Sunday, October 05, 2008

Cell Phone Dangers: how true are they?

Perhaps you've heard stories about cell phones causing kernels of corn to pop when they all work at once? How true is this stuff? Not very, apparently. An article by Gregory Lapin, Chairman of the ARRL RF Safety Committee, explains a few things:

Anything for a Buck
After writing my last column I was amazed by the number of people who wrote to tell me that cell phones are dangerous, and they have proof! I was directed to one of a number of videos that were available on YouTube, showing kernels of popcorn on a table that popped when one to four cell phones around them were transmitting. "It's obvious," reasoned these correspondents, "that if a cell phone can generate enough heat to pop corn, then it can also fry your brain cells!"

If you haven't witnessed one of those videos, you should. Pretty scary stuff, isn't it? When I first saw one of these videos it gave me pause. It didn't seem possible but there it was on the screen. These videos are copies or remakes of a professionally produced version from Cardo Systems, a manufacturer of Bluetooth remote headsets.

Popping corn with a cell phone is clearly a hoax. Similar hoaxes include hard boiling an egg with a cell phone. Take a look to see how it is done (needless to say, every ham should immediately realize how dangerous this trick could be to perform).

Just as radio amateurs must prevent their stations from exposing people to unsafe levels of RF, cell phones are extensively tested to confirm that exposure to users will be under the Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE). These thresholds are far below the levels of energy absorption that can raise the temperature of tissue noticeably -- really far below what it would take to pop a kernel of corn. If you're interested in experimenting, place a small container of water between the antennas of two or more operating cell phones and try to measure a change in temperature. [...]

The article also addresses supposed "cell-phone protector pouches" that are supposed to protect you from ... who knows what. It's just a scam.

A cell phone is essentially a small radio device. The police, the military, emergency services and many businesses use radio devices for communication all the time. Many people use two way radios their whole lives, without harmful effects.

Some people claim cell phones cause brain cancer. But the data I've seen is conflicting, and doesn't seem conclusive either way. Cell phones may be unique from other radio communications, in that the transmitter device is pressed right up against the head, for hours at a time. Hours and hours and hours, for some people. It could be argued the people who use radios professionally aren't chit chatting for hours on end, every day, with the transceiver pressed up against their heads. Some folks seem to have their cell phones permanently attached there.

I don't spend a lot of time on the phone like that, but anyone who does ought to get a headset anyway. They are inexpensive, and it's much more comfortable than holding a phone.

I would guess that it's not healthy to have a cell phone glued to the side of your head 90% of the time. But then it's probably not good to be on ANY telephone that much. Many people could benefit from hanging the phone up, and going outside more for fresh air and exercise.

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