January 13, 2012
[00:00] Devra Davis
[01:43] What the FCC Says About Cell Phones
[04:19] Cell Phones In-Pocket and Cell Phones Not In-Pocket
[06:12] What Makes the Electromagnetic Radiation of a Cell phone So Different
[10:43] The Research Saying Cell Phones Don't Cause Brain Cancer
[15:19] The SAM and Cell Phone Radiation Exposure
[20:49] Insuring Against Cell Phone Radiation Damage
Ben: Folks, it's Ben Greenfield here, and I have on the call with me today Devra Davis. And besides being a triathlete and the winner of her age group over at the Washington DC Triathlon, Devra is a critically acclaimed author, she's written several books, and is also the president of the Environmental Health Trust, which is a nonprofit research and educational group that has among other things launched a global campaign for safer cell phone use in more than a dozen countries. And she actually lives over in Washington DC and recently wrote the book “Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry is Doing to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family”. Devra, thank you for coming on the call.
Devra: Well, thank you for having me, Ben. I look forward to it.
Ben: Well, this is a book that I have recently read and it's full of a great deal of very useful information. And what I'd like to start with, if we can, is what's actually written on the FCC website right now, which is what most people rely on for their cell phone advice, or at least what manufacturers rely on. It currently says that scientific evidence does not show a danger to any users of cell phones from radio frequency exposure, including children and teenagers. So, my question for you is is this true that there is no danger? And if so, is there any evidence to the contrary?
Devra: Well, what the FCC website says, as you pointed out, is that there is no evidence referring to confirmed cases of dead or sick people that are statistically significant. But in fact, if you read on in the FCC web site, they tell you things you can do to reduce your exposure. And they have a whole section on what steps I can take to reduce my exposure, and they say you can do what Environmental Health Trust has been advising for the past five years, which is use a headset, use speakerphone, and keep distance between your body and the phone. The reality is when they're talking about the lack of scientific evidence, they're referring only to human evidence. But as someone who's worked in toxicology and epidemiology for the past 35 years, I know that we have to look at all of the evidence. And there, what we have is the following: laboratory studies have taken samples of sperm from men and exposed half of the samples to cell phone radiation for just an hour or two, and the other half, not exposed at all. And at the end of this study done at the Cleveland Clinic and a similar study done at the Australia National Center for Biotechnology, the researchers found that these cell phone-exposed sperm died three times faster. And that's a very important finding and has been replicated in a number of other countries. Now, that's an experimental finding with human sperm. And that is the reason why we are working with a group called Mobile Wise in England another group called Radiation Research Trust on a campaign we call “Save the Males.”
Devra: Yes. Especially triathletes will keep their phone right in their front pocket of their shorts, which puts it right over their reproductive organs, which is a bad idea. In fact, if you go to our website, environmentalhealthtrust.org, you will find fine print warnings from the phone companies themselves, the Blackberry, the iPhone 4S says if you keep it in your pocket, you can exceed the FCC exposure guidelines.
Ben: Well, what about those of us who really don't keep our cell phones in our pocket? I know that I personally don't and many of my friends don't. I mean, is there anything that we need to worry about, other than sperm? I mean, do women need to worry? Do people who never put their cell phones in their pockets need to worry? Or is this just a concern for guys who want to have babies?
Devra: Well, first of all, it's not just guys who want to have babies, it's your overall health that's involved. There have been studies on the weakening of the hip bone with people who keep devices chronically at the hip. But indeed, there are concerns about the brain and those concerns come from, again, laboratory studies, some clinical studies, and some epidemiological studies. Let's talk about the laboratory studies first. We are doing work now with researchers in Bratislava and Vienna, exposing brain cells to cell phone radiation using a computer to simulate the cell phone exposure. And we are finding, as other scientists have found in other studies, significant damage to the DNA inside the brain cells. So, we're causing damage to brain cells from cell phone radiation. Other work has shown effects on hearing, effects on metabolism of glucose in the brain, and all of these things together, experimentally, suggest that you're having a profound biological impact from cell phone exposure. And again, the solution is to keep the phone away from close contact to the body. So, not directly next to the head and not directly in the pocket.
