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Walk into any shopping mall in America, and there are two things you'll see a lot of: teenagers and cell phones. It's not surprising. Once an exclusive toy for the rich and status-conscious, cell phones have become commonplace - so much so that at 182 million units, they are fast closing on the most widely-owned electronic device, the television.
More important, increasingly, they are being used by our children. Today, over one-third of teens and even pre-teens have joined the ranks of cell phone owners - and that number is certain to grow.
This explosion of cell phone ownership among the young has been fueled at least in part by a clever marketing strategy that has become common within the industry: the use of prepaid cell phones. This eliminates the need for an individual to pass the scrutiny of a credit check or demonstrate a steady source of income - hurdles most teens couldn't overcome - or for that matter, parental approval.
Now, with teens well in hand, the industry is targeting an even younger audience.
Major cell phone manufacturers have joined forces with toy companies to market cell phones specifically targeted at pre-teens. For example, Nokia had teamed up with the toy giant Mattel to market a "Barbie" cell phone. The "Firefly" mobile phone is already being marketed to kids at Target, and the "TicTalk" phone has also come out targeting the youth market. Indeed, cell phone manufacturers believe that the 8 year-old to 12 year-old market is the key to future growth!
Nor are the "kid phones" the only manifestation of the growing use of cell phones by the young.
A major new feature of the most popular "book bags" that virtually all students use today is an external cell phone pocket. Clothing manufactures such as Levi and Dockers have jumped on the bandwagon too, offering special pockets on items such as Dockers "Mobile" pants to carry phones.
From the standpoint of the telecommunications industry, this is all good news - especially since young people are likely to make longer calls than adults, and are far more likely to make use of other cell phone services such as text messaging, downloading music or videos and playing online video games via phone. All of this, of course, translates into more minutes and therefore more dollars.
But what is good news for the cell phone providers may be bad or even tragic news for the public at large. The reason is that the longer calls and extended use typical of a young person's cell phone subscribers carries with it an accordingly large exposure to potentially deadly cell phone radiation.
Cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation from their transmitters and antennae. It has long been known that electromagnetic radiation can affect biological tissue. Most research in the effects of electromagnetic radiation, however, have focused on various forms of so-called "ionizing radiation," which derive their name from the fact that they have enough energy to strip an ion from an atom thus giving it an electrical charge. The Alpha, Beta and Gamma radiation we associate with nuclear energy is ionizing radiation.
But there are many other forms of radiation as well. The non-ionizing forms include such things as radiofrequency waves (RF), ultraviolet waves (UV), infrared waves (IR), visible light, ultra-low frequency waves (ELF) and microwaves. Generally, non-ionizing radiation is considered harmless, and in some cases even beneficial. But in larger strengths, non-ionizing radiation can generate significant amounts of heat (as in a microwave oven) or damage biological tissues.
As electronic devices and the electricity they require has grown more pervasive within modern economies, the "background" level of non-ionizing radiation that surrounds us has steadily increased.
For years, a small number of scientists have been warning about the dangers of this sea of electromagnetic radiation we live in but now an important new voice has entered the debate.
An article in the August 2, 2005 edition of "Pediatrics," the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics has raised an alarm about the potential dangers of exposing our children to electromagnetic radiation.
To be fair, it must be noted that the journal article acknowledges the contradictory conclusions of research to date, but in so doing, it raises an alarm and presents a possible explanation:
"Exposure to electric and magnetic fields from 0 to 300 GHz has been increasing greatly as countries increase their capacity to generate and distribute electricity and take advantage of the many new technologies, such as telecommunications to improve lifestyle and work efficiency. Evidence of an association between childhood leukemia and exposure to extremely low frequency magnetic fields has led to their classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a "possible carcinogen" based on consistent epidemiologic data and lack of support by laboratory studies on animals and cells. The reason why the results of the childhood leukemia studies are consistent is still being investigated, but one possibility is that children may be more sensitive to radiation in some or all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum."
