Cellphone alert

/Cellphone alert
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Cellphone alert

Cellphone technology is over 40 years old. The first call over a cellular network was by American engineer Martin Cooper in 1973, and it took another 10 years for the technology to be commercialized. In 1983, when Motorola came out with the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the cellphone essentially looked like a plastic brick with an antenna attached.

Things have changed a lot since then. Now we have cellphone devices that are not only far more attractive but often double up as computers. Devices that allow you both connectivity and information in an instant. This revolution in communication has extraordinary benefits, but is there a health trade-off?

The fact that the use of cellphones while driving leads to an increase in accidents, whether the phone is in the hands-free mode or is hand-held, is well established. And the risk of accident when using a cellphone is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is over the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol in India.

Researchers are studying the cancer-causing potential of the low-powered radio frequency (RF) generated by cellphones. In a 2010 report, the World Health Organization stated that “to date, no adverse health effects have been established for mobile phone use”. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, however, has classified RF electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The reason for this kind of classification is that data on cellphone usage doesn’t go back more than 15 years. An adult will typically be using her cellphone for her entire adult life, which is at least 50 years if she got her first phone at 20. And effects of cancer-causing agents can take decades to manifest.

Bobby Paul, assistant professor, department of preventive and social medicine, at the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health in Kolkata, published a commentary on the subject of cellphone usage and its health effects in January in the Indian Journal Of Public Health, making an India-specific cautionary statement. She writes: “Indian experts are of the opinion that hot tropical Indian climate, low body mass index, low fat content of an average Indian, in combination with a high environmental concentration of RF radiation, may place Indians at higher risk of RF radiation adverse effects than the Europeans.”

Studies have investigated the effect of RF on blood pressure, sleep, heart rate, even the blood-brain barrier, a semi-permeable barrier that separates the blood from the brain tissue. The studies done so far have focused on adults, and are inconclusive. There’s also not enough data on how children’s health is affected—though children are increasingly using cellphones earlier, and often.

Pettarusp Wadia, consultant neurologist, Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai, says that given that the jury is still out on the subject, “it is prudent to avoid indiscriminate use of the cellphone”.

Paul agrees. In an email interview, she says exposure to RF falls as you increase the distance from the handset. So keep the handset 30-40cm away from the body while it is in speaker mode or while using a Bluetooth headset. This will lead to much lower exposure than holding the device close to the head while speaking. Since time also plays a role in determining a person’s exposure, she recommends limiting the time spent using the phone—by reducing the number of calls and the time spent on each call.

Remember that in the case of children, the RF exposure is double that of adults because a child’s skull is thinner than an adult’s. The difference in skull thickness means that a child’s brain is closer to a cellphone when she holds it close to her ear. So as a precaution children must use the cellphone on speaker mode or with a headset.

The good news is that 3G phones are believed to have two times lower RF emissions than 2G phones and the digital enhanced cordless telecommunications phones, or digital portable phones, have even lower emissions.

Sujata Kelkar Shetty, PhD, is a wellness consultant and a
clinical scientist trained at the National Institutes of Health in
Bethesda, US

By |March 9th, 2016|General|0 Comments

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