Last week my smartphone fell in the drink and was never heard from since. Eight out of ten people in this situation would use this as the impetus to finally upgrade from Android to iPhone. Let’s just say I wasn't in the minority here.
Once my new magic Apple hand-computer came home with me, it was instantly a part of the family. My 5-year-old, who leads a largely media-free life as part of her Waldorf schooling, acted as if she’d waited far too long for me to finally come to my senses.
“Do you have Angry Birds?” she asked nonchalantly. Then she showed me how to use one of the camera features two seconds after laying hands on the phone and figuring it out herself. Somebody was going to need a pass code.
Truly, I’m not opposed to her killing a couple of monkeys in the name of bird rescue (yes, I had to Google search 'Angry Birds' to know that’s what it entails). But I do worry about the possible radiation effects of cell phones on children.
Most of the research on whether cell phone radiation leads to cancer is inconclusive. For the last few years there has been much debate (and many sensational headlines) on whether mobile phones increase your risk or not.
In a May 2011 release, the IRAC, which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO), presented its most recent findings on brain cancer risks associated with cell phone usage. Based on that, WHO changed its position from there being no link to cell phones and brain cancer, to listing mobile phones in the same 'carcinogenic hazard' category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.
That shift came about after a team of 31 scientists from the US and 13 other countries investigated peer-reviewed studies and found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." The scientists found that among cell phone users, there was some evidence of an increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer — however, they have not been able to draw conclusions for other types of cancers.
"Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings," said IARC Director Christopher Wild in the release. "it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐ term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting."
In July of that same year, the results of an unprecedented study published in the Journal of The National Cancer Institute began circulating around the internet: 'Study Sees No Cellphone-Cancer Ties'; 'Cellphones Don't Increase Cancer Risk in Kids, Study Says'; 'Cellphones, Kids and Cancer: Don't Worry, Be Happy?'. But immediately, at least two prominent environmental health groups believe the study is fundamentally flawed.
Both the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) argued that poor data and methodological flaws render the findings problematic. Among the organizations' complaints were the study’s failure to examine the consequences of long-term use and a weak definition of "regular" phone use.
The Apple iPhone 4 safety manual says users' radiation exposure should not exceed FCC guidelines: "When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 millimeters (5/8 inch) away from the body."
So, 5/8 of an inch? Most people I know, and certainly most kids, usually have the thing plastered to the ear! With all the uncertainty in the air, this mom is not very comforted. Too, if the radiation does prove to have long-term consequences, our kids are way more at risk than we are.
According to research published in October in the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, children absorb significantly more cell phone radiation than previously thought. This is because children have smaller heads and thinner skulls than adults, which means their bone marrow can absorb up to ten times the radiation that an adult's might.
From what I understand, a cell phone is most dangerous when held up to your head to talk, so if my kids do use it to speak to friends and relatives, we always use speakerphone. Too, because I’m the cautious type, I’ll keep the game play and other endless distractions of the phone to a minimum with them.
I hope I’m making the right and healthy choice for my family, not going overboard, or doing too little. When I look ahead at little 12-year-olds who carry phones as a lifeline to friends and home, I know I can only limit their use for so long. So I hold my breath and wait for more studies and ever-better technology to emerge. One thing’s for sure: With gadgets this good, we won’t go back — the only way to move is forward.