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Studies Find Harm From Cellular and Wi-Fi Signals 474

Posted by kdawson
from the perennial-question dept.
Over the years we've discussed the possible health risks of cellphone and other microwave radiation: studies from Israel and Sweden indicating a link between cellphone use and cancer, one from England exonerating cell towers as a cause of "microwave radiation sensitivity," and a recent 30-year Swedish study that found no link to cancer. The question won't go away though. Reader Artifice_Eternity writes "I've always tended to dismiss claims of toxicity from cell phone and Wi-Fi signals as reflecting ignorance about microwave radiation. However, this GQ article cites American and European studies going back decades that have found some level of biological harm caused by these signals. Why haven't they gained more attention? Quoting: 'Industry-funded studies seem to reflect the result of corporate strong-arming. Lai reviewed 350 studies and found that about half showed bioeffects from EM radiation emitted by cell phones. But when he took into consideration the funding sources for those 350 studies, the results changed dramatically. Only 25 percent of the studies paid for by the industry showed effects, compared with 75 percent of those studies that were independently funded.'"
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Studies Find Harm From Cellular and Wi-Fi Signals

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  • by sznupi (719324) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:17PM (#31048696) Homepage

    Or "in part funded by opponents of radiation"?

  • by electrostatic (1185487) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:31PM (#31048794)
    The energy of a carbon bond is a few electron volts. IOW, that much energy is needed to cause a chemical change in the molecule.
    The energy of a 2GHz cell-phone photon is about 0.00001 eV. Cell-phone photons cannot cause a chemical change.

    Here's the QM version in more detail http://www.who.int/peh-emf/meetings/archive/valberg_bsw.pdf [who.int]:
    "A repeatable, explicit, and predictive mechanism capable of producing biologically significant responses (modulation dependent or not) from low-level RF fields has not been found." You can accept quantum mechanics as a valid standard, or you can base your understanding upon who provided the funding.
  • by Orp (6583) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:34PM (#31048812) Homepage

    The article mentions "modulations" over and over again as if they are some sort of evil force messing with your head.

    Roughly speaking, modulations are changes in the energy at the sidebands of the carrier where the information is carried. Old cell phones were pure frequency modulation, the digital ones use a different scheme. But from you're brain's perspective, it shouldn't mean more than a slight change in the total energy being radiate at 2.4 GHz or whatever. The idea that your brain is affected by "modulations" seems extremely specious.

    The fact that you're warming up your brain slightly when you hold the cell phone to your ear for a long time might have some sort of long term effect, I dunno, but I'm not too afraid of modulations.

  • Re:Matters not (Score:4, Informative)

    by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:36PM (#31048820)
    People around RF welders have serious shielding, and most plastics welding is automated. There have been 'accidents' such as seared skin, blindness, and neurological disorders among those who worked around these welders. Of course, we haven't heard much about them. Then again, we had not heard about brain injuries to football players for over 100 years.
  • by nicknamenotavailable (1730990) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:41PM (#31048866)

    Bluetooth is just another version of wifi.

    The bluetooth frequencies range from 2.402GHz to 2.480GHz
    Just the power output is different.

  • by viking80 (697716) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:42PM (#31048878) Journal

    There is a huge difference between a cellphone and WiFi. First, a cellphone can transmit up to 5 Watts. I can actually hear noise induced in my computer speakers every 10 minutes if the cellphone is nearby when it does it automatic call-home.

    WiFi is typically limited to 20mW.

    Also, a cellphone is pressed against your head, while Wifi is usually 1 m away. With area of sphere = 4PiR^2, the Wifi will have an energy flux of 1mWm^-2, and a cellphone will have 40Wm^-2 or 30,000x that. You could use bluetooth to reduce your cellphone exposure

    BTW, a microwave is allowed to leak 1Wm^2.

    Bottom line, 1 hour of cellphone exposure = a lifetime with WiFi.

  • by Shannon Love (705240) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @07:51PM (#31048932) Homepage

    (1) Based on the standard rules of statistical acceptance, a study only has to reach requires a 95% confidence level. That means that 1 in every 20 identical studies will produce a false positive merely by chance. When you have an area of study in which thousands of studies have been done over decades you end up with hundreds of studies reporting positive results just by chance.

    (2) Statistical meta analysis of studies is largely nonsense unless your talking about a field in which nearly identical studies are done over and over again. Usually, when these meta studies hit the media you find they they equally weight to every study regardless of presumed rigor of the studies. In this case, the gold standard is the Swedish study that followed tens of thousands of people over decades. How to you compare that to a study that just data mined a few hundred medical records?

    (3) Exposure to all types of radio range radiation has increased by literally millions of times since WWII. We know spend something close to 3% of our entire energy budget generating radio signals. Yet, in the last 50+ years, cancers rates have not increased and indeed most likely have fallen (especially when you exclude cigarette smoking.

