Is prolonged use of mobile phones dangerous in itself – can mobile phone radio waves harm people? We know from scientific studies that using a handheld mobile phone whilst driving is very dangerous which is why many countries rightly ban it.
However, some research suggests that even using a handsfree mobile phone whilst driving is also pretty dangerous – possibly as much as if the driver was over the legal alcohol limit. Yet hands-free mobile phone use whilst driving is legal and tolerated which seems a strange anomaly – the cynic in me would suggest that politicians and their masters of the universe chums baulked at not being able to run their office out of their limos…
Perhaps the greatest scientific conundrum is whether prolonged use of mobile phones is dangerous to health? On the one hand the mobile phone industry is a global juggernaut (forecast to have a value of over $200 billion in 2011) which spews out data ‘proving’ no correlation between mobile phone use and harm to humans.
On the other hand we have scientific reports (at least the ones not funded by the mobile phone industry!) that associate mobile phone use with harmful effects – an example is this month’s Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly report [PDF download]:
“A report drawn up by 14 scientists of international standing who concurred, regarding mobile telephony and other radio frequencies, as to abnormally high incidence of brain tumours and acoustic neuroma, effects on the nervous system and cerebral functions, and effects on genes, cell stress proteins and the immune system.”
Sounds scary but the same report notes that in yet another study there was some disagreement amongst the scientists: “the study did not reveal an increased risk, but one could not conclude that there was no risk because there were sufficient results suggesting a possible risk.”
Clear as mud isn’t it?
Particular concern is raised in the report about the relatively short length of the studies (less than 10 years) whereas if mobile phones do cause things like brain tumors they would likely take 20+ years to develop. Also worrying is the fact that the research subjects were adults, not teenagers/children who are currently the biggest users [of mobile phones] and in whom absorption of the mobile phone radiation may be greater and more problematic.
Our view is that the risks are not proved conclusively either way but we err on the side of caution – we do use mobile phones, but sparingly. We treat with extreme caution any research sponsored by a $200bn industry justifying itself – tobacco industry anyone? The independent research is perhaps inconclusive but necessarily so at this stage as another 10 to 20 years may be needed to produce absolute results as to whether mobile phones are harmful or safe – or even whether there is a safe upper limit of use.
Regarding mobile phones for children, our views may be seriously ‘uncool’ in a world which thinks that children need to have a mobile phone glued to their ear and be contactable 24 hours a day but we would simply remember our own childhood as follows:
“We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
No one was able to contact us all day.
And we were OK.”
Says it all really.