Ben: So, in terms of how that cell phone radiation is any different than other electricity that we come into contact with, I think that's something that would be important to discuss. Because, obviously, I'm surrounded by electricity. I'm by a computer right now and I drive a car that has electricity in it, and my home has electricity surging through it. I listen to an MP3 player and that has electricity. How is the cell phone any different in terms of the effect that it has on the body?
Devra: Well, there's a spectrum of the electromagnetic frequency that goes all the way from the things that power your light bulb or your computer to cosmic rays. That's all part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Much of it is invisible and much of it is relatively harmless. X-rays, at the extreme, of course, cause damage because they are ionizing and they can break the bonds of chemicals that hold things together. Cell phones are a form of microwave radiation. They use the same frequency as a microwave oven, more or less, but they use less than 1,000ths as much power. So, a microwave oven needs a thousand watts of power to boil cup of water in a minute or so. A cell phone uses less than one watt of power, much less than one watt of power, and you may be using it though for thousands of minutes a month, and that is why we are concerned about its long-term impact. The impact of a cell phone has nothing to do with its power, and that's one of the things that's made it very difficult for people to understand because it is weak, so how could it have an effect? The impact of cell phone radiation may come about from the erratic nature of the signal. It's a pulsed signal. It's a digital pulse signal. It's like on and off, on and off. And not necessarily in a regular pattern, but an irregular pattern.
And so, it maybe not the power density of the phone, but its intermittence. It’s discontinuous nature. Bodies and cells like predictability, something smooth and humming along, a steady pace when you're running, that brings us along. But if you suddenly had to sprint and stop, and sprint and stop, well, as you know, that builds power. But it also, in terms of our cellular function, may cause damage. And the evidence for that is growing, again, experimental evidence for the most part, but there are human studies. Just this week, a new study was produced by Elizabeth Cardiff, one of the world's top experts in this field who set up the World Health Organization study on cell phone radiation. And her new study shows that just seven years of regular use, of heavy regular use of a cell phone significantly increases the risk of a malignant tumor of the brain called glioma. And this is very important because the study's done by members of the World Health Organization team that set up one of the largest studies in the world on this. And it's, again, indicating where we have the data, and we don't often have it, that long term regular use of cell phones is associated with a significant increase in brain tumors.
Now, it's important to understand that we do not have a brain tumor epidemic in the United States yet, and we don't want to wait for one to happen. The reason I wrote my book Disconnect, the reason why Environmental Health Trust is moving along as it is is because I spent much of my career working on the hazards of tobacco and asbestos, things that nobody doubts are hazard. But when I worked at the National Academy of Sciences looking at tobacco and asbestos, I noted that it took us more than 10 years to move along on the issue. And if you look at the increased lung cancer patterns that we saw until very recently and you look at the problems of the terrible disease associated with asbestos called mesothelioma, you see that we could have avoided a lot of the damage if we'd only acted sooner.
Ben: So, there are very large studies though, aren't there, that have kind of shown that cell phone radiation doesn't cause brain tumors. I mean, last year or a couple years ago, I saw a headline that said something along the lines of “researchers conclude that cell phones don't cause brain cancer” or something like that. It was all over the newspapers. I think it was last year or the year before. But what's going on there? I mean, that sounds like it's a big study? It was announced all over the place.
Devra: Well, it does sound like a big study. But let me tell you a little bit about it. And I've published about this in the British Medical Journal online, and you can find references to that at our website, environmentalhealthtrust.org. This large study that has repeatedly been recycled started out with about 700,000 people who used a cell phone from 1993 to about 1997. Very few people used cell phones back then. It defined someone as a cell phone user if they had a subscription to a cell phone, but it threw out about a quarter million people who were business users. It threw out the people who used the phone for business purposes who would have been, of course, the heaviest users. And it did that because they said they couldn't be sure that they were really using it just for one person in the business or maybe two people shared it. Now, if you had a cell phone back in 1993, you didn't share it. It was a big status item. At that point, about 3% of the population might have had a cell phone. This is ancient history. They then followed these people up in time. But over time, what's happened is that now about 100% of us have cell phones. This study only looked at the original cell phone users and never added new people in who were using cell phones later on who, like you and me, are using them much more. So, it basically compares the risk of people who signed up early to get a cell phone with the risk of people who used it more later on, but called them non-users. So, you see, they defined a user in a very questionable way. And of course, they find no risk at all. Now, the reality is that study did find no risk. But here's the kicker: brain cancer is a disease with many different causes that in the population, can take 40 years before there's an increase in it due to a general exposure.