    (4) A a sociological matter, just because a study is not linked to an industry does not mean that the researchers or the people funding them are some how impartial or operating from nobel motives. A lot of people outside of industry have both inherent biases as well as professional and monetary incentive to distort science. Academic today tilt strongly to the left side of the political spectrum and many believe in the post modernist concept that every one has a moral obligation to use whatever power they have, such as that held by respected scientist, to advance their political beliefs. They are inherently hostile to the economically productive. Politicians have incentives to create crises to protect voters from. Trial lawyers stand to make hundreds of millions on law suits and they fund "studies" to contaminate the jury pool. Even competing industries can use studies to undermine competitors.

    We should remember that science has its reputation because it produces the same answer regardless of the individual motives of the people who create it. When someone begins the question the motives of researchers, they are making an implicit statement that they have no science to back their position up and that they must instead fall back to human factors. If you have solid science, then you don't need to smear people's motives and call their integrity into question.

  • Re:Caveat Emptor (Score:4, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:02PM (#31048998)

    Any waiter that wants a tip.

  • Re:WooHoo! I'm safe! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:05PM (#31049014)
    I'm not giving my number online...but -

    To show how hardcore of a Slashdot reader I am, I will make a homemade pornographic video of myself and a female acquaintance. We will use a microphone stand and a special tripod to get some interesting angles, and I will have "What's up /." along with my username written on my back, or perhaps my ass. Both of us will wear masks. We will upload the video and I will post the link in a first post in an early evening story with an NSFW tag and a disclaimer of not being responsible for vomit-ruined keyboards. It could be as early as a week, but more likely a month so I can run some lard off my ass.

    I'm not fucking kidding, fellas.
    -- Ethanol-fueled
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:10PM (#31049056)

    Electrical energy adsorption from a low energy photon is not small. It is zero. A million such photons and it is still zero.

    Quantum mechanics baby.

  • Re:Biased Reports? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:11PM (#31049074)

    If some scientists are publicly humiliated because of said scams and, in the process, thousands are saved from floods, storms, freezing to death, getting cooked by heat... well, I think they'll grin in happiness while being scorned.

    I know I would.

  • by hitmark (640295) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:45PM (#31049300) Journal

    Water in your microwave certainly is effected by the field even if each photon has low energy.

    but then again, a microwave works around 750 watts, whats the watt of a common mobile phone again?

  • Re:GQ? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Entropy98 (1340659) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @08:52PM (#31049332) Homepage

    Well it's my bet that none of their advertisers are at risk in this report. Hence they run no risk by reporting it.

    I'm willing to bet they have ads for Blackberries, etc.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:05PM (#31049422)

    The rat organ toxicity from GMOs study posted here on Slashdot last week was funded by Greenpeace. Total junk science too - meta study using shady statistical methods published in a non-refereed journal.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:13PM (#31049470)

    That's ludicrous. Organic molecules are constantly being bent and deformed due to thermal collisions.

    The basal metabolism of the human body is roughly 120 watts. A couple of sit ups releases far more thermal energy than could be adsorbed by the body from a cell phone.

  • by sillivalley (411349) <[sillivalley] [at] [comcast.net]> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:18PM (#31049488)
    (1) it's a meta-analysis, looking at other studies, not a study actually looking at links between RF exposure and disease.

    (2) it's a meta-analysis of a veritable zoo of studies. About the only things the subject studies have in common is that most of them involve humans and most involve RF! This is not a valid application of these statistical techniques!

    (3) the so-called conclusions of the meta-analysis look at opinions on factors in the subject studies which were not controlled let alone investigated and measured according to a set of standards -- opinions on funding.

    And somehow I don't think this paper was subject to peer review, although I'm not familiar with their review process...
  • FWIW, I'm a GSM RF Engineer. Two issues with your post:

    In the US, phones are limited to 1 W max for 1900 MHz (aka PCS) transmission, and 2 W for 850 MHz.

    The interference you hear on your speakers isn't due to the amount of power being transmited, but it's actually caused by the modulation of the signals being transmitted. That modulation occurs at 217 Hz....which is audible.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:39PM (#31049586)

    An electric chair uses current, not radiation.

  • by ferrocene (203243) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:41PM (#31049588) Journal

    Hate to break it to you, but power lines emit RF too. That's why this is a joke: all alternating currents emit RF.

  • by broken_chaos (1188549) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:42PM (#31049592)

    RF radiation, at the extremely low levels of energy that wifi and cell signals use, is harmless to humans, always has been, and always will be.

