It's time to take another look at cell phone radiation

editor's corner

I was pleased to see that the FCC launched an inquiry into cell phone radiation emission standards, not because I have an opinion regarding the current standards but, rather, because I don't.

Conspiracy theorists would disagree, but taken as a whole the overall collection of studies linking cell phones to health problems such as brain tumors remains inconclusive. However, I don't dismiss the idea that there may be a problem.

A good friend's husband passed away a few years ago from a fast-growing malignant glioma tumor that formed right above the ear where he routinely held his handset, and, being in sales, he had become a power user of the cell phone as soon as he could get his hands on one. His neurosurgeon at the time said he was seeing increasing numbers of these types of tumors and was convinced that they are caused by cell phone use.

On the other hand, brain cancer was knocking off people long before cell phones arrived on the scene. There are three main things I know about my Grandma Parker: She played the banjo, danced a mean Charleston and died of a brain tumor during the 1950s in California, which is why I never got to meet her. If she had died 50 years later, her neurosurgeon probably would have blamed her cell phone.

The ongoing debate over perceived health effects from cell phones reminds me of an episode of 20/20 (if it wasn't 20/20, it was a similar investigative news show) that aired sometime in the late 1970s-early 1980s. The episode focused on health risks caused by uranium mill tailings in my hometown of Grand Junction, Colo., where the tailings were widely used during the 1950s and 1960s as fill dirt.

As I recall the episode, several people who had moved to the town in the 1970s came down with various cancers such as leukemia and were blaming it on exposure to gamma radiation and radon gas emitted by the mill tailings. One scene filmed on Main Street addressed how the entire downtown area registered high radiation readings. The camera crew filmed the scene near the front door of my father's business.

Around that time, folks from the federal government showed up at my parents' house and told them they would be digging up and replacing all of the sidewalks on their property as well as the entire driveway because the original concrete had been mixed with radioactive uranium mill tailings. I don't know if this "mitigation" actually reduced health risks from the tailings, but I do know the feds' contractor didn't get the sidewalk level near the front door. Every winter since, anyone coming and going slips and slides across the sheet of ice that forms in the indentation, which I would consider a major health risk on its own.

My dad lived in that house for 50 years and passed away last year at age 94. I'd say he did pretty well healthwise, but were his various aches, pains and illnesses over the years due mainly to the aging process or the gamma rays in the uranium mill tailings? Did the folks who moved to Grand Junction in the late 1970s develop their cancers due to exposure to the tailings or were their arrivals and subsequent cancer diagnoses simply unhappy coincidences?

As Ellen Degeneres would say, "My point…and I do have one" is this: We don't know the answers to those questions, just as we don't have the full story regarding the presence or absence of health effects stemming from mobile phone use.

The only way such questions will be answered is through lots of additional research. It's a long shot, but maybe some of the $100 million the Obama White House wants to commit to its Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative could find its way into addressing the handset-brain cancer debate.

I'd really like to see new research that also takes into account the real world usage of handsets, which these days are more often held in one's hand away from the body while the user plays games, checks in on social media or views videos. Intriguingly, if there ever actually were harmful brain effects caused by holding a handset to one's head while making a voice call, those might be mitigated by the evolution of the smartphone and its role in our lives.

But that's only conjecture, and that's why more research is needed.--Tammy

P.S. What do you think? Is there a need for additional research on the effect of RF radiation from cell phones on human health? Give us your response in the poll on our home page.