Does Radiation From Cell Phones Pose Health Risks?

Source:  Does Radiation From Cell Phones Pose Health Risks?    Tag:  radiation physics books
August 14, 2007
Does Radiation From Cell Phones Pose Health Risks?
By Mary Stuart

Research for the 21st Century : Summer 2007 WAOL Course

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)


Nature of Topic

Cordless telephones, cell phones, wireless Internet access, LANs (local area networks) and WANs (wide area networks) are wireless communication technologies that rely on transmitted radio frequencies. Businesses and individuals are increasingly dependent on these forms of radio communications. Cities are creating “wide area networks” WANs for computer access without dialup. Advances in the technology are constant, making it more affordable and more widely available. Responding to increased demand, radio frequencies are broadcast over more and more regions, particularly within and near dense urban populations. It is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide use cellular phones. The miracle of radio communications has become an integral part of contemporary life world wide.

This research investigates whether increased exposure to radio frequencies poses health concerns. In order to better understand the topic, some basic understanding of what electromagnetic fields are, how exposure occurs, whether the frequency spectrum matters, and what about the technology of the devices is significant?

Topic Analysis

Academic Disciplines

The following disciplines offered the most insight and information for my particular approach to this topic.

Physics – electromagnetism; Computer Communications; Radio and Television Broadcasting, Wireless Communications Equipment; Cellular and Other Wireless Telecommunications; Medical and Physical Sciences Research

Library of Congress Subject Headings

The following subject headings were most helpful in searching for books in library catalogs:

Physics: Acoustics, Radiation Physics (General), Electricity and Magnetism, Radioactivity
Medicine: Cytology, Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Public Aspects of Medicine
Electrical Engineering: Electronics Nuclear Engineering
Telecommunication including telegraphy, telephone, radio, radar, television


The following key terms were most helpful in identifying relevant information from online databases and reference book indexes:
Cell phones
Cellular phones
Electromagnetic radiation
Extremely low frequency (ELF)
Health aspects
Radio frequencies
Wireless communications

Most Important Databases and Periodical Indexes include URL?
Academic Search Premier

Description of experience using subject headings and keywords.

Subject headings proved useful if I was careful in choosing which term in which database, but I found them less useful than keywords combinations due to the large number of results returned. Searches for relevant books helped revise the subject heading list.
I found that some words have overlapping meaning in physics and can be used interchangeably: radiation, frequencies, field, wavelength. But when it came to search terms, modifying the terms provided a very different tone of results. For example, a Google search using “EMF radiation” provides results that target fears. The results are more sensational than scientific. “ELF radiation” provides a similar number of results, but these results are nearly exclusively scientific.


Articles in Reference Books


Mitcham, Carl, ed. “Radio Frequencies: Radio Spectrum as a Limited Natural Resource.” Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Vol. 3. New York: Thomson Gale. 2005. 1571.

This article explains data transmissions per frequency bandwidth. It discusses transmission capabilities of various regions of the radio spectrum. The article is illustrated to show spectrum frequencies, and a bibliography is included at the end of the article. While none of the subject encyclopedias on wireless communications include information on exposure limitation guidelines or potential health issues from exposure, I chose this subject encyclopedia because among the many subject encyclopedias that deal with wireless communications technologies, this is the only encyclopedia among them written for the layperson rather than the electrical engineer.

Fritzsche, Hellmut. “Electromagnetic Radiation." Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica. Seattle Central Community College Library. 21 July 2007

Hellmut Fritzsche is Louis Block Professor of Physics at University of Chicago, and coauthor and editor of Advances in Disordered Semiconductors (2 vol.) The article is a thorough introduction to the entire spectra of electromagnetic radiation. As an encyclopedia entry the work targets laymen, yet does not dumb down information. An historical overview of pertinent scientific discoveries and equations is included as is relevant. Health risks are specifically mentioned in the section on radio frequencies: extremely low frequencies are associated with increased risk of certain cancers, particularly in children. This article is well organized, packed full of information, and I will certainly use this in my research.


U.S. National Research Council. Committee on the Possible Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Biologic Systems. Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric and Magnetic Fields. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997.

