The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Radiation

Every day, we’re swimming in a sea of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by electrical appliances, power lines, wiring in buildings, and a slew of other technologies that are part of modern life. From the dishwasher and microwave oven in the kitchen and the clock radio next to your bed, to the cellular phone you hold to your ear—sometimes for hours each day—exposure to EMR is growing and becoming a serious health threat.

But there’s a huge public health crisis looming from one particular threat: EMR from cellular phones—both the radiation from the handsets and from the tower-based antennas carrying the signals—which studies have linked to development of brain tumors, genetic damage, and other exposure-related conditions.1-9 Yet the government and a well-funded cell phone industry media machine continue to mislead the unwary public about the dangers of a product used by billions of people. Most recently, a Danish epidemiological study announced to great fanfare the inaccurate conclusion that cell phone use is completely safe.10

George Carlo, PhD, JD, is an epidemiologist and medical scientist who, from 1993 to 1999, headed the first telecommunications industry-backed studies into the dangers of cell phone use. That program remains the largest in the history of the issue. But he ran afoul of the very industry that hired him when his work revealed preventable health hazards associated with cell phone use.

In this article, we look at why cell phones are dangerous; Dr. Carlo’s years-long battle to bring the truth about cell phone dangers to the public; the industry’s campaign to discredit him and other scientists in the field; and what you can do to protect yourself now.

Cell Phones Reach the Market without Safety Testing

The cellular phone industry was born in the early 1980s, when communications technology that had been developed for the Department of Defense was put into commerce by companies focusing on profits. This group, with big ideas but limited resources, pressured government regulatory agencies—particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—to allow cell phones to be sold without pre-market testing. The rationale, known as the “low power exclusion,” distinguished cell phones from dangerous microwave ovens based on the amount of power used to push the microwaves. At that time, the only health effect seen from microwaves involved high power strong enough to heat human tissue. The pressure worked, and cell phones were exempted from any type of regulatory oversight, an exemption that continues today. An eager public grabbed up the cell phones, but according to Dr. George Carlo, “Those phones were slowly prompting a host of health problems.”

Today there are more than two billion cell phone users being exposed every day to the dangers of electromagnetic radiation (EMR)—dangers government regulators and the cell phone industry refuse to admit exist. Included are: genetic damage, brain dysfunction, brain tumors, and other conditions such as sleep disorders and headaches.1-9 The amount of time spent on the phone is irrelevant, according to Dr. Carlo, as the danger mechanism is triggered within seconds. Researchers say if there is a safe level of exposure to EMR, it’s so low that we can’t detect it.

The cell phone industry is fully aware of the dangers. In fact, enough scientific evidence exists that some companies’ service contracts prohibit suing the cell phone manufacturer or service provider, or joining a class action lawsuit. Still, the public is largely ignorant of the dangers, while the media regularly trumpets new studies showing cell phones are completely safe to use. Yet, Dr. Carlo points out, “None of those studies can prove safety, no matter how well they’re conducted or who’s conducting them.” What’s going on here? While the answer in itself is simplistic, how we got to this point is complex.

Lawsuit Prompts Safety Studies

In 1993, the cell phone industry was pressured by Congress to invest $28 million into studying cell phone safety. The cause of this sudden concern was massive publicity about a lawsuit filed by Florida businessman David Reynard against cell phone manufacturer NEC. Reynard’s wife, Susan, died of a brain tumor, and he blamed cell phones for her death. Reynard revealed the suit to the public on the Larry King Live show, complete with dramatic x-rays showing the tumor close to where Susan held her cell phone to her head for hours each day.

The next day, telecommunications stocks took a big hit on Wall Street and the media had a field day. The industry trade association at the time, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), went into crisis mode, claiming thousands of studies proved cell phones were safe and what Reynard and his attorney said was bunk. TIA reassured the public that the government had approved cell phones, so that meant they were safe. The media demanded to see the studies, but, says Dr. Carlo, “The industry had lied. The only studies in existence then were on microwave ovens. At that time, 15 million people were using cell phones, a product that had never been tested for safety.”