Let me explain why, and all of this is on our website at environmentalhealthtrust.org. When the bombs dropped toward the end of World War II, releasing ionizing radiation, the population of survivors has been followed now for some 60 years, and there was no increase in brain cancer at all until 40 years after the bomb had dropped. That means the latency, the amount of time it can take for brain cancer to show up in the general population is 40 years. So, of course, we don't see anything now because even five years ago, our patterns of use of cell phones were different. The good news is more people are texting and talking less. And of course, most phones are not very good for talking. I mean, the quality is not great. That's one of the limits of it. And phones today aren't really just phones, they're GPSs, they play music, they find restaurants, they do a whole bunch of things. So, we need to get smarter about how we're using these devices. And I'm encouraged by the fact that the FCC website does tell you how you can reduce your exposure now. And the American Cancer Society website and the National Cancer Institute website include more information about ways you can reduce your exposure. Just this month, the Consumer Report's cover story on cell phones included information about how you can reduce your exposure as well. Use a headset, use a speakerphone, be careful in areas where signal is weak. Because when the signal is weak, your phone is putting more radiation out to reach the tower, and half of the radiation coming out of a phone will get into your head or your body if it's directly held next to you.
Ben: I'll be sure to put recommendations in the show notes for this podcast because you do have some great ones in your book. But in terms of testing for cell phone radiation and the way that the industry actually tests specifically the head and the brain for cell phone radiation, you talk about this in your book and you talk about the standard anthropomorphic man, or SAM for cell phone testing. What exactly is the SAM and how does that work exactly in terms of simulating the human brain and its exposure to cell phones?
Devra: Well, as I indicate in my book Disconnect, when they were first testing cell phones, they were principally being used by people in the military and professionals. So, they took a fellow who was at about the 95th percentile of all guys in the military and they used his head and his body as the standard anthropomorphic mannequin, they call him SAM for short. And SAM is a big guy, about six-feet-two, with about an 11-pound head. Now, think about that when you see people handing toddlers their iPhones to play with. If you're going to give a baby a phone, please disconnect it from the wireless and from the internet. You don't want to expose children to this because studies done by my colleague Professor Om Gandhi at the University of Utah have shown that radiation from a cell phone can get entirely through the head of a five-year old or less almost entirely through. And we're now doing studies in Brazil to confirm that greater exposure. So, I'm really concerned about these apps for toddlers and infants. There's a white noise app you can put under your baby's head to get it to go to sleep. Bad idea for lots of reasons. I mean if you want to use white noise, you can play it on something and have it be several feet away from the kid, but that's another set of issues altogether. I think babies need to go to sleep with lullabies and they need to learn to cry themselves to sleep sometimes. But we've become so enamored of all of these gadgets that we're not thinking about what that might mean for the long term.
Ben: So, in terms of the standard anthropomorphic man or tests on heads that maybe don't simulate the heads of the people who are actual cell phone users, what about the way the cell phone is set up itself in terms of its distance from the head or the way that it's used? Are they really simulating the way that we're using the phone?
Devra: They are trying to, and it’s difficult. In fairness to industry, it's difficult to do this. There are those who question the entire process of this because the thing called the specific absorption rate that comes out of this is a maximum measure of your exposure. And so, you don't really get what the average of the typical exposure would be. And it gets really complicated really fast, which is why we lose a lot of people, as I indicate my book Disconnect. It's not just the max power, it's the average power, and it depends on where you use your phone. You want to avoid using a phone where the signal is weak. The reason is when the signal is weak, you're going to drain your battery. The reason you're draining your battery is the phone is constantly looking to find the tower. When it can't find strong bars, what it will do is put out more juice, and half of what it puts out gets into you. You will lose your battery power and you will get more radiation exposure in areas where the signal is weak.