  • Re:Biased Reports? (Score:3, Informative)

    by drsquare (530038) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @09:43PM (#31049604)

    When the big names on one side of the debate turn out to be engaged in avoiding freedom-of-information requests,

    If big business was constantly hammering you with endless FOI requests designed to cost you time and money, why wouldn't you avoid them?

  • by HiChris! (999553) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @10:13PM (#31049724)
    Looks like you don't know your basics Radiation can mean any number of things - in this case it is electromagnetic radiation - so yes they are talking about photons. Light IS radiation. It doesn't matter if it is visible, UV, IR, or radio waves - all photons.
  • by bertok (226922) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @10:22PM (#31049754)

    What about 1 million cell phone photons?

    I'll agree that the electromagnetic absorpotion due to a single photon is small.

    But a cell phone release more than 1 photon, and the total energy and absorpotion of the electromagnetic wave is much larger than one photon.

    And might be sufficient to cause heating of tissue and other effects given a sufficient period of direct exposure to a sufficiently strong cell signal.

    It makes no difference. This is a fundamental result that was explained by [wikipedia.org] Einstein about a hundred years ago!

    This is basic, TV documentary level quantum mechanics. Two photons that are too weak individually do NOT add up to a strong photon, contrary to naive expectations based on classic mechanics, where two weak waves can add up to a bigger wave.

    The way to think about it is this: The ability of a photon to break apart molecular bonds is based on either heating or excitation. Heating is classical, but the power levels used by cell phones are far way too weak for this to occur, and humans are water cooled [wikipedia.org]. Excitation is quantum mechanical, and there is a cut-off based on the wavelength of light. Adding two photons will not change their wavelength. Any number of microwave photons added together will not become a UV photon.

    People take far more damage from the Sun than all other sources combined. If you want something to panic about, be more concerned about the huge unshielded fusion reactor that's bathing you in ionizing radiation with a power of hundreds of watts per square.

  • by JohnFluxx (413620) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @10:51PM (#31049860)

    Actually if you do point red lights at a point, some (very few I admit, but still non-zero) of them will "turn blue", since blue is almost the same energy as two photons. It's called two-photon absorption. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-photon_absorption [wikipedia.org]

  • by joocemann (1273720) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @11:05PM (#31049932)

    Protein folding relies heavily on very lower energy Van der Waals interactions, ionic interactions, and even the hydration shell. Theoretically, the perfect type of low energy radiation could denature tumor suppressant proteins in a nucleated keratinocyte and generate a squamous cell carcinoma.

    That said, possible doesn't mean practical. The probability of 2 GHz being that perfect frequency, of denaturing a single type of tumor suppressant protein causing unchecked DNA replication, and that replication introducing a cancerous change is negligibly low. Plus, researchers would've sounded the alarm ages ago if a common/well studied cancer like SCC increased in incidence in a specific area of the body. Deeper tissue wouldn't get as much radiation exposure, and a non-skin cancer on the thigh is kinda rare (blood vessel, muscle, bone, and fat cancers have prevalences of ~.1% - 1%).

    That is an interesting theory. But in support of your skepticism as to the likeliness of it being reality, I'll bring up a couple other related molecular/protein facts for readers:

    -The denaturation of tumor-suppressor proteins would have to occur not on one or several, but a large number of those within the cell to degrade the suppression signal enough to disable it; and since the 'damage' is only temporal, the denaturation would have to occur continuously and also to its daughter cells as well so as to maintain the tumor growth. Genetic damage (as previously shown to be physically impossible) to the suppressor genes is the only way to truly disable the gene in the cell and its progeny.

    -Chaperonin-60 (HSP60/GroESL) is present in sufficient quantity to maintain proper folding of denatured proteins in the cell and so I would suggest that not only would the rate of denaturation have to be large enough to encumber proper suppression signaling, but it would also have to overcome the repair activity of HSP60. (Maybe the radiation also denatures the chaperonin, but that's just getting so improbable its hard to even consider talking about).

    -I don't want to assume too much here, but testing cell phone strength EM radiation on protein folding is not too difficult to have been done by now. I really want to assume it has been done and the results were null... I don't want to search the pubs tonight...

    -So, assuming that the EM radiation *can* affect protein folding, and assuming the hypothetical fact that it would have to happen to many proteins --- if this were the case, we would likely see the effects of denatured proteins in other observable areas. Nearly everything going on in the cell and in the body is controlled, communicated, and mediated by proteins. Many proteins are active in real time and encumbering their function by denaturation (by any means, including the hypothetical) should have some form of physiological or psychologically observable changes. Lets take insulin for an example, but lets also assume that thousands of proteins are just as relevant. With insulin, loss of function results in lowered glucose uptake into the cells and so the blood retains glucose. If EM waves were denaturing insulin in any real way, blood glucose levels should be observable and diabetic-like symptoms might likely arise. This is not the case... I'm not sure how many readers are aware of the complexity of proteins and their complex functions in the body, but there are basically thousands of examples that could be imagined wherein a significant denaturing of proteins would result in some observable outcome.

