With more and more countries acknowledging the health risks of mobile phones, Guy Hudson advises how to minimize the dangers of cell and cordless phones
Science has been making discoveries about human sensitivity to electromagnetic waves since the 1930s,1 and for 80 years we have been writing about the health effects of microwave radiation (such as radar sickness).2 The results of all this research question the common sense of putting a microwave transmitter to your head as you do every time you use a mobile phone, which transmits pulsed microwaves.
The scientific evidence linking phone use with health problems is growing,3 although proving direct links to, say, cancer is difficult, as cancer takes many years to develop after the initial exposure. A similar example is smoking and lung cancer: convincing authorities and governments that smoking definitely caused cancer took decades because cancer typically appears only after years of smoking.
Unlike cancer, though, other health issues with mobile phones may become apparent far more quickly; for example, the time frame for fertility problems can be measured in a matter of hours or days. Male fertility has been shown to plummet after brief exposure to mobile phone radiation.4 Worse, exposure to mobile phone radiation has been shown to damage human DNA.5
More of us are reporting symptoms-which are sometimes severe-during and after using mobiles.6 Some commentators believe that 5 per cent of us now consider ourselves electrosensitive and perhaps 1 per cent as hypersensitive.7 According to a Swiss telephone survey of 2,048 people aged 14 and over, 5 per cent of this sample population self-reported electromagnetic hypersensitivity (with complaints of sleep disorders and headaches).8
If there truly are such fertility, electrosensitivity and cancer risks, we should be even more aware of the extra susceptibility of unborn babies and children, and keep them well away from this technology.9 And because of this, some governments have already acted or are planning to act to protect their entire mobile-using populations, with Austria, Russia, Israel, Canada, France and Spain already in the club.10
Earlier last year the then CEO of Belgacom (one of Belgium's leading telecoms companies), Didier Bellens, told school children that mobile phones were not safe for them and that mobiles are always switched off in his office.11 Not surprisingly, Belgacom asked him to leave in November. In spite of his sacking, Belgium has introduced a ban on mobiles specially designed for under-7s that will come into play on 1 March 2014, and has now mandated that specific absorption rates (SARs)-the amount of radiation absorbed by the body during use-be published at points of sale.12
The good news is that there's a lot you can do to reduce your current exposure levels by factors of thousands just by making some simple changes in the way you use your phone.
For a start, avoid the old-fashioned simple mobiles with a small aerial sticking out of the top, as these aerials physically come into contact with the skin over your skull. More modern phones often have aerials halfway up inside the phone, which keeps the aerial a minimum distance away from your body while the phone is
Phone signal strength falls off strongly with distance and the newer phones create less powerful hotspots of radiation and so also have lower SARs.
In fact, the safety instructions for mobiles (hidden in the small print of safety manuals that no one reads) prohibit using the handset within normally 15 mm or more of any part of your skin-not an easy thing to do!13 But at least we can use the phone held away from the body.
Every few minutes, a mobile phone interacts with local cell masts to confirm that the phone is within range of a particular mast to direct a call to. This is going on all the time, even when a phone is on standby-it's on but not in use. In the area of the transmitter aerial of the mobile phone itself, the phone's signal strength is at maximum and its overall signal strength is measured in SARs.
If you really want to minimize risk and reduce your radiation exposure, you have to stop using a mobile-although this may be impossible for work, childcare and other day-to-day needs.
So if you must use a mobile, whenever possible divert all mobile calls to your home or office landline when you're at either place, and pick up your voicemail from your landline by dialling your mobile phone's voicemail service. Let people know your mobile isn't on all the time, but that you'll get back to them.
You need never hold a mobile to your head again, as you can use either an air tube headset or speaker mode (though this may create privacy and background noise problems).
An air tube hands-free headset looks just like a standard headset but, crucially, the microphone unit on your chest also contains the loudspeaker and an empty, air-filled, tube connects up to the ear piece. This tube has no speaker, so there are no associated audio-frequency magnetic fields or microwaves and the voice sound is generated by a tiny loudspeaker at the other end of the tube. Using this kind of headset massively reduces the amount of radiation striking the head of the user. Some versions have two earpieces, but I prefer the single-earpiece variety as there are fewer wires to get tangled up.
Tip: Use a bag where you can have the air tube outside. You can then answer the phone with the button on the microphone 'blob' and place the earpiece straightaway in your ear to start talking. Panicked untangling of the wire while trying to answer the phone in your bag strains the wires and means the headset won't last very long.
Use the phone in strong-signal areas-and especially not in cars, trains or planes-as the phone will ramp up transmitter power by up to a factor of 1,000 in poor-signal areas. You'll also get a double whammy from the waves bouncing off the vehicle's metal walls.
When texting, hold the phone away from your body and text quickly, turning the phone off as soon as possible. If you have a Skype paid account, you can text out from Skype (preferably using a low-radiation PC setup), and it's much easier using a full-size keyboard. If you're adept at using a smartphone, you can get an app to forward your texts to your email; this means you will only need to fire up your smartphone for a few minutes while using the internet service. Keep well away from the device once you have started the job going.
With cordless phones and the more common DECT phone charger and docking stations, the pod connected to the phone line radiates a pulsed microwave 24 hours a day and is often one of the worst offenders in your home for creating electrosmog. The handset transmits while it's in use too, so it's better to go back to corded phones or, if you really can't manage without, then replace them with ECO-DECT-Plus cordless phones.14 These don't transmit when not in use (saving electricity) and also significantly reduce the power output of the transmitters according to the level actually needed when in use.
When using landlines, favour ordinary corded phones whenever possible, as their radiation levels are very low. Electrosensitive people should fit an active broadband filter between the phone lead and wall socket to filter any broadband signals away from the phone (even if you're not a broadband subscriber, broadband signals are often present). Active filters do a better job than the passive ones usually supplied with broadband hubs.
Bevington M. Electromagnetic Sensitivity and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: A Summary. Capability Books, 2013; page 54
'Radar Overview', online at www.powerwatch.org.uk/rf/radar.asp
'Professor Olle Johansson', online at http://www.es-uk.info/about/olle.html
Fertil Steril, 2008; 89: 124-8
Iran J Med Sci, 2011; 36: 96-103; BMC Public Health, 2011; 11: 66
Schooneveld H, Kuiper J. 'Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) in the Netherlands - A Questionnaire survey.' Dutch EHS Foundation. EHS in the Netherlands, 2007, online at http://www.powerwatch.org.uk/news/20071218_ehs_netherlands.pdf
Soz Praventivmed, 2006; 51: 202-9
http://www.emfwise.com/children.php; BioInitiative 2012, online at www.bioinitiative.org/media/press-releases/; Bioinitiative 2012; 'Evidence that children are more vulnerable', page 8, online at http://www.slt.co/Downloads/News/1058/BioInitiativeReport2012-7.5%20Megs.pdf
EMF Safety Network, online at http://emfsafetynetwork.org/belgium-bans-sales-and-advertising-of-mobile-phones-for-children-under-7/
'Product manual recommendations for use', online at www.amta.org.au/sar
'Siemens Gigaset low EMF ECO-DECT-Plus Cordless Phones', online at www.emfields.org/phones/cordless.asp