Can Your Cell Phone Make You Sick?

By Kallan Louis

Like many people, I wake up every morning to the melodic sounds of my smartphone alarm going off. The tune is called “Morning Scent” — how appropriate. After blindly hitting the snooze option for a couple of rounds, I grab the device from my nightstand, crack open my eyelids just enough to focus my vision and lower the brightness level so I can my view my calendar and messages. I usually follow up with breaking news, weather forecasts and traffic reports. And, of course, I have to check my social media timelines to stay on top of the culture. And then I follow the same process again on my other smartphone.

Smartphones emit radio frequency, a nonionizing form of radiation similar to that produced by a microwave oven. For years, people in the health community wondered how safe they are to use long-term. The long-awaited results of a 10-year, $25 million study about radio frequency radiation that was released in February showed that while there still is no definitive answer, one of the scientists who led the study doesn’t think there is much cause for concern.

Cell phones, the predecessors to smartphones, have been around since the ‘70s, but mass popularity occurred in the mid ‘90s. The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was a game-changer. Now, 95 percent of all Americans own some sort of cellular device.

Due to the widespread use of mobile phones, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nominated the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program (NTP) to conduct a study on radio frequency radiation (RFR). NTP scientists exposed lab rats and mice to various levels of radio frequency radiation nine hours a day in 10-minute increments, some for as long as two years. The highest level of radiation the rodents absorbed was equal to the highest level of cell phone radiation exposure permitted by the FDA and Federal Communications Commission.

The results showed that the male rats had developed tumors in tissues surrounding nerves in their hearts. This is not as alarming as you might think — at least not for humans.

In a press release, John Bucher, NTP senior scientist, explained: “The levels and duration of exposure to RFR were much greater than what people experience with even the highest level of cell phone use, and exposed the rodents’ whole bodies. So, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to human cell phone usage. We note, however, that the tumors we saw in these studies are similar to tumors previously reported in some studies of frequent cell phone users.”

Years of research will need to continue before we will know the facts about cell phone radiation on humans, but for those not willing to take any chances, check out some tips the California Department of Public Health issued last year to minimize exposure to radio frequency radiation:

  • Avoid holding the phone to your head when using it—use the speakerphone or a headset instead
  • Send text messages instead of talking on the phone
  • Keep the phone away from your head and body if streaming or downloading
  • Carry your cell phone in a backpack, briefcase or purse instead of in your a pocket, bra or belt holster
  • Don’t sleep with your phone in your bed or near your head
  • Reduce or avoid using your cell phone when there is a weak signal, when traveling in a fast-moving vehicle or when streaming or downloading on the device