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Are cell phones safe? The radiation levels in cell phones, known as radio frequency (RF) radiation, are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC, other US government agencies, and peer-reviewed studies consider the radiation from cell phones to have no adverse health effects. However, an accumulating amount of scientific research suggests that cell phone use may cause cancer, disrupt pacemakers, decrease fertility, damage DNA, and increase the risk of traffic accidents.

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In 2008, the $148.1 billion wireless industry had over 270 million subscribers in the US (87% of the population) who used over 2.2 trillion minutes of call time. Read more...

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Video Gallery Projects Top Pro & Con Quotes Comments IARC Press Release About Cell Phone Use as "Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans" INTERPHONE Study Concludes Cell Phones Might or Might Not Cause Cancer 20 highest and lowest radiation cell phones in the US Learn More Footnotes & Sources Source Biographies

Cell Phones ProCon.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit website that presents facts, studies, and pro and con statements on questions related to whether or not cell phones are safe.

Did You Know? 1. Cordless home phones, television, radio, laptops, and palm held computers all produce radiofrequency (RF) radiation, the same type of radiation that is produced by cell phones. 2. The radiation emitted by a cell phone can penetrate 4 - 6 cm (1.6 2.4 in) into the human brain (215 KB) . [1] The amount of RF absorbed into the head can be reduced by using a wired ear-piece (not a Bluetooth) rather than placing the phone against the ear.

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3. A 2002 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (8 MB) [24] (released in 2009 under a Freedom of Information Act request) concluded that using a hands free device (Bluetooth, headset, etc.) does not reduce distraction or make cell phone use safer while driving. As of Sep. 2009, six states had passed laws requiring the use of a hands free device while driving. 4. On July 24, 2008, a warning was issued (1 MB) [25] by the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute to faculty and staff to decrease cell phone exposure due to a possible connection between cell phone radiation and brain tumors. The warning prompted a congressional hearing on cell phone use and tumors (19 KB) . [26]

Pro & Con Arguments: "Are cell phones safe?" PRO Cell Phones 1. According to some studies, the use of a cell phone can slightly decrease the risk of developing the brain tumors glioma and meningioma. [1] 2. Cell phone radiation, like radio, TV, and visible light radiation, is non-ionizing and cannot cause cancer. Ionizing radiation, including x-rays and ultraviolet light, produces molecules called ions that have either too many or too few electrons. Ions are known to damage DNA and cause cancer. Cell phone radiation lacks sufficient energy to add or remove electrons from molecules, and therefore it cannot ionize and cause cancer. [2] 3. Cell phone radiation levels are tested and certified by the manufacturer to meet the safe levels established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Random tests of phones on the market by FCC scientists further ensure that radiation levels meet 110 Online

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CON Cell Phones 1. Studies have shown an association between cell phone use and the development of glioma, a type of brain cancer. According to one meta-study there is a "consistent pattern" connecting cell phone use and the increased risk of developing brain cancer. [12] 2. Many studies have found that long term cell phone use increases the risk of tumors of the head. According to one Swedish study, the risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor formation on the nerve near the ear) was greater on the side of the head that the cell phone was held. [13] 3. Using a cell phone while driving, even with a hands-free device, is unsafe and can make accidents more likely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that driving distractions, including the use of cell phones, contribute to 25% of all traffic crashes. [14]

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FCC guidelines. [3] 4. Cell phones do not cause cancer or other health problems. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and numerous other agencies have concluded that there is no evidence in the scientific literature proving that cell phones cause brain tumors or other health problems. [4] [5] 5. If cell phones were causing cancer we could expect a rise in the rate of brain and other related cancers. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, there has been no increase in the incidence of brain or other nervous system cancers between the years 1987 and 2005 despite the fact that cell phone use has dramatically increased during those same years. [6]

6. Many activities that distract drivers are much more dangerous than talking on a phone. Research shows that cell phone use is a factor in less than 1% of accidents and that adjusting the radio or CD player, talking with passengers, or eating, and drinking while driving are all responsible for more accidents than cell phones. [7] [8] 7. Studies correlating head tumors and cell phone use show inconsistent results, may have been tainted by recall bias (participants not remembering how often and for how long they have used their cell phones), and have not been replicated. Most studies have not found any association between cell phone use and the development of head tumors. [9] 8. Cell phones increase personal safety by providing an easy means of contacting others during an emergency. According to an American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) poll, 56% of people over the age of 65 cite safety as a reason they have a cell phone. [10]

4. The radio frequency (RF) emissions from cell phones have been shown to damage genetic material in blood cells which is a common precursor to cancer. [15] 5. Driving while talking on a cell phone is as dangerous as driving drunk. According to researchers at the University of Utah people who drive while talking on their cell phones are as impaired as drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. [16] 6. Children are at an increased risk for adverse health effects from cell phone radiation. One study has shown that children under the age of eight absorb twice the amount of radiation into their brain tissue as adults due to their lower skull thickness. [17] 7. The radiofrequency radiation from cell phones can damage the DNA in sperm. Cell phone storage in front pockets has been linked to poor fertility and an increased chance of miscarriage and childhood cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic Center for Reproductive medicine, semen quality "tended to decline as daily cell phone use increased." [18] [19] 8. Long term cell phone use can increase the likelihood of being hospitalized for migraines and vertigo by 10-20%. [20] 9. The use of cellphones by people with pacemakers is unsafe. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), radiofrequency energy from cell phones can create electromagnetic interference (EMI) that may disrupt the functioning of pacemakers, especially if the cell phone is placed close to the heart. [21]

10. Lithium-ion batteries, used in most cell phones, can explode from exposure to high heat, or from overcharging a faulty counterfeit battery. These explosions have caused injuries and started fires. [22]

9. Despite popular belief, it is safe for persons with a pacemaker to use a cell phone. According to the American Heart Association, the radiofrequency emissions (RF) of cell phones available in the United States do not affect pacemaker functioning during normal use. [11]

Background: "Are cell phones safe?" The radiation levels in cell phones, known as radio frequency (RF) radiation, are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC, other US government agencies, and peer-reviewed studies consider the radiation from cell phones to have no adverse health effects. However, an accumulating amount of scientific research suggests that cell phone use may cause cancer, disrupt pacemakers, decrease fertility, damage DNA, and increase the risk of traffic accidents.

(Click to enlarge image)

On Apr. 3, 1973, the world's first portable cell phone, the DynaTAC (also known as "the brick"), was introduced in the US by Dr. Martin Cooper at Motorola. The phone was a foot long, weighed two pounds, and cost $4,000. It was not until 1983 that the first commercial cell phone system was launched in Chicago by Ameritech Mobile Communications.

Image showing inventor Dr. Martin Cooper and a prototype of the DynaTAC (aka "the brick"), the first commercial cellphone, 1973. Source: www.cbc.ca (accessed Sep. 21, 2009)

On Feb. 26, 1985, the first safety guidelines (127 KB) [27] for radio frequency (RF) radiation - the type of radiation used by cell phones, cordless phones, radio, television, microwaves and wi-fi to transmit their signals - were enacted by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that people were not exposed to dangerous "thermal effects" - levels of RF that could heat human flesh to harmful levels. RF wavelengths, unlike sound waves and the waves in the ocean, are part of the electromagnetic spectrum - meaning they 110 Online

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move via interaction between their electric and magnetic fields. RF waves move at the speed of light (186,282 miles/second) and can penetrate solid objects such as buildings. The RF radiation from cell phones is contained in the low end (non-ionizing portion) of the broader electromagnetic spectrum just above radio and television RF and just below microwave RF. At high exposure levels non-ionizing radiation can produce a thermal or heating effect (this is how microwaves heat food). Exposure to the high end (ionizing) radiation of X-rays and Gamma rays is known to cause cancer. Whether or not exposure to the low end (non-ionizing) spectrum causes cancer remains debated. In 1993 concern over a possible link between brain tumors and cell phone use became a major public issue when CNN's Larry King Live show reported on a husband who had sued a cell phone manufacturer in a Florida US District Court for causing his wife's brain tumor (the case was dismissed in 1995). On Aug. 7, 1996, the FCC exanded its guidelines on RF exposure (90 KB) [3] with input from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The guidelines created a measure of (Click to enlarge image) the rate that body tissue absorbs RF energy during cell phone use called the specific absorption rate (SAR). The SAR for cell phone radiation was Photographs of the FCC's cell phone specific absorption rate (SAR) testing equipment. set at a maximum of 1.6 watts of energy absorbed per kilogram of body Source: "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile weight per cell phone call that averages 30 minutes and the cell phone is Phone Health Issues," www.gao.gov, May 2001 held at the ear. SAR levels for cell phones sold in the US range from a low of .109 watts to the maximum of 1.6 watts. Holding a cell phone away from the body while using a wired earpiece or speaker phone lowers the amount of radiation absorbed, and text messaging, rather than talking, further lowers that amount. The FDA and the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) signed a research agreement in 2000 to further investigate the health effects of cell phones. They concluded that "no association was found between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation from cell phones and adverse health effects."

