Safety and Cell Phones: What Pregnant Women Should Know
High amounts of these waves can disrupt body tissues—that’s one reason you wear protective shielding when you get an X-ray. Because stronger forms of this radiation, such as that used for X-rays, can be harmful to the body by damaging cells and DNA, it is called ionized radiation. Microwave ovens, cell phones, and other wireless devices also use electromagnetic waves to function, but because the radiation they produce is not thought to damage body tissue, it’s known as non-ionizing.
Still, the body absorbs non-ionizing radiation generated from your phone. According to the FDA, which regulates radiation levels in cell phones, the amount of RF energy your body absorbs “is called the Specific Absorption Rate,” or the SAR level. Cell phone manufacturers voluntarily adhere to the industry guidelines of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) and keep SAR levels at a low amount, not to exceed 1.6 watts per kilogram. You can find the SAR level of your particular phone by contacting its manufacturer. (The FCC no longer lists these levels. You can also go to Cnet.com and type “SAR levels” in the search box to find specifics.) While the FDA and FCC make these requirements, it’s up to the cell phone manufacturers to police themselves.
Consumers shouldn’t necessarily base their choice of cell phone on SAR levels. Jen O’Connell, who worked in the cell phone industry for over a decade and now acts as a consultant says, “The difference between SAR levels from one phone to another is so microscopic it’s a moot point.” O’Connell, the CEO of Voice of Wireless, reassures users that cell phones go through a vigorous testing process before becoming available to consumers. “Every wireless carrier has labs to thoroughly test their products. They spend close to $1 million and two years of research before a product becomes available on the market. SAR levels are just one part of this testing.”
Why Experts Are Concerned
What concerns researchers, however, is that the long-term effects of cell phone use are still largely unknown. Cell phones may emit low levels of radiation, but does constant, heavy use amplify the effects of the radiation? Dr. Kheifets says scientists are just beginning to explore the possible hazards of cell phone use, which may be especially acute in young children and unborn babies.
Many countries outside the US have already taken steps to curb cell phone use among pregnant women and young children. “In Europe now, Germany, the UK, France, and the Scandinavian countries [they] have recommended that children use cell phones only in emergencies due to potential [health] problems. They are practicing what they call the ‘precautionary’ principle,” explains Dr. Lynn Eldridge, MD, MPH, a former practicing obstetrician and author of Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time: Practical Advice For Preventing Cancer. “In Europe they go by the philosophy guilty until proven innocent” when it comes to the potential risks posed by cell phones,” says Dr. Eldridge. “But in the US it’s innocent until proven guilty.”
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