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Step Away from the Phone

Step Away from the Phone!

"What the…!" I thought to myself, as my computer screen suddenly began shivering and jumping up and down for no apparent reason while I worked on a school report one late night. It seemed possessed! A second later, I heard my Ericsson cell phone ringing, which I had placed on the desk by the monitor. As I grabbed the phone to answer it, I was astounded by how the monitor screen slowly returned back to its original condition the farther I moved it away. "Hello? Hello?", said my friend repeatedly on the other line, as I stood there speechless, lower jaw dropped down, and eyes gawking wide open in astonishment. I was in complete shock from what I had just seen to the point where I immediately hung up the phone and dropped it from my hand.

If this tiny little device is capable of creating so much obstruction and interference on a brand new computer monitor, what is it doing to my body? Possibly the same thing, if not worse! It was then that I decided to consider matters on a personal level.

According to the Ericsson Mobile Phone T28WORLD user’s guide, the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) states that "there is no evidence that mobile terminals meeting the recommended limits can cause any adverse health effects", and that "all Ericsson telephones conform to the ICNIRP guidelines and other international exposure standards such as … ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992 (USA, Asia-Pacific)". I expected a little bit more from a user’s guide since it was the only source of information I possessed with purchasing the cell phone. There were still so many unanswered questions. What are the "recommended limits"? What do the guidelines and exposure standards state? More importantly, who wrote these guidelines and standards? By answering these questions, only then can I reveal the degree of honesty to which Ericsson and many other mobile phone companies represent their products.

After a vast amount of researching, it became apparent that the IEEE standards resulted from the deliberations of leading biologists, biophysicists, physiologists, physicists, physicians, engineers, federal agencies and other interested groups and organizations with public responsibilities. Their goal, apparently, was to protect human beings from known harmful levels of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. However, it all seemed too complicated! Yes, I am an electrical engineering student at the University of California, Irvine; and yes, it is my fourth year. Which is why I was capable of making sense of the information they provided to me, but only to a certain extent. And if my understanding of it is limited, it makes me wonder how would the average Joe identify with the figures and facts represented. The truth is, he can’t! He’ll feel intimidated and eventually decide to leave things to the experts to worry about. The information being shared from various organizations are not put in a way that Joe can understand. Many of the vital issues are complex, which disempowers Joe and speaks to him saying, "This is too complicated. Trust us. We know what we are doing". Yeah, right!

Apparently, Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson are working on developing a standard for measuring specific absorption rate (SAR), a measure of radiation from mobile phones. According to the ANSI/IEEE safety guidelines, it is recommended to use low-power cellular hand-held phones with a specific absorption rate (SAR) of 1.6W/kg or less. Studies of human head models using cellular phones have generally reported that the SAR levels are below 1.6 W/kg level as averaged over 1 gram of tissue under typical conditions of use. However, some recent studies have reported higher peak levels under "worst-case" conditions that advocate the need for further studies. In any case, mobile phone manufacturers should label mobile phones with the amount of radiation they emit, not only on the packages in which they come in. The information needs to be right there for reference at anytime whenever the phone is being used, and not lying in the bottom of some drawer somewhere in the house. Although such information presented in numbers might not make so much sense to the user, it will at least be relatively comparable to other devices, the same way the amount of calories can be compared between an apple and a cheeseburger to a dieter.

It is not known whether mobile phone usage actually poses a risk to human health, but researches have claimed to find links between mobile phone use and eye cancer. Yes, cancer is genetic, but it is also largely environmental. Researchers have also claimed to find an association between mobile phone use and rare types of brain tumor. In addition, several studies have found that DNA in human cells breakdown when exposed to large doses of mobile phone radiation. These living cells naturally maintain an electrical charge across their membranes that is essential to the normal functioning of human tissues and are extremely sensitive to very weak electromagnetic fields. Bottom line, more studies are needed!

Unfortunately, mobile phones have become standard gear for today’s teenagers, especially college students. Personally, my parents got me one because I do a lot of driving at night and I’m out on the road a lot. Originally, it was intended for emergencies, but now it turned into a way of socializing with friends and killing time when stuck in traffic. However, it is not too late. There is so much that can be done to reduce the chances of being a victim. For starters, the government and individual school authorities should take the initiative to warn students in schools about mobile usage and discourage students under a certain age from using them. Not only will this offer a degree of protection to their developing brains, but it will also lower the likelihood of developing a habit of using a mobile phone excessively at an early age. Since time spent on the phone is key, use a mobile phone for short conversations and conventional phones for long talks. Take notice of SAR values when buying the phone, and it will eventually make more sense through experience and comparison to other devices. Use a mobile phone with the antenna mounted outside. Built-in antennas, despite how cool they make the phone look, are positioned way too close to the user’s head. And if possible, always use a headset attached to a mobile phone. They still do produce electromagnetic fields, but it is relatively nothing compared to that created from the mobile phone itself. A lot of us may not be concerned, but it will make a lot of us more confident.


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Created before October 2004

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