Cellphone Specific Absorbtion Rate: A Right To Know?


What do brain surgeons know about cellphone safety that the rest of us don’t?  Three years ago (2008), three prominent neurosurgeons told the CNN interviewer Larry King that they did not hold cellphones next to their ears. “I think the safe practice,” said Dr. Keith Black, a surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, “is to use an earpiece so you keep the microwave antenna away from your brain.”

Dr. Vini Khurana, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the Australian National University who is an outspoken critic of cellphones, said: “I use it on the speaker-phone mode. I do not hold it to my ear.” And CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon at Emory University Hospital, said that like Dr. Black he used an earpiece.

Along with Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s recent diagnosis of a glioma, a type of tumor that critics have long associated with cellphone use, the doctors’ remarks have helped reignite a long-simmering debate about cellphones and cancer.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, three large epidemiology studies since 2000 have shown no harmful effects. CTIA — the Wireless Association, the leading industry trade group, said in a statement, “The overwhelming majority of studies that have been published in scientific journals around the globe show that wireless phones do not pose a health risk.”

The F.D.A. notes, however, that the average period of phone use in the studies it cites was about three years, so the research doesn’t answer questions about long-term exposures. Critics say many studies are flawed for that reason, and also because they do not distinguish between casual and heavy use.

Cellphones emit non-ionizing radiation, waves of energy that are too weak to break chemical bonds or to set off the DNA damage known to cause cancer. There is no known biological mechanism to explain how non-ionizing radiation might lead to cancer.

But researchers who have raised concerns say that just because science can’t explain the mechanism doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. Concerns have focused on the heat generated by cellphones and the fact that the radio frequencies are absorbed mostly by the head and neck. In recent studies that suggest a risk, the tumors tend to occur on the same side of the head where the patient typically holds the phone.

In 2008, The American Journal of Epidemiology published data from Israel finding a 58 percent higher risk of parotid gland tumors among heavy cellphone users. Also, a Swedish analysis of 16 studies in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed a doubling of risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma after 10 years of heavy cellphone use.

Some doctors say the real concern is not older cellphone users, who began using phones as adults, but children who are beginning to use phones today and face a lifetime of exposure.

On 31st May 2011, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) released a World Health Organisation report classifying cellphone usage and electromagnetic fields in general, as a “possible carcinogen” to humans. For the past 10 years, there have been studies contradicting both sides of the argument. It seems science cannot agree, yet the neurosurgeons above are not willing to take their chances.

As if in anticipation of future findings, the city of San Francisco became the first city to file a law, called the “Cell Phone: Right-to-Know” ordinance, which requires compliance from larger retail chains by February of 2011, and all others by the start of 2012, to display a mobile phone’s Specific Absorption Rate: SAR at point of sale, which is used to indicate how much electromagnetic radiation is actually absorbed by a person when a phone is used.

The FCC already limits the maximum SAR rating for devices to 1.6 watts per kilogram, while in the European Union this limit is 2 watts per kilogram. It begs the question, if non-ionising radiation is completely harmless and non-interactive, why is there a limit?

Interestingly, RIM‘s Blackberry range have consistently strived to have among the lowest SAR ratings.

The FCC also provides a resource where users can look up the SAR rating of current models online. However, the CTIA claims that the City of San Francisco is stepping on the FCC’s toes in this matter, since the FCC claims that all cell phones sold in this country are within defined safe limits for SAR ratings. Hence, CTIA filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco over scare tactics.

Can the CTIA bully an entire city? Apparently so.

San Francisco has effectively dropped its cellphone radiation warning law this week by postponing it without a new enforcement date. The bill, which was to have required clear radiation levels posted next to phones in stores, had already been delayed twice and would have taken effect June 15. City Supervisor John Avalos explained to the Chronicle that the law was likely to come back but would have “somewhat less” information than originally planned, such as a guide to reducing radiation exposure.

Although not publicly discussed, insiders told the newspaper that the CTIA lawsuit against San Francisco was a factor in the change of heart.


Inconclusive or not, is this right? Would you trust your teenagers to the claims of the FCC?


At this stage, mobile phone usage is considered as possible a carcinogen as alcohol.

“Anything is a possible carcinogen,” said Donald Berry, a professor of biostatistics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. He was not involved in the agency’s assessment. “This is not something I worry about and it will not in any way change how I use my cellphone,” he said – speaking from his cellphone.

The report “means there is some evidence linking mobile phones to cancer but it is too weak to draw strong conclusions from,” said Ed Yong, head of health information at Cancer Research U.K. “If such a link exists, it is unlikely to be a large one.”





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Categories: Health, Medicine, Science, Technology

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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  1. San Francisco backtracks on cell phone radiation bill - October 30, 2011

    […] = ''; } More info…WHO: Cell phone use can increase possible cancer riskCellphone Specific Absorbtion Rate: A Right To Know?WHO: Cell phone use can increase possible cancer riskCellphone Specific Absorbtion Rate: […]

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