GUEST OPINION: New study shows cell phones cook your brain

By on March 19, 2013

A recent study from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is sending shockwaves around the world. Kettering radiation physicist David Gultekin, working with Bell Labs electrical engineer Lothar Moeller, reported this month that normal working cell phones can create tiny hotspots within living brain tissue. But safety standards for the world’s more than six billion cell phones today assume that weak radiation from phones cannot possibly produce any heat. This finding in one of the world’s top science journals, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates this assumption is wrong.

Neurosurgeons can operate on people who are awake because the brain cannot feel heat or pain. Hence, we do not feel our brains as they are warmed by cell phone radiation. This new study used highly sophisticated Nuclear Magnetic Resonance technology applied to living cow brain in the lab and found that the brain does in fact get hot when exposed to a few minutes of a normal microwave producing cell phone. Scientists generally agree that heating the brain should be avoided as this can lead to nervous system damage, hearing loss and possibly cancer.

This new study is one of many produced in the past year around the world that provides evidence for taking simple precautions in using cell phones. The most important being to avoid pressing your cell phone against your ear (use speaker phone whenever possible), and avoid storing your cell phone close to your body.

Like all smart phone manufacturers today, Apple now provides guidance to iPhone users that phones are tested and should be used at a minimum distance of 10 mm. Blackberry urges its users to keep phones an inch from the body. Based on these and other developments, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents of young children to take special care in using phones and other wireless devices. Israel, France and Finland are among those nations urging that cell phones be used with headsets. Belgium and Turkey have followed France’s example, banning sales and advertising of phones for young children.

Additional studies published by Hugh Taylor, Yale University chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in the leading scientific journal Scientific Reports, show that prenatally exposed mice develop damaged brain structures and serious learning and behavioral problems.

The fact that all studies do not report evidence of harm has led some to dismiss positive results. But a team from the University of Colorado led by National Academy of Engineering Fellow Frank Barnes and his collaborator, Lucas Portelli, provide a stunning and creative explanation for the lack of consistent results. The Coloradans found that measured real laboratory exposures to electromagnetic fields can vary more than 100 times within the same lab because of exposures to common metal devices like fans. Unless scientists take steps to shield against these uncontrolled exposures, studies that are supposed to replicate other experiments do no such thing.


Contest to raise cell phone safety awareness among youth

To promote community awareness of safer phone practices, Environmental Health Trust announces the launch of its third annual Art, Technology and Science contest with Teton County schools. Until April 20, entries that explain why and how to use phones more safely can be submitted online to Entries may include poems, songs, videos of two minutes or less, posters, bumper stickers, cartoons, or other traditional or unusual methods to communicate the need to practice safe phone use. Winners will receive both monetary and special Jackson Hole-related prizes that will be announced in the coming weeks through the contest’s Facebook page, JH Cool School’s Ad Contest 2013. The contest is receiving support by the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and other donors.

A number of community figures vehemently support raising awareness about this issue.

Local physician Dr. Mark Menolascino is a scientific advisor to EHT.

“EHT’s campaign engages all of our students and allows them to work with local experts who understand the problem and promote simple solutions,” he said. Menolascino advises that, “If you must distract your youngster with a phone or place it on your body, please download what you want and before handing it to any child put it on airplane mode.”  Menolascino’s clinic in the Wilson Medical Building provides safety cards that contain some simple advice, as do Teton Orthopedics and Teton Dermatology.

In September 2012, Jackson Mayor Mark Barron issued a proclamation declaring October cell phone awareness month. “With the work that EHT has provided our community, we are exploring creative and informative ways that tie science, technology and art together to let our community know that, just like cars, phones must be used safely and wisely,” Barron explained.

Last year’s winners and a list of materials that can be used are on the JH Cool Schools Ad Contest 2013 Facebook page.

About Devra Davis, Ph.D.

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