On September 6, 2018, residents of a city just north of San Francisco voted unanimously to block installation of a small 5G cell phone tower in their town. In the wake of the news, questions about the safety of cell phone technology have bubbled up across the country. The pushback from the citizens in California hinges on one central concern: do cell phones and wireless technology cause cancer?
Our cell phones connect us to friends, family, coworkers, and the world of entertainment that we crave. Whether we wear it tucked into our belt, purse, or pocket, cell phones have become an everyday accessory that we don’t leave home without. Wireless technology did not exist on the day I was born, but within a few short decades, it has become the norm.
Cell phones and all other wireless devices emit radiation, yet most of us prefer not to think about what that means for our health. Because wireless technology is so new (in the grand scheme of humankind), only now are we beginning to see studies on the long-term effects of exposure. The results of those studies are sobering. One of the most overlooked and ignored threats to human health in the 21st century may be in your pocket or the palm of your hand.
What is 5G?
For residents in California, the cell tower in question was a 5G tower—the newest generation of wireless technology. Cell phone communication was first made possible with first-generation technology in the 1980s, and then 2G technology made cell phones more efficient and secure. 3G technology brought us smartphones, and 4G/LTE boosted speeds to allow for hand-held video streaming. The newest 5G technology promises to connect us in ways that have never been possible before—allowing for smart cities, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, and cell phones that work like supercomputers.
Is Cell Phone Safety Regulated?
For 5G technology to deliver on its promises, there will need to be cell towers and antennas placed every block and a half. Nearly a million installations will need to take place, forming a grid that will blanket our entire country. Local ordinances typically regulate these installations, but the wireless industry has already pushed legislation through more than 20 states that will allow 5G installation projects to bypass local, state, or environmental review.
When it comes to personal cell phone use, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set safety limits for radiation exposure. These safety limits are based on exposures at certain distances, which vary from device to device. Experts say that most people use phones closer to their bodies than what the FCC accounts for, which means that usual exposure exceeds the FCC safety limits.
Is Cell Phone Radiation Safe?
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and all wireless devices—whether on a 3G, 4G/LTE, or 5G network—all emit radiation. Most of the radiation is felt within a few inches and dissipates quickly with distance, but the radiation can penetrate most materials, including plastic, pillows, and clothes. Children who hold cell phones near their ear get a bigger dose of radiation than adults because of the thickness of their skulls.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic.” This classification leaves many questions unanswered because we just need more research. Wireless technology is so new that we do not yet know for sure what the long-term exposure effects will be.
The National Toxicology Program (a division of the National Institutes of Health) has a 25-million-dollar grant for a 10-year study to evaluate cell phone safety. The study is underway, but early results from animal studies show that cell phone radiation (comparable to typical exposure in humans) increases brain tumor rates.
The most extensive study of the long-term effects of cell phone exposure in humans is currently underway in Europe, headed by the Imperial College of London. The International Cohort Study on Mobile Phone Users (COSMOS) is conducting a study that will follow approximately 300,000 adult cell phone users in Europe for 20 to 30 years.
Connecticut and California have independently released public health warnings about cell phone usage. Although both states acknowledge limitations in the research, their warnings stem from scientific concerns that cell phone usage might be associated with increased risks for brain cancer, lower sperm count, headaches, and problems with learning, memory, behavior, and sleep.
How to Protect Yourself from the Health Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation
In their warnings about cell phone use, public health officials from Connecticut and California make some excellent recommendations to reduce your individual exposure to radiation. Here are a few of their suggestions:
- Keep phone calls short (less than 10 minutes)
- Text instead of call
- Use a speakerphone or hands-free headset when talking on the phone
- Carry your phone in a purse or backpack rather than in your pocket
- Don’t use your phone when the signal is weak or when in a fast-moving car, bus, or train (the phone needs to work harder and emits more radiation)
- Keep the phone away from your body when streaming, downloading, or sending large files (or better yet, download the video and then watch it in airplane mode)
- Keep your phone at least 1-2 feet away from you when you sleep
- Turn the phone off when you don’t need it
What About Radiation Shields?
Several products on the market claim to shield you from your cell phone’s radiation. Many of them block only certain types of radiation or even none at all. I have found a radiation shield that has been independently tested in an FCC-approved facility to block over 99% of radiofrequency radiation and 92% of extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation from electronic devices. It is called SafeSleeve. SafeSleeve offers cases not only for cell phones but for tablets and laptops as well. The cases are stylish, functional, and backed by a money-back guarantee.
Cellular technology is accelerating at break-neck speed to meet our desires for fast, reliable, and efficient connection to the infinite world of the internet. A handful of California residents stood up to the wireless industry in the name of their own health. Now we need to do everything within our power to protect ourselves from the dangers of persistent and long-term cell phone radiation.