The connection between cell phone radiation and health risks is far from settled—but it’s strong enough that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has issued guidelines on how to minimize one’s exposure. Though phone manufacturers generally recommend certain behaviors around cell phones, like using the hands-free option or speakerphone, most people don’t look that far into the manual. Now, California issues official recommendations about how to reduce one’s risk, not of cell phone distraction, but of the radiofrequency energy they put out.
The concern emerges from studies that have hinted at a slightly increased risk for brain cancer and tumors of the acoustic nerve and salivary gland. Others have suggested lower sperm count and sperm quality in men, and various effects on learning and memory, headaches, and sleep for both sexes. But, as the report says, more work needs to be done to tease it all apart, and not all experts believe there’s reason for concern.
The public release of the guidelines came about in part because University of California researcher Joel Moskowitz had sued California for not making them public originally. Earlier this year, a judge ruled in his favor and the state was compelled to release a draft. This week, they released an updated and official version of the guidelines.
“The cellphone manufacturers want you to keep a minimum distance away from your body and you should find out what that distance is,” Moskowitz told local news station KCRA after the draft release earlier this year. “If you keep the device by your body you will exceed the safety limits provided by the FCC.”
Some of California’s recommendations are to:
- Keep the phone away from the body whenever possible. Carry it in a purse or briefcase instead of a pocket or bra
- Reduce cell phone use when the signal is weak (i.e., the phone shows only one or two bars), or if you’re in a fast-moving car or bus, since phones put off more radio frequency energy at those times
- Reduce the use of cell phones to stream audio or video, or to download or upload large files
- Keep the phone away from your bed at night, especially away from your head
- Remove headsets when you’re not on a call
- Avoid products that claim to block radio frequency energy. These products may actually increase your exposure.
“Although the science is still evolving, there are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Karen Smith in a statement. “We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults.”
Children and teens seem to be at a particular risk, she added, since their brains are still developing and more vulnerable to the radiation emitted by cell phones. “Children’s brains develop through the teenage years and may be more affected by cell phone use,” said Smith. “Parents should consider reducing the time their children use cell phones and encourage them to turn the devices off at night.”
The new recommendations may not come as a total surprise. The World Health Organization has classified radiation from cell phones a “possible carcinogen” since 2011, acknowledging that more research needs to be done. And long-term studies are underway. Whether other states will follow California in making guidelines will be interesting to see. Given the potential physical health risks, and the well-illustrated psychological risks associated with smartphones, it may be time to cut back on them where we can.