The National Research Council is comprised of scientists from the National Academy of Sciences and U.S. Department of Energy. With the intention of determining whether there is scientific basis for concern of health risk, the authors reviewed research on effects from exposure to electric and magnetic fields. This is an ebook available through SCC Library. I found it searching the library catalog with the search term ”electromagnetic field health aspects.”

Carlo, George L., ed. Wireless Phones and Health II New York: Springer, 2002.

Dr.Carlo is Chairman of the Science and Public Policy Institute, a non governmental organization that concerns itself with public health and environmental issues. They review national health policy, conduct research, and work to inform the public. The Safe Wireless Initiative was created by this group. This book was actually given to me by someone. I chose to include this book over others I found through searching library catalogs, because this is more recent than any I found in library collections. For this topic, currency is important because the technology is being made safer in response to findings of early studies and resultant public concerns.

The books I found in Week 3 focus on the technology itself. While they are excellent resources for understanding wireless communications technology, and helped me quite a bit in this regard, the books listed here address the issue of health impacts by that technology.


Berg, Gabriele, Joachim Schüz, Florence Samkange-Zeeb, and Maria Blettner. “Assessment of Radiofrequency Exposure From Cellular Telephone Daily Use in an Epidemiological Study: German Validation Study of the International Case-control Study of Cancers of the Brain-INTERPHONE-Study.” Journal of Exposure Analysis & Environmental Epidemiology May 2005: 15.3. Academic Search Premier. Seattle Central Community Coll Lib. July 30, 2007

The authors are epidemiologists at the School of Public Health, University of Bielefeld, and at Institute for Medical Biostatistics, University of Mainz. This study compares cumulative emitted power from cell phones with number of calls and call duration. The study found that cumulative power emitted could be estimated from the number of calls made per phone. This highly technical study provides useful background information for my research.

Hardell, L, K.H. Mild, M. Carlberg. “Case-Control Study on the Use of Cellular and Cordless Phones and the Risk for Malignant Brain Tumors” International Journal of Radiation Biology. 2002, 78.10. 931-936. Academic Search Premier. Seattle Central Community Coll Lib. July 30, 2007

Authors are oncologists at Obrero Medical Center and at Obrero University, Sweden. This is one of the definitive studies that confirmed health risks from cell phone use. Frequency spectrums are noted. “Conclusion: The ipsilateral use of an analogue cellular phone yielded a significantly increased risk for malignant brain tumours.” This highly technical article illustrates the real concerns associated with exposure to radio frequencies through cell phone and cordless phone use.

These studies by independent researchers show that indeed there are health effects from exposure to electromagnetic frequencies associated with cell phones. I chose these articles because the researchers were not associated with the cell phone industry. These articles were accessed through Academic Search Premier via Seattle Central Community Library.

Evans-Pughe, Chris. “Phones and Health –the Science.” IEE Review. May 2003. 49.5 Academic Search Premiere. Seattle Central Community Coll Lib. July 30, 2007

The author is a science and technology journalist. The language is free of cumbersome jargon. This article points out difficulties in designing a study, and cites many studies that failed to reproduce results of earlier studies due to design flaws. This article is useful in that it helps define the fulcrum points of arguments pleading that research is inconclusive. I chose this article because it published in the professional journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

Al-Khamees, Nedaa. “A Study in Kuwait of Health Risks Associated with Using Cell Phones.” College Student Journal, Mar 2007:41.1 Academic Search Premiere. Seattle Central Community Coll Lib. July 30, 2007

The author is an instructor at the College of Education, Kuwait University. The target audience is broad, so language reflects this. This very large population study lists symptoms associated with cell phone use. Length of call time is a significant factor. In conjunction with the German Study, this study strongly reiterates health effects from cell phone use. Includes extensive bibliography and table of findings. I included this study because it links a variety of health issues with exposure to cell phone use.

Internet Sources

U.S. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Cellular Telephone Use and Cancer: Questions and Answers. 8 May 2007. 3 Aug 2007

This website is useful because it provides clear background info on radio frequencies in language that is easy to understand. Point by point, the various areas of concern regarding possible health effects of cell phone use are addressed. I found this site through the search engine Dogpile, using the search phrase “cell phone cancer.” I chose this site for the Pathfinder because it is the National Institute of Health. The site provides selected reference articles, has links to related online publications, as well as contact information.

World Health Organization Electromagnetic Fields.23 May 2007. 3 Aug 2007

The World Health Organization is concerned with protecting public health. Sponsored by the United Nations, “WHO provides leadership on global health matters,” sets standards, research agendas, policy, and assists countries in “monitoring and assessing health trends.” Who takes responsibility for “setting norms and standards, shaping the health research agenda, articulating evidence-based policy options, and providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.” This illuminating perspective is the most clear and thorough explanation I have encountered so far. It provides contrast to the bulk of information that implies risk while concurrently conceding studies provide no conclusive evidence of real hazard.

Non-print Alternative Sources

Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy and the Wireless Revolution. Kelley, Libby, CWTI, and EON International, (Co-producers). DVD. Council on Wireless Technologies. 2001

This film was created by a citizen activist group that counts concerned scientists among its members. The film explores risks associated with radio frequencies used in wireless technologies. Using interviews, an international group of independent researchers express their opinions. One . Among those interviewed: a researcher is from the Karolinska Institute; a former Ericsson engineer who developed electrical hypersensitivity after working with electromagnetic radiation; a New Zealand researcher whose research showed that electromagnetic radiation increases cell death rates. His extensive research on this topic him to conclude that there is no safe exposure threshold. This film won the "Globalization" award at the Santa Cruz Earth Vision Film Festival in 2001. In 2003 it was shown at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. For the Pathfinder, film adds a dimension of visual interest. Researchers’ expressing their opinions through interviews adds a dimension of human intimacy to an otherwise abstract realm of physics.

Summary of My Research Process

The first idea was to compile a list of what electromagnetic frequencies are and how exposure occurs. I expected subject encyclopedias to explain what electromagnetic frequencies are, but the very best source I found to explain electromagnetic frequencies among many many sources was Encyclopedia Britannica Online. The article from Britannica Online provided the crucial information framework from which to understand and evaluate articles and scientific research I encountered throughout the research process. Because of this, I consider it the singularly most useful article among all I found.

Strategy for finding information was a process of guessing keywords and keyword combinations. I discovered that some databases have dedicated keywords. Opening the suggested keyword link brought another opportunity to sift through information.

In the Pathfinder, I sought to represent information, interpretations, and representations of why conclusions were drawn leading to one or another perspective.

I expected research articles and books to provide information on the health controversy. Unfortunately, books on the topic of health hazards are all ancient in contrast to the technology. Published studies were a different matter. Initially, I poo-poo’d the older articles and studies, thinking technological changes (like improving antenna design and placement) made them irrelevant. But after reading through the older studies, I see the development of the situation: that indeed there is (and has always been) concern about ionizing radiation, that the spectrum of radio frequency used by cell phones falls within the microwave spectrum, so this is an inescapable conundrum. Even cordless phones have been found to be causative factors in brain tumors. Another reason for headsets! This topic becomes deeply technical very rapidly.

My Google inspired Pavlovian reflex to expect immediate clickable search results caused me to respond with disappointment when investigating virtual libraries. Virtual libraries required so much continued mining after the initial search, I felt they provided the least usable results among all the search methods I explored. Periodicals provided a large quantity truly excellent results in the form of published studies.

As the topic is based on radiation physics, I relied on authoritative sources. I found several sources from governmental and international public health agencies. To represent these, I chose one book and two websites. For the periodical articles, I chose published research studies over articles from newspapers and magazines. Both ProQuest and Academic Search Premier have records of published scientific research.

The Internet provided multiple excellent sites. I also chose to omit several national organizations that concern themselves with public health, such as OSHA, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Environmental Health, as well as seven international public health organizations that focus on this topic. While the information from these sites is excellent, it becomes redundant. I chose these few as representative viewpoints. For this topic, the Internet alone suffices to provide comprehensive information. All angles can be discovered through the Internet. Up to the last minute of writing this in checking and rechecking keywords I continue to find powerful material.

All the independent research I found shows or strongly suggests that the added radiation exposure from radio frequencies, whether from cell phones, cordless phones, computers, or even iPods is an additional exposure that could contribute to a variety of health complaints. More frequent exposures and longer duration of exposure increases risk.

Through GODORT, the assignment to review “what’s missing,” and further research, I found that governmental, regulatory, national and international public health agencies maintain the stance that the research is not conclusive, and that the results of health complaints, particularly cancers, fall within normal human variation.