(Click to enlarge image) Illustration showing an estimate of the absorption of radio frequency radiation into the brain based on age. Source: "The Case for Precaution in the Use of Cell Phones," www.environmentalhealthtrust.org, July 2008

The safety concerns over cell phone radiation continued into 2001 when the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was commissioned by Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) to compile a report on the safety of cell phones. The final GAO report, "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues (2.5 MB) ," [5] issued in May of 2001 concluded that there is no scientific evidence proving that cell phone radiation has any "adverse health effects" but that more research on the topic was needed.

Six states have taken legislative action to lessen the possible safety hazards of talking on a cell phone while driving. New York (96 KB) [28] was first in 2001. Five other states (Connecticut [2005] (66 KB) [29], California [2007] (146 KB) [30], New Jersey [2007] (12 KB) [31], Washington [2007] (112 KB) [32] and Oregon [2009] (27 KB) [33]) have since passed laws prohibiting drivers from talking on handheld cell phones. In July of 2008 Dr. Ronald Herberman, Director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, issued a warning to hospital faculty and staff (1 MB) [25] to decrease direct cell phone exposure to the head and body due to a possible connection between cell phone radiation and brain tumors. Due to this warning, the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy held a hearing on the possible link between cell phone use and tumors (19 KB) [26] in Sep. 2008 to learn more about the possible risks. In 2008, the $148.1 billion wireless industry had over 270 million (70 KB) who used over 2.2 trillion minutes (142 KB) [35] of call time.

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subscribers in the US (87% of the population)

In 2009, the debate surrounding the safety of cell phone use while driving was re-ignited when a Freedom of Information Act request, filed by the Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, revealed a 2002 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (8 MB) [24] that concluded that using a hands free device does not lessen "cognitive distraction" or make cell phone use safer while driving. The report had not been previously released. On May 17, 2010, the results of the 13 country, 10 year, $25 million INTERPHONE study (3 KB) [36] (the largest ever to date) found that using a cell phone may or may not increase a persons risk of developing brain tumors. On June 22, 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to make the city the nation’s first to require that retailers post cellphone radiation levels prominently in their stores. [23] On May 31, 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release (249 KB) [37] announcing it had added cell phone radiation to its list of physical agents (98 KB) [38] that are 110 Online

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"possibly carcinogenic to humans" (group 2B agents). Other group 2B agents include coffe, DDT, pickled vegetables, and lead. The classification was made after a working group of 31 scientists finished a review of previously published studies and found "limited evidence of carcinogenicity" from the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless phones, radio, television, and radar. (Click to enlarge image) Illustration showing the electromagnetic spectrum. Source: "Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues," www.gao.gov, May 2001

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ABC News episode investigating the dangers of driving while talking on a Sep. 14, 2009, Senate Subcommittee hearing chaired by Senator Arlen cell phone. Specter (D-PA) on the health effects of cell phone use. Source: "Driving Danger," ABC News (accessed Aug. 21, 2009) Source: "Webcast of Labor HHS Hearing on Health Effects of Cell Phone Use" (accessed Sep. 16, 2009)

Dianne Sawyer, ABC News correspondant, investigates whether or not children who use cell phones are at increased risk for developing brain cancer. Source: "Cell Phones and Kids," ABC News (accessed Aug. 21, 2009)

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