Health impact of mobile and wireless devices

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Description:

Like all other radio communication applications, mobile phone technology uses radio waves to carry the information through the air. Radio waves are a kind of electromagnetic fields (EMF) that are also called radio frequency fields or radio frequency energy.

When a person is exposed to the radio waves from mobile phones or base stations, most of the energy will be reflected by the body or travel around it. Some of the energy will however be absorbed in the tissues at the surface of the body. Inside the body certain molecules, like water, will start to move or rotate due to the presence of the electromagnetic fields. By "friction" the energy is converted into heat. If the radio wave intensity is very high, the heating may be significant and potentially detrimental.

The specific absorption rate, SAR, is used to specify the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed in the body. SAR is expressed in the unit watts per kilogram (W/kg).


Enablers:

  • Growing number of mobile and wireless devices. The number of mobile and wireless devices are growing rapidly e.g. in the UK there were 4.5 million mobile phones in 1995 as opposed to 50 million in 2000 and worldwide mobile phone sales increased from .43 million in 2002 to .51 million in 2003.
  • Fairly recent widespread use of mobile phone technology.
  • The technology is developing at a pace that outstrips the analysis of potential impact on health.
  • Scientific data suggests that RF(radiofrequency) fields can interfere with biological systems.
  • Long term epidermiological studies haven't been carried out and evaluated due to the fact that the technology has not been in use that long.
  • Increase in acoustic neuromas in people in Sweden with more than 10 years mobile phone usage.
  • Recent findings suggested possible effects on brain function from use of 3G phones.
  • Populations are not homogeneous and people vary in susceptibility to environmental challenges.
  • Children are more susceptible to RF radiation because of their developing nervous system and a longer lifetime of exposure.
  • General public unaware of health effects.

Inhibitors:

  • Stricter exposure guidelines for the general public. Limits set at 50 times below level that could cause any health effects according to current research.
  • Use of headsets or handfree devices to limit exposure to RF radiation
  • Audit of base stations especially those located in busy areas.
  • Standard testing procedure for acceptable SAR values.
  • Inclusion of comparative data on SAR levels of mobile phones by some retailers.
  • Ongoing and planned research programmes e.g. MTHR programme

Paradigms:

The mobile phone industry is fast growing and we are becoming more and more dependent on these technologies. However, use of this technology may possibly pose a health hazard. More and more research is going into this area because of the wide spread use of this technology especially among our children. Public awareness of the health issues surrounding devices that emit RF radiation is also growing.

Experts:

Mobile phone manufacturers, biologists


Timing:

  • In 1998, ICNIRP created guidelines for public exposure to radiofreqency radiation.
  • Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones(IEGMP) setup in 1999.
  • In May 2000, IEGMP published report that recommended a cautionary approach to the use of mobile phones until more conclusive evidence could be found.
  • In September 2001, the European Committee for Electrical Standardisation (CENELEC) published a standard testing procedure for the measurement of specific energy absorption rate (SAR) from mobile phones. Information on all phones marketed in the UK, using this standard testing procedure, is now available.


Web Resources: