when offered.

In your scenario, I would first have to discover or invent a class of very wealthy and powerful people who are attempting to harm the wireless industry.

I find this task quite difficult – in fact impossible so far – although I’m more than willing to entertain any extremely wealthy and highly placed “groups” you might offer as possible sources of such anti-cell campaigns.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

That’s the problem, though, you can’t “prove safety.” We’ve already established that science has been unable to find a direct (or really even an indirect) link between cell phone use and significant health effects. I use the word “significant” because merely affecting you is not sufficient to warrant regulation, just as coffee affects you but is considered safe to consume.

No conspiracy is necessary. This is the normal scientific process. A scientist can’t say neutrinos are safe, either, but we’re pretty sure they are. Who knows? Fifty years from now we may find out our atmosphere is the only thing protecting us from the little buggers, and without neutrino shielding (and yes, those who know what I’m talking about are laughing) we won’t be able to survive space travel!

Conspiracies take effort, time, and money. Ignorance doesn’t. It’s far more likely that, assuming cell phones are as dangerous as you think, we just don’t know about it than some group silence to benefit the wireless industry. If big, rich companies could so easily prevent health information from existing we’d still all be smoking and driving cars with leaded gasoline. If the oil and tobacco industries can’t do it, with an astronomically higher budget than the wireless industry, I find your hypothesis that “lack of information equals suppressed information” to be pretty weak and not supported by available evidence.

This is the problem with people who aren’t scientists interpreting the results of scientific research without understanding the nature of science itself. Scientists think in theories and hypothesis. These things are inherently unstable and tend to change constantly as new information is obtained. They also tend to conclude things along the lines of “might do this” or “may affect that.”

The public, on the other hand, tends to think in laws and “bottom-line-up-front.” Coffee may cause cancer? Headline: SCIENTISTS LINK COFFEE TO CANCER! ARE YOU IN DANGER? Global warming might cause an ice age in the future? New Movie: THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW: WATCH AS THE MODERN EARTH FREEZES IN A FEW DAYS!

I can’t even imagine how much frustration this causes in the lab. And if you brought up your “all the scientists are saying that cell phones probably doesn’t have significant health effects with a handful of exceptions which say they might” theory as saying “all scientists know cell phones are bad and are being paid to say otherwise” you’d probably be the cooler discussion on idiots.

Who knows? Maybe you’re right, and in a few years I’ll be buying those crappy RF sleeves and turning off my phone at night. More likely, a new FCC policy will be created to force phone manufacturers to comply with whatever safety standards don’t cause the issue. But worrying about it now is like worrying about an alien invasion. Could we be invaded by aliens? Sure, it’s possible. Am I going to buy a bunker, you know, just in case?

Um, no.

David says:

What's with the xkcd chart?

That chart is for ionizing radiation (alpha/beta/gamma rays). Unrelated.

At any rate, if one wants to get hung-up on electromagnetic radiation exposure, cell phones are indeed the way to go: they need to send pulsed information with enough strength to reach a cell tower, ballpark of magnitude being 1W of strength.

If you have a cell phone near some audio device (including the audio parts of a laptop with volume not muted) and receive/send an SMS, you get a lot of noise, and the audio devices are supposed to be shielded.

Most other stuff is peanuts. Microwaves in proper working state, WLAN, house wiring (even though it isn’t shielded), laptops, other appliances…

If you want to worry at all, the cell phone is the thing to worry about. At least if we are talking about common household items.

And if you have a cellphone that’s not switched off on your nightstand, it’s going to make more of an electromagnetic racket at night than the next cell tower, of course only intermittedly. Unless it’s so smart that it wants to be constantly entertained.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: What's with the xkcd chart?

The chart points out that cell phones produce no ionizing radiation and do not cause cancer. It’s directly under the blue cart, you know, the one that represents a microscopic fraction of a percent of a potentially fatal dose of radiation.

As for electromagnetic fields, they also do nothing to the human body. Not all that long ago this same exact debate was being had thanks to people thinking they had healing abilities. The same arguments were had, electromagnetic fields have no affect on the human body. The Placebo Effect has more affect on the body.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's with the xkcd chart?