Ben: Interesting. So, when you're basically looking at the cell phone and the warnings that you're talking about with the cell phone that you say you can find on the FCC website, what about the phone's…
Devra: No. Actually, you don't find the warnings on the FCC website. You find them in the fine print. When you buy your iPhone 4S, there's a tiny six-point type little pamphlet that most people throw away with the packaging. But if you open it up and you read it, you will see in there that it says things like “avoid exposure to the abdomen of teenagers or pregnant women”.
Ben: So, if I were to go buy a phone and look at the technical manual, I can find it saying that?
Devra: Well, if you go to our website, ehtrust.org, you can find. it, or disconnectbook.com. We've actually posted the warnings from some of these phones directly. We've scanned them in and put them right up there and you can find them online. Love the warning for the iPad, by the way. It warns about seizures.
Ben: Really? Wow.
Devra: Yeah. And it's all there. It's all in fine print. And the reality is for any of these things, we have to become more sensible about how we use them.
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely.
Devra: These technologies have changed the world often for the better. They've made it possible to do monitoring of medical information in a way that was previously inconceivable. But we've got to be smarter about how we use these devices. We certainly do not want to encourage young medical technicians to have cell phones right over their pregnant abdomens, as I've seen them do. People to start to think a little more about the fact that a cell phone is basically a two-way microwave radio emitting very weak amounts of microwave radiation. But over a long period of time and over a lifetime, children today are growing up in a sea of radio frequency radiation that never existed in human history. Even just five years ago.
Ben: So, what if I want to insure myself against cell phone radiation? Like what if I want to go to my health insurance company, or I want to go to Lloyd's of London or whoever else and literally buy health insurance against any potential damage that my cell phone could do to me? Because if this is an issue, you should be able to insure against it. Right?
Devra: Well, as you know, Ben, from my book Disconnect, the secondary insurance industry, Lloyd's of London and Swiss Re, are no longer writing insurance policies for cell phone companies against health damages because they concluded that this could be a huge problem. And I think that's a very important signal from the markets. If you can't buy insurance against health damages from cell phones, that's telling you that they think that there's already sufficient concerns about the issue. Now, I am talking to people in the industry who understand we can make safer cell phones. They will and they can make safer cell phones. The kicker is this: the lawyers don't want them to acknowledge that. Because if they acknowledge that, then they also have to acknowledge that they should and could have made them safer earlier. There's clear evidence of that. And I think that people who are really paying the price now are those like Brett Bocook or Alan Marx who started out in real estate, had cell phones for 15 or 20 years, was plastered next to their cell phone for hours a day, or people like Stuart Cobb, a plumber who owned three phones and couldn't wait to get his first when he was 17, and at age 34 developed a malignant glioma. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more cases of young men in their 30's with brain tumors who were early adopters and heavy, heavy users of cell phones.
Now the good news part of this, and I really want to get to this, Ben, is many of the things you've talked about on your other shows that have nutritional benefits like green tea and the cruciferous vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower, will also show the ability to repair damage that could have happened from cell phone radiation. So, I want people listening out there who are all obviously interested in health to understand even if you've spent the past 10 years sleeping with a phone in your pocket or under your pillow, start now, get it out of your pocket, do not sleep with it, and just do this things that you have been talking about all along, drink green tea, make sure you sleep in the dark. That's a very important thing. Because when you sleep in the dark, your body naturally produces melatonin. Melatonin is in studies now at the National Cancer Institute as an anti-cancer agent. Sleeping in the dark produces melatonin. Women who work at night and therefore don't get a lot of melatonin have a higher risk of breast cancer. It's thought because they are getting exposed at night to light when you should be in the dark. Interesting studies from Sweden have found that women who are blind have lower rates of breast cancer. The theory is that because they're blind, they're in the dark, they have higher levels of melatonin. Melatonin is one of the things that naturally can repair damage. And we need sleep and we certainly need to sleep in the dark.
