Mobile phone and baby monitor RADIATION!!
Sunday May 22nd 2011, 11:41 am

Thanks to pop-culture pseudoscientists flogging nonsense about mobile phone headsets and mobile phones killing bees in the mainstream media of late, mgk has been getting a ton of hits on all my past posts on the topic. It’s pretty obvious to me from the search terms showing up in my statistics engine that the general public isn’t clear on the meaning of the term ‘radiation.’

While the term ‘radiation’ is commonly associated with gamma ray emissions from radionuclear materials such as uranium, plutonium, caesium, etc., what ‘radiation’ really means is ‘the emission of something from a single point.’ When you throw a stone in a pond, there is a ‘radiation’ of ripples in the water. When you light a candle, there is a ‘radiation’ of heat and light from the flame. No sane person to date has implicated pond ripples and candle flames as causations of cancers.

There’s clearly more than one kind of radiation. The dangerous sort is ionising radiation.

image source: US Environmental Protection Agency

When an emission has the ability to knock electrons off of atoms, it has the ability to damage DNA in living cells. Damaged DNA can cause the cell to improperly replicate, sometimes expressing as cancers. Ionising radiation can come from a number of different sources beside radionuclear materials. Ultraviolet (UV) light, x-rays and cosmic rays from objects in space are all sources of ionising radiation.

However, non-ionising radiation does not have the ability to knock electrons off of atoms and thus damage DNA. As you see in the above illustration, non-ionising radiation includes all types of electromagnetic radiation, from magnetic fields around a wire carrying DC (direct current, as from a battery) through to violet-coloured light. Way, way down on the scale are radio waves, which include signals from mobile phones and baby monitors (which are quite close to the FM broadcast band, commonly around 72MHz).

Consequently, anyone trying to tell you that you need a special headset to keep your mobile phone away from your head or some sort of ‘radiation shield’ for your phone isn’t trying to keep you from getting brain cancer. They’re trying to sell you headsets and useless stickers.

Some mobile phone makers include with their products instructions to keep your phone a few millimetres away from your ear when using them. Why this is done is a total mystery to me. Their products do not emit ionising radiation. Keeping the phone a few mm away from one’s ear will not do anything significant to reduce the strength of the radio frequency (RF) field in the vicinity of one’s head. SAR ratings also are equally unnecessary.

Some users of mobile phones remark that the side of their head feels warm after extended periods of phone use and attribute this to the RF energy being emitted from the device. It’s simpler than that. When you discharge a battery, it will warm up due to current passing through the battery’s internal resistance. Also, the components in most electronic circuits, notably amplifiers, also warm up as currents are passed through them. If you held a warm brick to the side of your head, you’d get the very same result- and this can hardly (rationally) be thought to be carcinogenic.

As of 2008, there were 4.1 billion mobile phones in service on this planet. Strong low-frequency electromagnetic fields have been around as long as there has been an AC mains electrical grid (1920s). RF signals have been around since Marconi sent long-distance and trans-Atlantic radio signals from 1899-1901. Multi-hundred-thousand watt radio signals have been around since the 1930s, megawatt-level TV signals since the 1950s. Cellular telephony has been around since the late 1970s. Handheld mobile phones have been ubiquitous since the mid-1990s. Everyone born since about 1935 has lived their entire life bathed in LF and RF fields.

If electromagnetic fields and radio signals cause cancer, where are there billions of brain cancers? They don’t exist. The 10-year Interphone study looked at millions of mobile phone users and found no correlation with mobile phone use and brain cancer.

If you anyone tells you that mobile phones, their associated base stations and towers, baby monitors, microwave ovens or other radio signal emitting devices cause cancer, they’re a) ignorant of the science involved, b) trying to inflate their self-importance by being too helpful by half or c) trying to turn a buck off your own lack of information. Fear of the unknown is curable with just a little education.

Relax and phone up a friend for a good, long chat. It’s safe!


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