If you are a male rat and you use your 2G or 3G cell phone for over 9 hours a day, you should be worried about Thursday’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) announcement. But what if you are a human?
The NTP announced the following findings from a set of $ 30 million studies that took over a decade to complete:
- Clear evidence that high exposure to RFR used by cell phones was associated with tumors in the hearts of male rats. The tumors were malignant schwannomas.
- Some evidence that high exposure to RFR used by cell phones was associated with tumors in the brains of male rats. The tumors were malignant gliomas.
- Some evidence that high exposure to RFR used by cell phones was associated with tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats. The tumors were benign, malignant, or complex combined pheochromocytoma.
In this case, RFR is not a sound that Scooby-Doo makes but stands for radiofrequency radiation, the type of type of non-ionizing radiation that cell phones emit. The studies also found that rat mothers and their newborns had lower body weight when exposed to high levels of RFR during pregnancy and lactation.
But before you toss your cell phones into the garbage (which you probably wouldn’t do regardless), there are some caveats with these findings:
- The study exposed the entire bodies of rats to the RFR, which may be different from how you use cell phones, unless you have a gigantic cell phone or routinely cover yourself with dozens of cell phones.
- The amount of RFR exposure was significantly than what you normally would get from a cell phone.
- The studies mimicked the RFR from 2G or 3G cell phones, which you likely don’t use anymore.
- The study did not find as clear evidence for female rats and male or female mice.
- You are probably not a male rat. Biologically.
The results of this study should not make you panic. Unless, of course, you are a male rat, because there are other reasons to panic if you suddenly find yourself to be a male rat. However, these findings do further emphasize that RFR is not completely harmless. It is easy to forget that your cell phone is a machine and not a person, even though nowadays your cell phone can talk to you, entertain you, and even comfort you. But just as you wouldn’t hug a microwave, you still have to be wary about how you interact with a machine.
Moreover, the advances and use of cell phone technology have far outpaced understanding of the potential health consequences. As the NTP study showed, it can take a while to measure the health effects of RFR. The technology has changed vastly since the beginning of the NTP study. Before more definitive statements are made in either direction, there is a need for more studies on the potential risks of cell phone use. Remember that cell phones have not undergone anywhere near the same amount of safety testing that things like vaccines have.
In the meantime, you may want to take the following 10 precautions:
- Carry your cellphone as far away from your body and head as possible. Don’t keep it in your underwear when you are wearing that underwear. There are other ways to look bigger if that’s what you want. And don’t strap it to your head, because there are other ways to say, “I am an idiot.”
- Check where your cell phone is before you go to sleep. A cell phone can be like a rock bottom one night stand. You don’t want to wake up and realize that it is next to you.
- Use a speakerphone or a headset whenever you can. This will help increase the distance between the phone and your brain. Plus pushing an object against your ear is never comfortable, unless you are in to that kind of thing.
- Try to avoid using your cellphone when you have a weak signal. When the cell signal is weak (only one or two bars are displayed), the phone amps up its RFR trying to connect. This will also help you avoid asking, “what”, “can you hear me”, or “did you say ‘love’ or ‘glove'” so many times.
- Don’t use your cell phone to download large files or stream videos. This also pushes up the RFR emitted by your cell phone. You can wait until you get to your computer or other Ethernet or Wi-Fi connected device to download that video of cats falling off tables.
- Push for more clear labeling and information about RFR exposure on products. Different devices may vary in what they are emitting. Do you ask about such emissions when choosing a phone?
- Don’t wear your headset when you are not taking a call. Sure, you may want to look like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. But headsets do continue to release small amounts of RFR even when you are not “using” them.
- Put your phone on Airplane Mode or better yet turn it off whenever you can. A cell phone is like a toaster. If it is turned off, it is less likely to hurt you.
- Be skeptical about RFR shields or other devices that claim to reduce your RFR exposure. Surprise, surprise. People are trying to sell you junk that doesn’t work. Many of these may even increase the RFR.
- Stop using your cellphone so often. A 5-year old does not need a cellphone. Who the heck is he or she going to call? A stock broker? There are many alternatives to using a cell phone, like actually talking to someone face-to-face. You can cut down your cell phone use by reducing the length of your calls. Telling him or her that you “love him 50 times on the phone” isn’t going to compensate for the fact that you forgot his or her birthday.
Technology in itself is neither good nor bad. In the words of Eric Clapton, “it’s in the way that you use it.” Remember to be smart about smartphone usage.