Cell phones have become a necessity for human beings nowadays as cell phones and cell phone services are widely available. According to the International Telecommunications Union, it is estimated that mobile cellular subscriptions have reached to 4.6 billion subscribers. This shows how mobile phones have gained increasing importance in the sectors of Information and communication technologies for development since the 2000s. IDC Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker states that the five-year forecast for year 2010-2014 will see the mobile phone market increase by 1.6 billion units by the year 2014.
Increased dependence on cell phones has raised questions on the safety of the usage of cell phones due to purported radiation levels and electromagnetic radiation emitted by the device and also safety when using cell phones while driving. The purpose of the investigative study is to determine whether cell phones should be limited or prohibited in public areas over safety concerns.
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When cell phones were first introduced, cell phones only performed the basic function such as making and receiving calls. Modern cell phones nowadays contain many more functions such as General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Universal Mobile Telecommunications Systems (UMTS), and High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) which rely on stronger radio waves to carry high bandwidth of data packets for mobile internet on phones
Cell phone operation
Cell phones works on radio frequencies that are broadcast by telecommunications providers. Examples of such frequencies are the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) network, which has 3 different bands where the cell phone can operate on. Telecommunications companies will build base stations that will broadcast the signal over a wide area.
Cell phones within the signal coverage will show the signal strength of the network on the phones. The base station constantly emits a steady stream of low frequency radio waves when the cell phone is on standby. If a call is made, the radio waves from the base station will increase in frequency to form a radio link that allows voice to be carried to and from the cell phone. Once the call ends, the radio link is terminated to save battery power on the cell phone.
Usage of cell phones while driving
Cell phone usage in cars have caused numerous accidents all around the world. Statistics show that cell phone distraction causes 2,600 deaths and 30,000 injuries in the United States every year. Taking into consideration that cell phones are commonly used all around the world, the numbers could easily exceed 100,000 deaths every year worldwide. (Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, n.d.)
According to Strayer, (2005, p.1), if you put a 20 year old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70 year old driver who is not using a cell phone.
Research has proven that drivers talking on cell phones are 18 percent slower to react to brake lights. On the bright side, it kept drivers 12 percent greater following distance (distance between driver's car and car in front of the driver). But is also took drivers 17 percent longer to regain the speed lost during braking. This research also took into consideration the usage of hands free sets but the results obtained were similar, meaning that hands free sets still distracted the drivers from concentrating on driving and were of no benefit to the drivers.
Cell phone radiation
With the drastic increase of cell phone usage among the general public, there has been a long ongoing debate between the two factions of the technological society. There are claims that cell phone radiation may be harmful towards human beings while others beg to differ.
Cell Phone Radiation Source
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, 2009), all cell phones have very low power radio transmitters that emit radiation through the cell phone antenna in the form of low power electromagnetic radiation. The electromagnetic radiation falls in the electromagnetic spectrum which ranges from extremely low frequency radiation to gamma rays. Exposure to cell phone radiation is from 0.2 to 0.6 watts compared to "walkie-talkies" which can emit up to 10 watts of radiation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report on December 2005 on the exposure to electromagnetic radiation. In the report, there was an increase in the number of individuals reportedly having ailments, and illnesses that may be related to electromagnetic radiation exposure. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a syndrome or condition where individuals have non-specific symptoms which the affected individuals claim is attributed to exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated form electronic devices.
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Symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a variety of non-specific symptoms that vary from individual to individual. Symptoms may include burning sensations, tingling, ringing in ears (tinnitus), redness, fatigue, insomnia, concentration difficulties, dizziness, digestive disturbances, photosensitivity, thirsty or dry feelings, swelling of glandular areas and heart palpitations.
Treatment of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS)
Since it has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure, there is no proper medical diagnosis and treatment for such ailments. Common treatment options are treating the symptoms using drugs and medicine, undergoing a psychological evaluation to identify underlying psychological problems responsible for the symptoms and removal of electronic devices that emit electromagnetic radiation. In reality, most cases of reported electromagnetic hypersensitivity, the symptoms are due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions and stress reactions which result of worrying about EMF health effects rather than electromagnetic radiation exposure itself
Link between cell phone radiation and cancer
Evidence of link between cell phone radiation and cancer
According to the editor, Tiffany O' Callaghan, concerns about the effects of mobile phones on human health has risen significantly in the past few years. A research and analysis of brain tumor cases throughout Scandinavia from 1994 to 2003 showed that trends in tumor ratios have been consistent since before mobile phones came into widespread usage while brain tumors only increases by a mere percentage of 0.5 % for men and 0.2% per year for women (Callaghan, 2009). These findings did not rule out the possibility that all phones may have harmful effects evident after mote long term use. Scientific evidence proves that using mobile phones for less than 10 years do not increase the risk of cancer. However, since brain tumors take a long time to develop, the author states that using mobile phones may pose long-term risks instead.