Dr. Carlo Heads Cell Phone Research

Forced to take action, the cell phone industry set up a non-profit organization, Wireless Technology Research (WTR), to perform the study. Dr. Carlo developed the program outline and was asked to head the research. Oversight of the issue was charged to the FDA, though it could have and probably should have gone to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which fought hard for jurisdiction. But the industry had enough influence in Washington to get whatever overseer it wanted. It simply didn’t want to tangle with EPA because, says Dr. Carlo, “… the EPA is tough.”

“Anything that’s ever made a difference in terms of public health has come from the EPA,” he says. “But safety issues that are covered in corruption and questions seem to always have a connection to the FDA, which has been manipulated by pharmaceutical companies since it was born.”

When called to help with the cell phone issue, Dr. Carlo was working with the FDA on silicone breast implant research. The choice of Dr. Carlo to head WTR seemed unusual to industry observers. An epidemiologist whose expertise was in public health and how epidemic diseases affect the population, he appeared to lack any experience in researching the effects of EMR on human biology. Based on this, a premature conclusion was drawn by many: Dr. Carlo was an “expert” handpicked by the cell phone industry, and therefore his conclusions would only back up the industry’s claim that cell phones are safe.

Dr. Carlo, however, refused to be an easy target. He quickly recruited a group of prominent scientists to work with him, bulletproof experts owning long lists of credentials and reputations that would negate any perception that the research was predestined to be a sham. He also created a Peer Review Board chaired by Harvard University School of Public Health’s Dr. John Graham, something that made FDA officials more comfortable since, at the time, the agency was making negative headlines due to the breast implant controversy. In total, more than 200 doctors and scientists were involved in the project.

Strict Study Guidelines

Once all involved agreed on what was to be done, Dr. Carlo presented the study’s stakeholders in the industry, the government, and the public with a strict list of criteria for moving forward.

“The money had to be independent of the industry—they had to put the money in trust and couldn’t control who got the funds,” he says. “Second, everything had to be peer reviewed before it went public, so if we did find problems after peer review, we could use that information publicly to recommend interventions.”

A third requirement was for the FDA to create a formal interagency working group to oversee the work and provide input. The purpose of this was to alleviate any perception that the industry was paying for a result, not for the research itself. But the fourth and last requirement was considered by Dr. Carlo to be highly critical: “Everything needed to be done in sunlight. The media had to have access to everything we did.”

The Research Begins

The program began, but Dr. Carlo soon discovered that everyone involved had underlying motives.“The industry wanted an insurance policy and to have the government come out and say everything was fine. The FDA, which looked bad because it didn’t require pre-market testing, could be seen as taking steps to remedy that. By ordering the study, law makers appeared to be doing something. Everyone had a chance to wear a white hat.”

Dr. Carlo and his team developed new exposure systems that could mimic head-only exposure to EMR in people, as those were the only systems that could approximate what really happened with cell phone exposure. Those exposure systems were then used for both in vitro (laboratory) and in vivo (animal) studies. The in vitro studies used human blood and lymph tissue in test tubes and petri dishes that were exposed to EMR. These studies identified the micronuclei in human blood, for example, associated with cell phone near-field radiation. The in vivo studies used head only exposure systems and laboratory rats. These studies identified DNA damage and other genetic markers.

Says Dr. Carlo: “We also conducted four different epidemiological studies on groups of people who used cell phones, and we did clinical intervention studies. For example, studies of people with implanted cardiac pacemakers were instrumental in our making recommendations to prevent interference between cell phones and pacemakers. In all, we conducted more than fifty studies that were peer-reviewed and published in a number of medical and scientific journals.”
Industry Seeks to Discredit Findings, Scientists

But manipulation by the industry had begun almost immediately at the start of research. While Dr. Carlo and his team had never defined their research as being done to prove the safety of cell phones, the industry internally defined it as an insurance policy to prove that phones were safe. From the outset, what was being said by the cell phone industry in public was different from what was being said by the scientists behind closed doors.

