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Are cell phones harmful?; Film supports legislation - The Torch
Are cell phones harmful?; Film supports legislation

Are cell phones harmful?; Film supports legislation


In addition to many other Lane students on campus, freshman economics major Nabiela Ismail uses her cell phone outside Bristow Square.
Photo: August Frank
In addition to many other Lane students on campus, freshman economics major Nabiela Ismail uses her cell phone outside Bristow Square.Photo: August Frank

In addition to many other Lane students on campus, freshman economics major Nabiela Ismail uses her cell phone outside Bristow Square.
Photo: August Frank

The documentary “Mobilize” warns about cell phone radiation and supports legislation for labeling cell phones as potentially dangerous. The film, shown at Lane on Wednesday, May 27, was followed by a question and answer Skype session with director Kevin Kunze.

Approximately 25 people gathered for the event, the third in a series of events aimed to educate people about health and social justice regarding technology.

“Cell phone companies are telling customers in fine print how to use their cell phones in a safer way,” said film director Kevin Kunze, “yet they sued cities like San Francisco for wanting to make that safety information more accessible.”

The city of San Francisco dropped their ordinance mandating the labeling of cell phones, voted into law in Feb. 2010, when threatened by a $500,000 lawsuit from Cellular Telephone Industries Association in May of 2013.

Recently the Berkeley, Calif. city council ignored the San Francisco lawsuit and voted to enact a “Right to Know” ordinance on May 12 this year — forcing cell phone retailers to provide information about cell phone safety on packaging and with a separate flyer included with every cell phone purchase. The ordinance aims to highlight the fine print that is already written into the language of cell phone contracts.

“… Nearly every cell phone manual includes fine-print information about radiation exposure, and the safer ways in which people can use their phones,” Kunze says in “Mobilize.”

Oregon currently has two similar bills proposed, House Bill 3351 which requires specific labeling on cell phone packages, and House Bill 3350 forcing the Department of Education to issue a formal statement which discloses the potential health risks of cell phones.

Electromagnetic fields are everywhere in the environment. They contain both an electrical and magnetic component. EMFs are present naturally from atmospheric changes, the earth’s magnetic field and the sun. In general, humans cannot detect EMF with the exception of visible light, which is part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

EMF outside of the visible spectrum has been utilized for X-rays, military weapons, radio, microwaves, cell phones, and more.

Cell phones use the existing radio frequency spectrum at relatively low levels to transmit and receive data to and from cell towers, bluetooth devices, Wi-Fi hotspots and GPS satellites. Data is layered through the manipulation of the frequency and amplitude of waves.

The Federal Communication Commission’s current safety guidelines for safe radio frequency energy levels, established in 1996, are based on a measurement called the Specific Absorption Rate. SAR is the highest measurement of the energy absorbed by a human-like dummy from cell phone emissions. In order for a cell phone to pass FCC standards and be sold in the U.S., it must have a measurable SAR below a safe level.

According to the FCC this does not take into account the rate at which data is transmitted over time, power fluctuations within cell phones nor different positions in which a particular device may be held to the head.

Debate revolves around whether or not the SAR standard is an adequate measure of the potential danger of routine, continual cell phone usage.

“It is not disputed that electromagnetic fields above certain levels can trigger biological effects …” states the World Health Organization’s web page on EMF, “ … The current debate is centered on whether long-term low level exposure can evoke biological responses and influence people’s well being.”

It is commonly accepted that high energy EMF, such as X-rays and gamma rays damage DNA. The issue with the radiation from cell phones is that the energy released is so small that measuring the effects has produced varying results in the scientific community. Many researchers claim that cell phone EMF is not powerful enough to directly damage DNA, therefore it cannot be carcinogenic.

“Mobilize” claims the opposite. Sources quoted in the movie say that over time, low-level EMF exposure may create biological effects. Even mundane things like eating a spicy chili-pepper create slight, but measurable biological effects in the body.

In the movie CTIA representative Gerard Keegan says, “It puts cell phones on par with coffee and pickled vegetables.” Kunze commented that statements like Keegan’s made by lobbyists for the cell phone industry are misleading.

The film claims that the burden is on cell phone companies to prove that their product is safe.

“It should be, but it’s not,” said Lane Instructor Karin Almquist, who helped organize the event. “It’s the other way around.” Science is tasked to show that there is a link between the measurable biological effects from EMF and actual harm to people.

“There’s a handful of studies that have looked at ten years or more of cell phone use,” says David Servan-Schreiber, Ph.D., M.D. in the film, “… these studies all find roughly a doubling of the risk of brain tumors, on the side in which people have been using their phones.” The movie also presents research that suggests that long term exposure to low-level EMF from cell phones can reduce fertility in males.

These claims are not conclusively backed by the scientific community at large.

“Mobilize” claims that media reporting and scientific reports on the potential risks of low-level EMF is biased because of advertising revenue and funding by cell phone companies, which comprise an almost $200 billion-a-year business.

In 2011 the WHO officially classified EMF from cell phones as a “class 2B possible carcinogen.” Other countries, including Israel, Canada and Russia already warn against cell phone use, especially by children who studies show are more susceptible to radiation. In January of this year, the French government passed legislation regulating EMF that, among other things, prohibits Wi-Fi in day care centers.

“Mobilize” proposes that citizens minimize the potential dangers of EMF by supporting legislation requiring warning labels, such as the House Bills currently proposed in Oregon.

People can take precautionary steps, such as turning off cell phones at night, not carrying phones on the body but in holsters or bags, limiting children’s cell phone usage, using headsets or speakerphones and holding phones further from the head.

Vince Chhabria, J.D., one of the speakers in the movie said “if they [people] receive this information, of course they are still going to use their cell phones … but they are going to use their cell phones in a different and safer way.”

Elaine Weiss, retired Lane instructor, said that the showing was great. “It should be shown more widely,” Weiss said.

The event was co-sponsored by the Lane Peace Center and the UO Cultural Forum.





EMF — Electromagnetic field
SAR — Specific Absorption Rate
FCC — Federal Communications Commission
CTIA — Cellular Telephone Industries Association
WHO — World Health Organization