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Are smartphones really harmful to our health?

Is the radiation emitted from cell phones actually harmful to our bodies? Let's take a closer look at what exactly goes on in our mobile devices.

Published onMay 15, 2015

It’s the year 2015 and mobile technology has completely engraved itself into our lives. We all spend so much time with our smartphones, tablets and wearables that it can be easy to forget that there used to be a time when none of that stuff was around. But with the ever-growing number of connected devices constantly being added to our lives, many folks around the world have been attempting to ascertain whether or not connected devices are actually extremely harmful to our health – not only when it comes to poor posture when using our devices, but also when talking of radiation effects on the body. Can radiation emitted from mobile devices actually harm us? A group of 200 biological and health scientists from around the world are trying to make this concern public knowledge, and they’re calling on the UN to help them.

In a report published by Russian news organization RT, these scientists from all different parts of the world are advocating for the United Nations, World Health Organization and various national governments to help develop strict regulations concerning cellphones (and other mobile devices) that create electromagnetic fields.

Dr. Martin Blank, from the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University, warns:

Putting it bluntly (cellphones) are damaging the living cells in our bodies and killing many of us prematurely… We have created something that is harming us, and it is getting out of control. Before Edison’s light bulb there was very little electromagnetic radiation in our environment. The levels today are very many times higher than natural background levels, and are growing rapidly because of all the new devices that emit this radiation.

Now, Dr. Blank’s opinion isn’t being formed out of the blue, and is absolutely backed up by proven facts. But we should talk about specifics before we all start breaking out the aluminum foil.

Electromagnetic Radiation

Before we get any further, let’s talk about electromagnetic radiation and how it can be harmful to us. For starters, your cellphone does produce a certain amount of radiation. You can thank your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3G and LTE connections for that. But radiation can be found in all other aspects of our technological lives as well – radios, televisions, microwaves and more. The real factor we need to look at here is the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, and how the two types affect us differently.

Ionizing vs. non-ionizing radiation

Radiation that produces enough energy to move around atoms in a molecule, but not enough to remove electrons completely, is known as non-ionizing radiation.

Examples of non-ionizing radiation include microwaves, sound waves and visible light, just to name a few. In contrast, ionizing radiation does have enough energy to move around tightly bound electrons from atoms, which in turn, creates ions. This much more powerful form of radiation encompasses ultraviolet, x-rays and, yes, even gamma rays.

Non-ionizing radiation ranges from extremely low-frequency radiation through microwave and infrared radiation. The Environmental Protection Agency explains:

Extremely low-frequency radiation has very long wave lengths (on the order of a million meters or more) and frequencies in the range of 100 Hertz or cycles per second or less. Radio frequencies have wave lengths of between 1 and 100 meters and frequencies in the range of 1 million to 100 million Hertz. Microwaves that we use to heat food have wavelengths that are about 1 hundredth of a meter long and have frequencies of about 2.5 billion Hertz.

When talking of ionizing radiation, higher frequency ultraviolet radiation starts to have enough energy to actually break chemical bonds. This is why so much precaution needs to be taken when being exposed to x-rays or ultraviolet rays. X-ray and gamma ray radiation have very high frequency, beginning in the range of 100 billion billion Hertz and very short wavelengths like 1 million millionth of a meter. The EPA says “(This type of radiation) has enough energy to strip off electrons or, in the case of very high-energy radiation, break up the nucleus of atoms.”

So, what about smartphones?

Our smartphones produce non-ionizing radiation, but at an extremely low frequency level. All of the connections going to and from your mobile device all operate at different frequencies.

  • Wi-Fi connections operate between five main frequency ranges: 2.4GHz, 3.6GHz, 4.9GHz, 5GHz and 5.9GHz
  • Bluetooth operates on the 2.4GHz band
  • Cellular connectivity in smartphones operate on a multitude of frequencies, anywhere from 700MHz to 2.7GHz
All of these connections produced by our smartphones don't come anywhere close to the radio frequencies found in x-rays or ultraviolet rays.
All of these connections combined don’t come anywhere close to the radio frequencies found in x-rays or ultraviolet rays. In fact, the only effects that these types of radio frequencies can have on the human body don’t have anything to do with cancer or tumors… but it has everything to do with how hot your smartphone gets.

An increased amount of radiofrequency energy from smartphones can actually cause some harm to your body by means of tissue heating, but this doesn’t take place as often as you might think. Most of the energy produced by frequencies from mobile phones is absorbed by the skin and other superficial tissues, which results in a negligible rise in temperature in the brain and throughout other portions of the body.

The World Health Organization goes on to say:

To date, research does not suggest any consistent evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to radiofrequency fields at levels below those that cause tissue heating. Further, research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”.

Okay, so the World Health Organization themselves claim that there are no proven short-term effects smartphones can have on the human body (aside from a small amount of tissue heating). But what about the long-term?

The World Health Organization categorizes cell phone radiation emissions as 'possible human carcinogens'.
The majority of epidemiological research examining long-term risks performed in the past have focused specifically on the association between brain tumors and cell phone use. Now, cellphones didn’t become part of our lives until the 90’s, so researchers and scientists are having trouble performing the necessary research. Many types of cancers aren’t detectable until years after the interactions that led to the tumor, so current studies can only really assess those cancers that become evident within shorter periods of time. Even so, the WHO explains that “results of animal studies consistently show no increased cancer risk for long-term exposure to radiofrequency fields.”

But, seeing as how the World Health Organization can’t prove that cell phones don’t emit harmful radiation, the organization is forced to categorize these emissions as “possible human carcinogens”, even though, time and time again, extensive research studies have shown that there’s not even a faint clue that radiation from cell phones can cause cancer.

Are we really at risk?

Take a look at the video below. That’s Dr. Martin Blank, the face of this 200-scientist operation that claims unregulated use of radio frequency radiation from cell phones, Wi-Fi and other means are becoming a public health crisis. To be fair, this group isn’t only talking about cell phones in their argument, but it is one of the highlighted examples in their public awareness video and on their website.

Don’t get me wrong… the point of this isn’t to call out these scientists on their bluff, because they’re not bluffing. Radiation being produced by electronic devices is a concern, though it’s not as bad as they’re making it out to be. Telling the public (and the UN) that cell phones are “killing us prematurely” is in fact correct… but it also instills a sense of fear into folks who don’t know enough about the subject to disagree. I’m not an advocate against human safety in the slightest, but throughout the group’s appeal, cell phones are a major part of the argument, and they shouldn’t be. Sure, smartphones rarely ever leave our sights nowadays, but they’re not anywhere close to the main cause of brain tumors, cancer or any other harmful diseases out there.

Circling back

If you don’t want to take the risk, there are certainly a few things you can do to remove this type of radiation from your life. In general, the further away you are from your cell phone, the less radiation will make its way through your body. Using either a Bluetooth or, better yet, a wired headset to receive phone calls will help a bit, too. You can even travel to a “white-zone” (radiation-free area) that’s been mandated by the government. In fact, the group of scientists is actually advocating for the creation of more radiation-free zones around the nation.

So to answer the question, yes, your smartphone may technically be ‘killing you’, but so are a number of other everyday items like microwave popcorn and canned tomatoes. But unlike these potentially harmful foods, there is no solid evidence to back up the claim that radiation emitted from cell phones, tablets or wearables will give you any form of cancer, tumors or any other harmful disease.

Do you think we should be concerned about electromagnetic radiation emitting from our smartphones? If not, do you have any concerns on the topic? Be sure to voice your opinions in the comment section below.

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