Evidence showing no link between cell phone radiation and cancer
On the other hand, the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center has produced a report stating that radio waves emitted has the capability of protecting and even reversing the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary lab tests conducted on lab mice has shown promising results suggesting that the radiation gave lab mice a boost in brain activity. Lab mice that were exposed to the radiation showed reduced brain deposits of the Alzheimer disease linked protein, beta-amyloid. This report published in the Live Science Journal in 201 stated that the scientists could not find any abnormal growths in the brains of Alzheimer mice after months of exposure to cell phone electromagnetic waves.
Science journalist Brian Dunning, host and producer of Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena, stated that cell phone radiation causing cancer was in fact a pop culture myth. He bases his statements on evidence which he provides in his transcript. Among the evidence tabled out were the source of the myth which originated from David Raynard went on CNN's Larry King Live to talk about his lawsuit against the cellular phone industry over the death of his wife from brain cancer. The story became popular due to its feature on The Larry King Show. It was later known that the case was later thrown out of court for lack of evidence. Brian Dunning also stated that since cell phone radiation is non-ionizing, it is impossible for the cell phone to actually "burn" the human brain. He further explains about a massive study conducted by the National Cancer Institute that followed 420,000 cell phone users over 13 years concluded:
" Risk for these cancers ... did not vary by duration of cellular telephone use, time since first subscription, age at first subscription, or type of cellular telephone (analogue or digital). Analysis of brain and nervous system tumors showed no statistically significant [standardized incidence ratios] for any subtype or anatomic location. The results of this investigation ... do not support the hypothesis of an association between use of these telephones and tumors of the brain or salivary gland, leukemia, or other cancers." (2008, p2)
Effects of radiation on the brain
According to Firstenberg, a research published in June 2003 by Leif Salford, a neurosurgeon from Sweden showed that cell phone radiation did cause the blood brain barrier to break down, resulting in brain damage. The tests were carried out on lab mice. The effects of the tow-hour exposure to cell phone radiation indicated that the blood brain barrier was damages. An autopsy performed on the test subjects showed about 2 % damage to the blood brain barrier. The report also included soft tissue organs in the human body that are most susceptible to radio waves, which are the lungs, nervous system, heart, eyes, testes and thyroid glands. Diseases such as asthma, sleeping disorders, attention deficit disorders, and multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, cataracts and heart attacks are also purportedly linked to radiation exposure. (Salford, 2008)
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Significance of research in comparison to real-life situations
Although the possible health effects of electromagnetic radiation have been studies for many decades, according to a factsheet by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC, 2005) these studies may not consider the types of exposure people experience while using cell phones. Although the individual researches that have been conducted in the last few years may have made hypothetical links between radiation and cancer, or damage to blood brain barrier, when taken together, these researches have yet to indicate a significant association between cell phone usage and its health effects on human beings yet for now.
On the other hand, the statistics of research has shown that the cell phone usage in cars poses a significant risk to public safety. It is common sense to ensure that more concentration should be focused on driving instead of texting and calling in vehicles as this endangers the driver and other drivers' lives. Care should be taken when using cell phones in vehicles
Since the public still show concern over this issue, many more researches have been conducted to try to prove or dispel the link between cell phone radiation and physical ailments. More research has to be conducted to more directly study the possible effects of long term and short term cell phone usage. Several lawsuits also have prompted a more in depth review to be conducted on the issue. At present no United States agency systematically monitors health effects from electromagnetic radiation therefore to ensure that studies that are conducted on test subject have to be more applicable in real-life situations, strict study guidelines have to be set to standardize all research conducted to ensure accuracy of results and not manipulated by the industry for their benefit.
Although cell phones may pose a threat to human health and safety, its benefits outweigh its disadvantages in many areas. Precautions should be taken by users to minimize risks faced when using cell phones. For example, using cell phones in the car causes distraction to the driver. Besides that, all short term research has yet to produce any distinct results on any significant increase in brain tumors from using cell phones often. A more long term research spanning over many years is more preferable to produce accurate results. Until then, the general public should not need to worry as cell phones do not pose a significance health risk to the public and should not be limited or prohibited from use.