    -Humans (and other life forms) came into existence and evolved in the presence of all kinds of EM radiation from the sun, the big bang, etc. If EM radiation's ability to denature proteins was significant to persistence of life on earth, life would have evolved in ways that were not susceptible to that radiation.
    --------

    Humans are notorious for not knowing the cause of something, imagining a cause, and then sharing and believing that supposed 'cause' as fact. I won't outright deny the possibility that cell phone EM radiation may cause damage to our bodies, but with what we know it is very very highly unlikely.

    -

    -

  • by JohnFluxx (413620) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:14AM (#31051016)

    Okay let's see.

    A mobile phone can emit about a 1 watt. So say you talk for t about of time, so 1 watt * t joules of energy.

    The energy of each photon from a mobile phone would be, E = hf = h * 900 MHz.

    So number of photons emitted is: t / (h*900Mhz).

    The cross section area is about 10^50, so, roughly, you'd need to talk for .. about 10^18 years. Far far longer than the age of the universe.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @07:23AM (#31051592)

    Your brain's awash in radiation all the time, with a higher energy per photon than what you get from a cell phone, and with much more of it.

    If you leave a transistor radio playing on top of a baseboard radiator which has been cranked up for the winter, the same will be true. But the radio, due to its design characteristics, is only going to respond to the wavelengths transmitted by the radio tower miles away. But if you put the radio next to an electronic device which outputs noise which falls within its range of reception, then you'll get static.

    The problem is that the brain responds in some very weird ways to a range of modulated signals delivered via microwave carrier, and those signals happen to come from cell phones and other electronic gear. Among many such responses, one of the big ones is that the Blood Brain Barrier stops working properly and starts allowing all manner of foreign particles across its membrane, so if you have medicines or other toxins in your blood, they are able to enter and affect brain cells. That's just one of many ways EM can alter your nervous system.

    -FL

  • by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Sunday February 07, 2010 @08:24AM (#31051802)

    First, there's often a potential of 100+kV across your body. Just try rubbing your socks on the carpet some time. It's not really a big deal.

    Second, the electric chair uses AC power. Edison used that as selling point for DC power. And it's a terribly ineffective way to kill people. In practice it works by putting so much power into a person that they cannot dissipate it -- essentially cooking them -- not because of any lower-power electric effects. You might make people lose muscle control or even consciousness with low-power applications of electricity, but it typically doesn't kill people unless you happen to stop their heart for a sufficiently long period. Heck, we regularly electrocute people's brains as an accepted, effective form of psychologically treatment.

    Third, microwaves ovens, like the electric chair, work by applying energy faster than the target can dissipate that energy back into the environment. If you set your oven to 150 degrees, how long would it take to cook a turkey to 165? Your oven would cycle on and off, emitting energy into the environment surrounding the turkey, for as long as you let it run. But it seems unlikely that the turkey would ever exceed 150 degrees, because it loses heat to the environment faster than it's absorbing heat from the oven's heating element. The same process occurs with low-power microwaves.

    Finally, you should take a look at how much radiation you absorb from the sun every time you walk outside. It's not a 100mW transmission from a battery-powered device -- it's orders of magnitude more powerful, even at ground level, and it's being happening for the entirety of human history.

  • by Hatta (162192) on Sunday February 07, 2010 @02:53PM (#31053792) Journal

    It was obviously incorrect in that usage, but "per square" can in fact be part of a unit. When you're measuring the resistance of a thin film of material, you do it in ohms per square [wikipedia.org]. Every square of any size has the same resistance. You can picture the width as parallel resistors, and the length as resistors in series, and the effects cancel out.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 07, 2010 @04:02PM (#31054264)

    The telecoms don't think there is a problem, fine let's see those life time guarantee and warranties, ensuring against damages from radiation and make today's corporate executives liable for tomorrows victims. Lets see how many life insurance companies would be willing to take on the risk of insuring against cellular damage caused by radiation all built within the price of a single telephone contract and covering the user for the rest of their life, lets see the telecoms put their money and their current executives future freedoms where their current PR=B$ advertising mouth is.

    It would not happen. You would be advised to take absurd precautions instead like turning your phone off, using bluetooth to separate the big transmitter from the little one, and extra shielding or what not. Nobody would take the precautions and rightly so. If there is some unknown risk involved in your activities you are more responsible. Insurance is typical for known, QUANTIFIABLE risks not the fairyland bullshit you think about. If you don't like the risk of using newer technology, you can join the Amish or a similar society or do without or shut the fuck up. Your options are endless.

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