The pacemaker studies were a harbinger of bad things to come. Results showed that cell phones do indeed interfere with pacemakers, but moving the phone away from the pacemaker would correct the problem. Amazingly, the industry was extremely upset with the report, complaining that the researchers went off target. When Dr. Carlo and his colleagues published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997,11 the industry promptly cut off funding for the overall program. It took nine months for the FDA and the industry to agree on a scaled-down version of the program to continue going forward. Dr. Carlo had volunteered to step down, since he was clearly not seeing eye-to-eye with the industry, but his contract was extended instead, as no one wanted to look bad from a public relations standpoint.

The research continued, and what it uncovered would be a dire warning to cell phone users and the industry’s worst nightmare. When the findings were ready for release in 1998, the scientists were suddenly confronted with another challenge: the industry wanted to take over public dissemination of the information, and it tried everything it could to do so. It was faced with disaster and had a lot to lose.

Fearing the industry would selectively release research results at best, or hold them back at worst, Dr. Carlo and his colleagues took the information public on their own, creating a highly visible war between the scientists and the industry. An ABC News expose on the subject increased the wrath of the industry.

According to Dr. Carlo, “The industry played dirty. It actually hired people to put negative things about me and the other scientists who found problems on the internet, while it tried to distance itself from the program. Auditors were brought in to say we misspent money, but none of that ever held up. They tried every angle possible.”

This included discussions with Dr. Carlo’s ex-wife to try to figure out ways to put pressure on him, he says. Threats to his career came from all directions, and Dr. Carlo learned from Congressional insiders that the word around Washington was that he was “unstable.” But all the character assassination paled in comparison to what happened next.

Toward the end of 1998, Dr. Carlo’s house mysteriously burned down. Public records show that authorities determined the cause of the blaze was arson, but the case was never solved. Dr. Carlo refuses to discuss the incident and will only confirm that it happened. By this time, enough was enough. Dr. Carlo soon went “underground,” shunning the public eye and purposely making himself difficult to find.

Dr. Carlo’s Continuing Work

Following the loss of his home, Dr. Carlo collaborated with Washington columnist Martin Schram—who in the course of the work did his own research to corroborate Dr. Carlo’s view on things—to write Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age (Carroll & Graf, 2001). He wrote his book as what he thought would be a last volley at the cell phone industry.

“I needed to tell the whole story in one place. I didn’t have the resources or the manpower to match what the cell phone industry was doing to try to discredit the work,” says Dr. Carlo. “Based on the book, a number of lawsuits were brought against the industry, and insurance carriers began excluding cell phone-related health risks in their coverage. It created a very difficult situation in the industry and for myself. I was worn out fighting that battle. In 2002, after I’d done my book tour, I just decided to take a break for a couple of years.”

Instead of taking a break, however, Dr. Carlo ended up working behind the scenes, setting up an organization and a registry for the benefit of consumers. It was a creative solution as part of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a Illinois citizen against the cell phone industry, WTR, and Dr. Carlo personally. The lawsuit alleged that the cell phone industry, WTR, and Dr. Carlo were conspiring to hide the dangers of cell phones. Dr. Carlo was offered a way out of the suit because his book had made it clear he wasn’t on the same page as the industry.

“I wanted to make sure the litigation brought at least some value to consumers. We created the Safe Wireless Initiative (www.safewireless.org) for disseminating information on the dangers and on prevention, and the Mobile Telephone Health Concerns Registry (www.health-concerns.org) to track information voluntarily provided by cell phone users, particularly those who believe they’re experiencing health effects. Post-market surveillance hadn’t been done before, and the registry does that. It will help direct future research of potential health effects related to cell phone use. In the end, we did the best we could to get some benefit for consumers.”

European Research Confirms Cell Phone Dangers

The industry took its tricks elsewhere—to Europe, which had picked up the ball and began funding independent research to corroborate or confirm the work of Dr. Carlo and his team. The work was completed in mid-2004 and when it was released,12 it not only provided independent scientific corroboration of the work done by Dr. Carlo’s group, but also took the work a step further and showed how the problems were occurring mechanistically. This information formed a biologically plausible hypothesis for how cell phone radiation could be related to so many diseases.