“As for electromagnetic fields, they also do nothing to the human body.”

This is not true. You can create fascinating psychological and hallucinatory effects in humans with electromagnetic fields. The catch is that they have to be enormously powerful fields. Many, many orders of magnitude greater than anything your phone could even hope to produce.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 What's with the xkcd chart?

Very true, so when you start getting burns from your cell phone, I highly recommend you stop touching it (and getting a new one).

I think you might notice if your flesh is being cooked; if you put your hand on a hot stove, I doubt you think “huh, this might be a harmful effect.” It’s probably closer to “[bleep] [bleep] that hurts like a [bleep]!”

Shel10 (profile) says:

RF Exposure

Does the ordinance indicate where the warning is to be placed? Literature provided with the phones does indicate that there is a potential problem with RF exposure.

Is the City of Berkeley considering a ban on electrical service? There’s more RF energy coming from the electrical wiring and outlets in your home than a dozen cell phones.

Florescent lighting (the savior of our environment) fixtures also generate a lot of RF energy.

To protect us all, the City of “Bezerkely” should require the wearing of garments made from lead!

Anonymous Coward says:

A much worse problem

Far more insidious than the cancer potential from cell phones is another, readily observed effect. Cell phones emit a strong CSDF – Common Sense Dampening Field. People with a cell phone active tend to lose a substantial portion of their normal common sense and survival instincts. Those using cell phones are far more likely to step into traffic unaware, walk into walls, fall down stairs, etc. These problems occur many orders of magnitude above any cancer incidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ll readily admit that carrying a cell phone close to your privates and holding it next to your head can be dangerous, but it’s not because of the EMR coming off of it.

The real danger comes from the batteries powering them that were manufactured in China in near-sweatshop conditions. If your battery has any flaws and fails anywhere near your genitals, you can say goodbye to sexytimes for quite a while.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, i’m aware. Possibly does not imply impossible as several posters have tried to postulate with regard to non-ionizing. Personally, with lengthy exposure, I suspect epi-genetic problems with non – ionizing.

And actually, although not fully understood, it is possible that skin cancer shows how cancer can occur with non-ionizing – as far as we know. Some cancers may even be epi-genitic in nature (thats a wild statement)

Point is, low risk, but not no-risk and risk increases with more time, less distance, and less shielding.

final point, don’t be ignorant. Be aware of what you don’t know. It ok not to know, but admit you don’t know and then find out.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Did you know that, any time there’s a thunderstorm outside, you could be struck by lightning and killed? Where are all the “CAUTION: LIGHTNING HAZARD” signs outside? Also, did you know your car is filled with gasoline, which could explode due to static electricity? Your dashboard is suspiciously missing the “MAY EXPLODE ANY SECOND” sign. As a matter of fact, just to be safe, we should tattoo “CAUTION: MAY CAUSE DEATH FROM CRANIAL BLOOD PRESSURE” around your skull because you just never know when you’ll drop dead from an aneurysm.

The mere fact that something is potentially harmful does not rate a warning or even fear. A one of friend’s husband has permanent brain damage because he tripped on a sidewalk and managed to hit his head just wrong. He was sober, fully rested, and healthy…he just had bad luck and a momentary lapse.

You’ve been going through this thread talking about “potential harm” in something that has virtually no evidence or logical basis. You’re clearly trying to rationalize your irrational phobia (are you Stephen King, by any chance?). You probably believe that cell phones are an explosive hazard at gas stations and can bring down airplanes too. Sure, it’s possible. It’s possible a sudden solar event will create enough heat in our atmosphere to destroy all life on earth, too, but I don’t see too many people freaking out about it.

By all means, we should keep researching it. Who knows? Maybe there’s something involved that does make them risky (which can probably be fixed…they didn’t ban gasoline when they found out adding lead was a bad idea, they fixed the problem). But wild speculation based on “hints” that non-ionizing radiation at extremely low wattage is going to start mass killing people only makes you look like a hysterical conspiracy theorist.