In plain English, what the scientists are saying is that the reason laboratory experiments are inconclusive is that they do not take into account the vulnerability of a young person's developing body.
While it is obvious that a child's body is different from an adult's what is not as obvious are the various stages it goes through during the development from infant to adult. Indeed, the stages of development actually begin during the prenatal period - before the child is born, and continue until the late second or early third decade of life! In the earliest stages, prior to birth and immediately afterwards, the child's fundamental body structure and organ systems are being developed, sometimes in ways you might not expect.
For example, by the time a child is born most of its adult nerve cells or neurons have developed. More important, the number of synapses, or connections, in the brain's neurons peaks at around the age of 2 and then begins to decline, falling fully 40 percent by the time adulthood is reached. Scientists believe that the reason for this is that during the first two years of life a child undergoes the process of learning things that will be "hardwired" into the brain once they mature, and that they need the extra connections to handle this process.
Similarly, it is in the first two years following birth that the process of myelination, which facilitates the transmission of information, largely occurs. Thus, the first two years of life are of critical importance to a child's mental as well as physical development. But the "Pediatrics" article warns:
"Unfortunately the susceptibility of these processes to environmental agents has not been studied extensively and thus is not well understood. However, because developmental processes are vulnerable to disruption by agents that may not be toxic to mature systems, it is reasonable to expect that the later stages of brain development present special risks."
Of course, cell phone manufacturers are quick to maintain that their devices have been tested and that the level of radiation they emit has been approved as safe by the regulatory authorities. What they do not go on to admit, though, is that all of the tests performed have been targeted at adults, not children. As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, children are not just small adults:
"Greater susceptibility to some toxicants and physical agents has been demonstrated in children. Because the period from embryonic life to adolescence is characterized by growth and development, deleterious effects can occur at lower levels and be more severe or lead to effects that do not occur in adults…"
In other words, there is a substantial body of research that clearly demonstrates that children are not only more vulnerable to harm from exposures to various environmental factors but also can have more serious and different adverse effects than adults. This fact alone is enough to argue for caution where exposing children to electromagnetic radiation is concerned, but other epidemiological data regarding childhood cancers raise a red flag!
The "Pediatrics" article emphasizes:
"There is consistent evidence from epidemiologic studies of a risk of childhood leukemia associated with exposure to environmentally high levels of ELF magnetic fields.
It is important to understand that this is no small matter. As the article goes on to note:
"Childhood leukemia is the most common form of cancer affecting children, accounting for between 25 percent and 35 percent of all childhood malignancies."
Moreover, the incidence of leukemia among children in the developed world, where there is a widespread presence of ELF magnetic fields is 4 per 100,000, fully 60 percent higher than in the developing world where such magnetic fields are less common. Also, the onset of leukemia in developed countries tends to be at an earlier age than in the developing world, again suggesting exposure to some initiating factor early in life, or even in the womb.
Brain tumors are is the second most common form of childhood cancer accounting for 20 percent of all childhood malignancies in developed nations. With this form of cancer the disparity between the developed and developing world is even greater. Shockingly, children in the developed world experience a brain cancer rate from 100 percent to 200 percent higher than in the developing world. It is particularly noteworthy that in recent years a sharp rise in the incidence of brain cancer in children in the United States, Great Britain, Australia and Japan has been noted. Some scientists insist that the perceived increase is really just a reflection of better diagnosis, but it is also the case that each of these nations has experienced a rapidly increasing amount of environmental ELF magnetic fields.
A matter of particular concern raised in the article is the prenatal exposure of children to RF and ELF fields.
"Exposures of interest during the preconception and gestation periods include residential and parental exposures to ELF and RF fields, including mothers' exposure from the use of domestic appliances and mobile phones."
