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Cell phone and children: any risk?
8 april 2017
by Dr. Igor Yakymenko
According to the Einstein Healthcare Network’s survey, presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in April 2015, among American children younger than one year old, 36% have touched or scrolled a smartphone screen, 24% used smartphone for calls and 52% watched TV on a mobile device. As for older kids, Israel Today reported recently that 83% of Israeli children and adolescents aged 8–15 are in possession of a smartphone, and 93% of these children use their mobile devices for at least 4 hours every day. Maybe I am too optimistic, but I guess most parents have some dim idea that those microwaves from iPhone can be noxious in some way for their kids, but no one tells you exactly, they think. Wrong. Science exactly knows this type of radiation is harmful for kid’s organism. Let’s see the facts.
Fact #1: Cancer. From 2001 to 2010, scientists obtained univocal evidences that cell phone users have the significantly increased risk of brain tumors, acoustic neuroma and parotid (salivary) gland tumors on the same side of the head where the phone was usually used. Increased risk means, for example, 8 times more brain tumors in Swedish young adult users of cell phones as compared to the matched control population 1. See my post on this issue here.
Yes, we don’t have yet analytical data on children. It was some strange excuse about ethic issue from the World Health Organization. Some long-term International project is going on just now. But let me ask one stupid question. If we know that smoking and drugs are harmful for adults, do we expect it can be useful for kids? No, we only calculate how much more harmful they are for kids.
Fact #2: Dead neurons. Two respectful research centers in Europe and Asia presented studies, which demonstrated that just a few hour exposure of young lab rats to cell phone radiation led to a death of some part of its brain neurons during couple of months. It was about 2% of dead neurons in one study with two hour exposure 2, and up to 15% of some part of brain shrinking in the other study with 28 hour exposure 3. The researchers literally concluded, “These neuronal damage may not have immediately demonstrable consequences, however, it may result in reduced brain reserve capacity that might be unveiled by other later neuronal disease or even the wear and tear of aging. We cannot exclude that after some decades of daily use, a whole generation of users may suffer negative effects, perhaps as early as in middle age.” By the way, that was stated yet in 2003 by professional research team of Swedish neurooncologists.
Fact #3: Unknown mechanisms’ myth. Some guys with particular business interests disseminate the idea: how can we think about risks of cell phone/smartphone radiation if we don’t know mechanisms of its biological activity. Twice wrong. First, if something hurts your kid but you don’t know, how does it mean it’s OK? Second, in fact, science knows the principle mechanisms of these effects. Recently, my colleagues and I have calculated that about a hundred of experimental studies over the world demonstrated significant oxidative stress in living cells under cell phone radiation exposure 4. The same oxidative stress, which is induced in living cells by ionizing radiation, smoking or toxic chemicals. It can damage DNA, lead to mutations and medical conditions. Prof. Henry Lai at the University of Washington yet in 1996 discovered that microwaves like those from cell phones and smartphones significantly damaged DNA in brain of lab animals 5. Later his data were confirmed in dozens of independent research. So, today scientists know a lot about those mechanisms. They know which enzymes and which reactions are activated under low intensity microwave exposure and how it can lead to diseases.
Fact #4: Kids are not small adults. Kids differ from adults not only in size of shoes and caps. They differ in anatomy and physiology. They are growing and most of their physiological systems are not formed yet. That is why kids are much more vulnerable to any harmful agents than adults. Say, under exposure to microwave, living cells in kid’s organism will accumulate damages of DNA faster than adults due to more frequent cells’ division. And oxidative stress in kid’s organism does not just depress a normal function of physiological systems. It depresses a normal formation of these systems. Do you feel a difference? In kid’s organism, a harmful agent has much more relation with the future.
