By Cara Natterson, MD
If you don’t want to have to read all the way to the end of this article to get to the punch line, here it is: No one is certain what cell phones do to our brains when we endlessly rest them against our heads.
At best, it’s nothing. At worst, it’s insidious damage that will translate into an enormous spike in brain cancers down the road. If these are our two choices—status quo versus debilitating and ultimately fatal disease—why are we even talking about this anymore? It’s time to move phones away from our heads.
I am not suggesting that we give up cell phones. Not at all. I am simply saying that we should acknowledge cell phone danger and stop holding them up to our brains. I am also not pointing a finger at cell phones alone. There are studies suggesting that cordless phones in the home may affect the brain in ways very similar to cell phones. This is because both cordless phones and cell phones have antennae and it is the antenna that seems to be at the root of the problem.
Two years ago, a group of two-dozen scientists and public health officials published The Bioinitiative Report. The group looked at more than 2000 studies published in scientific journals and argued that safety standards were both outdated and grossly insufficient. Within weeks, governments across the European Union were enacting new safety standards related to electromagnetic radiation and specifically non-ionizing radiation (which is the type that is emitted from your cell phone antenna).
In the US, we didn’t hear a peep about The Bioinitiative Report.
Around the same time, World Health Organization (WHO) released a policy advisory about limiting exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic radiation. WHO, led by its International Agency for Research on Cancer branch, argued that there are clearly acute and likely chronic effects from this type of radiation.
Again, very little attention in the US.
Finally, a year later, the issue appeared in our own press. Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburg Cancer Institute, wrote a now somewhat famous memo to more than 3000 of his colleagues and staff outlining steps to safer cell phone use by minimizing time on the phone and, most importantly, increasing distance between the phone and your brain. But it was simply a news item and didn’t seem to impact public policy or individual behavior.
Why does this debate keep falling on deaf ears in America?