For example, a pregnant woman carrying a cell phone in her handbag or on a belt clip can be inadvertently exposing her unborn child to ELF and RF radiation without knowing it. But even if this isn't the case, environmental ELF and RF "background" radiation generated by everything from radio and television broadcasts to mobile phone base stations make it virtually impossible to escape some degree of exposure. Nor is staying indoors an effective means of avoiding exposure. In the home, things such as wireless communications equipment ranging from cordless phones to "Wi Fi" computer connections to crib monitors all are sources of RF radiation.
So, too is using a mobile phone in close proximity to a child.
Stop for a moment and consider how often you have seen a mother talking on a cell phone with a child on her hip or an infant in a carrier. Without realizing it, these children are being exposed to RF radiation at a time when their bodies are most vulnerable to its effects.
But it doesn't end with infancy. In fact, the problem worsens. As "Pediatrics" noted:
"Infants and toddlers are exposed mostly at home or in day care facilities. Among preteens, exposure sources expand to include mobile phone use and sources at school, with an increased use of mobile phones in adolescence."
This increased mobile phone use by adolescents is a matter of particular concern, the article states:
"Modern children will experience a longer period of exposure to RF fields from mobile-phone use than adults, because they started using mobile phones at an early age and are likely to continue using them. Data from a multinational case-control study of potential causes of adult brain cancer show that both the prevalence of regular mobile-phone users and daily use are highest in the younger age groups (e.g. 90% of the younger subjects made calls for over 30 minutes a day, compared with 10% of older subjects). Moreover recent trends (such as increased popularity, reduced prices and advertising to children) have led to an increased mobile-phone use among children. A steep increase in mobile-phone ownership among children has been reported in several public-opinion surveys. For example in Australia over 90% of 6-to 9-year-olds reported sometimes using their parents' mobile phones, and in Germany approximately one-third of 9- to 10-year-olds reported owning a mobile phone. Clearly, mobile phones are the dominant source of RF exposure for teens and preteens."
The concern over this ongoing exposure to cell phone RF emissions arises from a number of factors. The first is what is termed the SAR or Specific Absorption Rate of today's cell phones. This is the term used to describe the amount of RF radiation that a user will be exposed to when operating a cell phone. Although so-called "safe" limits have been set for cell phone SAR values, "Pediatrics" notes:
"… the relative depth of penetration is larger for children, a logical consequence of smaller head diameter."
"… the SAR values and exposure variations for child models are similar to those for adults, although somewhat higher.."
In other words, adequate consideration of the difference in SAR for adults and children is not being taken. Most important is the failure to take into account the differences betweZen developing tissue and mature tissue that make children more vulnerable to adverse effects.
The article concludes:
"There is a need for dosimetric modeling of the distribution of SAR and temperature in children and also a requirement for appropriate age-related values for the dielectric properties of tissue."
As the conclusion notes, changes in tissue temperature are also an issue. RF radiation causes tissue to heat, (much as a microwave oven heats food) and it has long been established that heat can damage tissue. As with RF radiation, standards have been set for adults, with no consideration of the physiological differences in children.
But it is not just the actual use of a cell phone that may pose a heat or radiation hazard to children. Another concern is the effect of cell phone emissions during pregnancy. What many people do not realize is that the circulation of blood within a fetus is separate from the circulation of the blood within its mother's body. Therefore its ability to dissipate heat is less efficient than might be expected. Emissions from a cell phone carried in a purse or on a belt can affect a fetus at a time when it is most vulnerable to damage and least able to dissipate the heat generated by those emissions.
The "Pediatrics" article warns:
"Hyperthermia during pregnancy can cause embryonic death, abortion, growth retardation, and developmental defects. …In addition, young infants aged 2 to 3 months are even more vulnerable than neonates because of their higher metabolic rate."
While much uncertainty over the long term effects of our children's increasing exposure to RF and ELF radiation may exist, one thing is certain: the levels of exposure can only increase and that increase is likely to have some consequence. The only real question to be answered is just how severe that consequence will be.
For information on how you can protect yourself and your family from the dangers of cell phone radiation, visit: www.mybiopro.com/secondgeneration
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