Dr. Carlo noted, “The industry exerted pressure on the scientists who conducted the work, including renowned German scientist Dr. Franz Adlkofer. It first tried to change the conclusions of the work, then to delay its public release. Then Dr. Adlkofer, the lead scientist, was attacked in the media and threatened privately with no more research money, a ruined reputation—similar to what we experienced in the WTR. But this situation attracted the attention of a German documentary filmmaker, who decided to do a film on the cell phone issue.”

It was enough to bring Dr. Carlo into view again, as he was asked to participate. The film, The Boiling Frog Principle, by Klaus Scheidsteger, builds on information from his first film, The Cell Phone War, and will be released in 2007. Its intent is to integrate the latest political and scientific evidence from around the world, and bring forth to consumers important information on cell phone dangers that was previously withheld.
Economic Implications

Currently in the US, there are seven class action lawsuits moving forward against the cell phone industry, says Dr. Carlo, and nine other cases that are personal injury cases brought by people with brain cancer. In the past two years, two workers compensation awards were given to people with brain tumors based on a link between their tumors and their cell phone use in the workplace. Both of these cases occurred in California.

“What we have now is a major litigation burden, a vulnerability the cell phone industry has never before been under,” Dr. Carlo says. “They’re uninsured for these health risk claims and are already positioning themselves for a congressional bailout, like the Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s. They’ll lose a couple of these lawsuits and once they do, there’ll be an onslaught of new litigation against them.”

The country can’t afford for the cell phone industry to go under, Dr. Carlo says, as it would have a disastrous impact on the entire economy—some estimates say over 30% of investment stocks in retirement funds are tied to telecommunications shares. That’s why Congress will figure out a way to bail out the industry.

“The industry thinks they can afford to continue on with this institutional arrogance, endangering millions of men, women and children because, at the end of the day, they believe they’ll not be held accountable. They think they can continue to manipulate consumers.”

A Looming Health Crisis

It’s been nearly 12 years since the WTR was funded. Despite Dr. Carlo’s revealing research and the corroborating research of other scientists from around the world that continue to follow, a search of media reports today on the subject of cell phone dangers tends to suggest one of only two conclusions: There is no risk, or no one has yet proven the risk. That’s at odds with more than 300 studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature supporting an increased risk of disease. Clearly, something doesn’t add up.

The industry’s manipulation of the media to consider only one study at a time obfuscates the big picture.Individually, there’s little to see. But the depth and breadth of the science that points to the problem, and the compilation of studies, make the future look frightening. Like the September 11 tragedy, where no one in government talked to each other and did not see it coming for lack of a big picture view, the health crisis from cell phone use looms darkly.

“When you put all the science together, we come to the irrefutable conclusion that there’s a major health crisis coming, probably already underway,” warns Dr. Carlo. “Not just cancer, but also learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and psychological and behavioral problems—all mediated by the same mechanism. That’s why we’re so worried. Time is running out. When you put the pieces of the puzzle together, it’s such a wide ranging problem. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Protecting Yourself

The most effective technique for protecting yourself against the dangers of cell phone radiation is keeping the phone at a distance from the body. Simply using a hands-free headset is a big step. Headsets keep the cell phone’s antenna at a distance of six to seven inches away from the body, thus eliminating near-field exposure. Wired headsets can act as an antenna to draw some ambient EMR, but not much, so using one is still preferable to holding the phone to your head. Wireless headsets should be avoided, as they draw much more far-field EMR.

The safest headsets have hollow air tubes, similar to those used in stethoscopes, instead of wires.They offer protection against both near-field and far-field exposure. If possible, avoid wearing the phone at your waist, which exposes the hip bones to radiation. Eighty percent of red blood cells are formed in the hip bones. There are also newer cell phones available capable of functioning in speaker phone mode. This enables you to talk on the phone while keeping it at a safe distance from your body. If you are able to conduct most of your conversations using a speaker phone, this could enable you to use a cell phone without encountering the intense radiation exposure that occurs when holding it to your ear.

By Sue Kovach via Life Extension

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