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The warning in your smartphone

11 Dec 2015

Food for Thought - Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA)

By Anna Young-Ferris

When a mobile device is switched on, it is constantly pulsing an electromagnetic and radiation-laden signal. As it is common practice to keep our smartphone in a pocket and then answer it holding it close to your head, the human body is absorbing this radiation with the potential to damage living cells in our bodies. Unfortunately, the current standard for acceptable levels of radiation exposure from mobile devices is nearly two decades old and is set based on outmoded measure of what it takes to heat a large adult male brain.

Before settling into this article, select “Settings” on your iPhone. Click “General”. Click “About”. Scroll to the very bottom and click “Legal”. Click “RF Exposure”. There you will find a warning about Radio Frequency (RF) or Electromagnetic Field (EMF) exposure - or more bluntly radiation – and guidance about how to reduce exposure to the radiation emitted from your smartphone:

“Use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories,” it says. “Carry your iPhone at least 5-10mmm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as tested levels.”

US based epidemiologist Dr Devra Davis recently had delegates to a Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) conference undertake the same exercise. Like most of us, many of those in the audience had only vaguely heard of or felt any concern about radiation exposure from smartphones or microwaves. Few, if any, really understood the ramifications and the biological effects of this obscure warning buried deep within your iPhone. These warnings might protect manufacturers from users, but sadly they do nothing to protect users from the potential risk of cancer, brain tumours, Alzheimers, learning disabilities, reproductive issues and other such issues. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked cell phone radiation, alongside lead and DDT, as possibly “carcinogenic to humans” back in 2011 and new scientific evidence in support of that position continues to mount. In terms of investment risk, EMF exposure has been dubbed the ‘tobacco’ of the next generation. Contingent liabilities that arise from the threat of litigation for smartphone manufacturers and service providers are one of the major investment risks. So much so that telco companies could be the next wave of ‘sin stocks’.

When a mobile device is switched on, it is constantly pulsing an electromagnetic and radiation-laden signal. As it is common practice to keep our smartphone in a pocket and then answer it holding it close to your head, the human body is absorbing this radiation with the potential to damage living cells in our bodies. Unfortunately, the current standard for acceptable levels of radiation exposure from mobile devices is nearly two decades old and is set based on outmoded measure of what it takes to heat a large adult male brain. But just consider even 10 years ago how different technology was and how few wireless networks and Wi-Fi hotspots there were compared to today. 10 years ago it was rare for child to be anywhere near a mobile phone. Now, it is commonplace for young children to have their own mobile, and an iPad might not be out of the question as a birthday gift. What’s more, young or old we are surrounded everywhere by invisible radiating EMFs.

There are a host of sceptics, but Davis and her counterparts argue the science simply cannot keep up with the growth in the volume of smartphone users - with more people in the world owning mobile phones than toothbrushes. Nor, with the magnitude of the long term biological effects of the invisible radiation being emitted from the wireless transmission devices and technology. Beyond cancer, there are smartphone related concerns with reproductive health, hearing, memory, sleep, and an array of subtle neurological consequences that are indicated in new research findings.  The long term effects on humans and particularly children where exposure is growing exponentially, are only starting to be uncovered and there is a lot that is simply unknown. It is these long term biological effects which are the focus of Davis research work at the Environment Health Trust, established in 2007.

Davis, who was a special appointee of President Clinton and part of the Al Gore climate change team that won the Nobel Prize in 2007, is particularly concerned about the RF exposure effects on our iPhone/iPad clad young toddlers and children because they absorb twice as much radiation as adults.  “Children’s skulls are thinner and tissues of a child’s head, including the bone marrow and the eye, absorb significantly more energy than those in an adult head” explains Davis, echoing concerns of the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2013, Dr Joel Moskowitz from the UC Berkeley and the Canadian Standing Parliamentary Committee on Health report of 2015. This potentially affects their brain development and damages DNA, generally believed to contribute to cancer growth and the host of other biomedical effects. A letter to the US Congress from the American Academy of Paediatrics expressed particular concern over cell and cordless phone induced cancer in children: 

“Children are disproportionately affected by environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation,” the letter said. “The differences in bone density and the amount of fluid in a child’s brain compared to an adult’s brain could allow children to absorb greater quantities of RF energy deeper into their brains than adults. It is essential that any new standards for cellphones or other wireless devices be based on protecting the youngest and most vulnerable populations to ensure they are safeguarded through their lifetimes.”

Davis and the Environmental Health Trust scientists are calling for major public educational programs to inform mobile phone users of the risks. They are urging Google to halt the introduction into schools of the wireless virtual reality system Global Expeditions Pioneer Program, which places two-way microwave radiation via a Smartphone directly in front of children’s eyes and brains. University of Utah Distinguished Professor Om Gandhi, one of the original developers of testing to evaluate wireless radiation from smartphones, noted, “We have never tested microwave radiating devices directly next to the young developing eye. The absence of proof of harm at this point does not mean that we have evidence of safety.” Simulations of radiation from these devices evaluated by former Founding Dean of the College of Engineering of University of Rio Grande in Brazil, Claudio Fernandez, indicate that exposure levels from wireless transmitting devices held right at the eye could easily exceed those tested on adults so far.  

New research about the effect of RF exposure during pregnancy is surfacing. The Baby Safe Project headed by Yale University Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Hugh Taylor MD PhD, includes more than 100 experts in public health. "Our research shows that pregnancy is a time of special vulnerability to Wi-Fi,” says Professor Suleyman Kaplan, Dean of Medicine of Ondokuz Mayis University Medical School in Samsun Turkey.

France and Belgium have passed laws restricting childrens’ access to mobile phones. In Belgium it is against the law to give a mobile phone to a child age seven years or younger.  France and Israel have removed Wi-Fi from schools of young children to discourage Wi-Fi use by youngest students.  France also has a National Institute on Non-Ionising Radiation Safety that provides detailed information and carries out research. Some states in the United States are campaigning for printed warning labels on the outside of the smartphone box rather than buried so deeply within the phone that is only possible to access, if at all, after purchase. Internationally, scientists who have collectively published over 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on the biological or health effects of non-ionizing radiation, have called on the UN to mandate Protection from Non-ionsing Electromagnetic Field Exposure (“The International EMF Scientist Appeal”). As of December 1, 2015, 217 scientists from 40 nations have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal.

As the scientific evidence of this radiation risk mounts, there is bound to be a rise in regulation that may curtail smartphone sales, impact service providers, and perhaps stymie the growth of the telecommunications industry more generally. Thus, responsible investors will be well placed to seek out opportunities and design solutions for low emitting radiation technology through the investment decisions they make. 

Recently, I have been informing colleagues, friends and family to: keep a distance between themselves and their phones when calling, text instead of call, not carrying their device near their body, switch the phone to airplane mode, especially if in the hands of children, and switch off wireless routers, especially when trying to sleep.

First published in Food for Thought - Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA)



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