And if you’re actually saying there’s a only tiny risk, well, duh, there’s a tiny risk to literally everything. That doesn’t mean we need a warning label and for people to start treating cell phones like they’re made of plutonium. The sun is full of dangerous, unpredictable radiation that it spews at us on a daily basis yet life goes on. There’s a difference between “reasonable precaution” and “ridiculous overreaction.”

You might want to consider shifting back a bit towards the former, because right now you’re practically tipping over the latter.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

It’s not OK by my standards, it’s OK by the standards of the consensus of the entire scientific field on the subject. A tiny percentage of research that disagrees with the overall consensus does not make the majority wrong.

You’re acting exactly like the anti-global warming crowd.

“Well, there’s no evidence global warming is really happening.”
“Here’s a ton of research showing quite clearly the planet is heating up.”
“Well, there’s no evidence humans are causing it.”
“Here’s a ton of research showing that it’s progressing faster than ever before, that human activity would scientifically create the effects we’re seeing, and that, given the age of the planet, we should be seeing a less drastic increase, it’s extremely likely humans are significantly accelerating the process.”
“Well, there are these three guys that disagree.”
“And here are ninety-seven that say those guys are wrong.”

The worst part is that once you actually have to show your evidence rather than smug “Hey look, an ignorant person” comments everything disagrees with your premise. You’re totally reaching for even the tiniest thing that might indicate you’re right, like pointing out that there isn’t a “zero” chance of cancer or that there could be “other illness.” You even point out what happens when someone is living within an inch of a cell phone tower like this is actually something that happens.

The problem is you’re essentially quoting the obligatory “we think this is safe, but just to defend us from lawyers, we’re going to say it might hurt you” comments tacked on to virtually everything. You’ve sat here arguing with people saying “cell phones aren’t dangerous” and quoted a bunch of scientists saying “cell phones aren’t dangerous, as far as we can tell” and interpreting that to mean cell phones are very dangerous and scientists just haven’t figured it out…yet.

This is dumb, and you’re upset that I pointed it out. It’s OK, that’s part of the learning process; sometimes you have to admit you’re wrong and move on. Good luck!

P.S. When you start off by complaining that someone doesn’t have a “good retort” and “worthless talk” it’s probably better not to follow it up by pure ad hom. Sure, I used plenty of ad hom too…but I backed it up with facts. I didn’t even have to bother with research, either, because you proved yourself wrong without my help. It’ll only hurt for a little bit!

Gary Mont (profile) says:

Realllllll Science!

“…municipalities should wait for real science before terrifying the local populace and building a nation of paranoids generally seems like a good idea.”

Absolutely right. After all, Cell Phones have only been around for a year or two and it takes at least twenty years or more for any “1.Real Science” to ascertain the “actual” safety or danger of any new fangled electronic device such a cell phone.

So all you need to do is wait another 15 or so years and then some “1.Real Science” will be handed out to the public on this subject.

1.”Real Science”; for those that are interested, is based on the cumulative total of all published Positive Paid Pseudo Science Studies performed by the manufacturers of Cell Phones, minus the cumulative total of all published negative “Third Party” and non-commercial investigations performed by unpaid scientists during the same twenty year period.

The results while not actually the truth, are always commercially supportive and thus better for the economy.


Gary Mont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Realllllll Science!

You do understand what the little ” /s ” at the bottom of the post stands for, right?

/s = Sarcasm off.

Its phony hyper-text without the pointy brackets.

I suppose I could have put a single “s” at the start of the message, but I’m certain that would have just been mistaken for a typo.

I was making a “tongue-in-cheek” comment about how “science” has still not determined the safety of cell phones after all these decades, by stating that cell phones were a “new fangled device” and that science took a quarter of a century to figure anything out.

Sorry for the confusion, but I did try to make it obvious.

Anonymous Coward says:

CB (civilian band) radios usually transmit at ~5watts and their transmitting range is than 1 mile. Yet a cellphone’s transmit power is less than 1 watt, and travels miles to the tower.

The only possible explanation I can think of to explain this transmit range difference. Is that cellphone tower antennas extend much higher into the air than most CB antennas do.

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