Ben: Yeah. We talked about that a little bit a couple weeks ago on the podcast about the research on melatonin and its ability to heal inflamed or damaged muscles. So, good tip. I really was impressed with the number of case studies you actually had in the book about early adopters of cell phones, and it seemed that many of them did have brain tumors. And I realize that for listeners, these aren't huge studies, but they're certainly things to think about. One other thing that I thought was quite interesting towards the end of your book was that you mention the use of a mineral, and it was just something small, just a small part of the book, but I thought it was worth mentioning. You talk about this mineral called coltan in cell phone towers and the effect that that has had where that mineral was actually mined. Can you expound on that just a bit?
Devra: Well, coltan is actually a name for a mineral that is a combine from tantalum and taken from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there's been a huge conflict in over these essential minerals. And these rare earth compounds are kind of like diamonds. There's been the conflict diamonds, well, there're conflict minerals as well. And it's become a source of revenue for the military occupiers of the Congo through smuggling and whatnot. It's mined, unfortunately, often by young boys working in very, very primitive conditions. Now, coltan is essential to the production of meeting any electronic devices, and there's now a general move to require that the cell phones use minerals like coltan that are not from the conflict area, but there's been an unfortunate history here. You can find coltan in Australia and Brazil. But in the Congo, and Ethiopia, and Mozambique, it's been involved in a lot of strife. And we in the United States and the focus on the areas where there's oil, but in fact the Congo has been, and Africa generally, has been an important source of coltan and a lot of the issues relating to it have to do with the terrible political situation in those nations, and smuggling has been important source of revenue. There's been some exposés about it. And now, because of that, there's a general move to promote safer and to validate that you can get minerals that are not a result of this kind of conflict.
Ben: In your book, you have a great deal of very useful tips that go above and beyond what you've actually shared so far in terms of reducing your risk with cell phone exposure, and I've certainly started to adopt all of those things myself. Literally, since I read your book, my cell phone has not been near my ear, I have an Air Tube headset or always speak with my cell phone on speaker phone, and have it off or in airplane mode as much as possible when I'm not using it. And you do give a lot of other great tips like that. So, what I'm going to do is link to your book in the show notes for this episode, and I'm also going to share some of your tips there in the show notes. So, if folks want to go check that out, you can head over to bengreenfieldfitness.com and read the show notes for this episode. I would also recommend any listeners to pick up this book. Even if you don't read it all cover to cover, I would really recommend that you at least go in and read what Devra Davis has to say about the larger studies that have been done. She got into it a little in the podcast today, but there certainly were a lot of issues with those studies. And the book took me from someone who really was convinced that there really wasn't much risk at all when it comes to cell phone exposure to being very, very wary of these things. Devra, thank you for coming on the call today.
Devra: Thank you so much, Ben. And I'll give you a link to our safety card. We're looking for people in health clinics and sports clinics who want to help us get the information out. We have downloadable free resources including a doctor's pamphlet that explains this, and I'll give you those links after we get off so that you can use them, perhaps linking on your show notes as well. We're very eager to collaborate with people who want to promote awareness in the schools as well as through health clinics. And again, thank you for your important work, Ben.
Ben: Thank you, and I'll be sure to link to all of that in the show notes as well.
Devra: Alright. Thank you so much. Bye-bye.
Are cell phones healthy?
In this interview about how cell phone companies gamble with your brain, I interview Dr. Devra Davis, author of the book “Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family”.
What you'll hear may upset you, and if you get the Disconnect book, the details that you read will absolutely shock you.
But there is something that you can do about cell phone radiation.
Below, you will find an excellent infographic from the Environmental Health Trust organization: I recommend you study it and print it.
I am personally now only using the speaker phone function on my phone, keeping it in airplane mode whenever I am not needing the phone function, and using an airtube headset to minimize cell phone radiation exposure.