Yet in 1996, Prof. Om Gandhy at the University of Utah demonstrated that while radiation from a cell phone kept near the ear penetrated into 10% of adult’s brain, but it covered 50% of 10-year old child’s brain and 75% of 5-year old child’s brain 6. It is logical because kids’ brains are smaller and their scull bones are thinner. Additionally, child’s tissues contain much more liquid than adults’ ones and absorb much more microwave energy. In 2010, researchers from Switzerland experimentally proved that every unit of child’s brain absorbs twice more microwave energy than adult’s brain. And child’s bone marrow absorbs 10 times (!) more microwaves than adult’s one 7. What is bone marrow? It is where child’s red blood cells and immune system’s cells are formed. And while safety limits for microwaves (good or bad) were elaborated for adult’s anatomy, they are just ten times less safe for kids than for adults.
Fact #5: Reaction of officials. Well, if it’s so harmful, why don’t we have any reaction of the officials? Actually, we have, but it’s only not adequate yet. Say, in 2011 the World Health Organization officially classified cell phone/smartphone radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans. They only didn’t do the next logical step and didn’t recommend any additional restrictions on microwave exposure from wireless devices.
Yet in 2000, the UK Department for Education has written a recommendations for head teachers in the country to pass on advice that children under 16 should only be allowed to use mobiles in emergencies. The letter included details of a research report of the Independent Experts Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), chaired by former government chief scientific adviser Sir William Stewart 8. By the way, after his report in the British Parliament, W. Stewart said to BBC reporter, that he would not allow using a cell phone to his two grandchildren, 2 and 4 years old, after all that scientific data. And that was yet 2000, when science knew much less on the issue than now. Since 2009, in France, anyone selling a cell phone to a child aged under 14 must be able to provide an accessory, headset or other, designed to reduce exposure of the head to microwaves. Similarly any cell phone related advertising must recommend the use of such an accessory device 9. Since 2014, in Belgium, new regulation for the sale of cell phones applies. The sale of cell phones that have been specially manufactured for children under 7s is prohibited. And the SAR value (level of exposure) has to be listed everywhere where cell phones are sold: in stores as well as for distance sales over the Internet 10. And finally, in the USA, the “right to know” ordinance in Berkeley unanimously voted by the city council in May 2015 is an excellent example, when cell phone retailers are required to post or hand out fliers warning customers of possible radiation exposure from the mobile devices.
So, what should we do just now? You know, official regulations always lag behind scientific data. Sometimes it lasts a couple decades or more. Tobacco, asbestos or PCBs are the examples. So we are in this situation with smartphone radiation right now. So you are on your own just now. As for me, the best tactic is practicing of precautionary principle. It means reduce the exposure of your kids as much as possible while waiting for better official regulations. The practical rules are rather simple and generally available kind of use cells less, only with wired earpieces and so on. The challenge is to apply them in everyday practice. See detailed practical advice on the issue in my free eBook.
Hardell, L., et al., Cellular and cordless telephone use and the association with brain tumors in different age groups. Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal, 2004. 59(3): p. 132-137.
Salford, L.G., et al., Nerve cell damage in mammalian brain after exposure to microwaves from GSM mobile phones. Environ Health Perspect, 2003. 111(7): p. 881-3; discussion A408.
Bas, O., et al., 900 MHz electromagnetic field exposure affects qualitative and quantitative features of hippocampal pyramidal cells in the adult female rat. Brain Res, 2009. 1265: p. 178-85.
Yakymenko, I., et al., Oxidative mechanisms of biological activity of low-intensity radiofrequency radiation. Electromagn Biol Med, 2016. 35(2): p. 186-202.
Lai, H. and N.P. Singh, Single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rat brain cells after acute exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. Int J Radiat Biol, 1996. 69(4): p. 513-21.
Gandhi, O., G. Lazzi, and C. Furse, Electromagnetic absorption in the human head and neck for mobile telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz. IEEE transactions on microwave theory and techniques, 1996. 44(10): p. 1884-97.
Christ, A., et al., Age-dependent tissue-specific exposure of cell phone users. Phys Med Biol, 2010. 55(7): p. 1767-83.
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