In many countries around the world, over half the population use cell phones. The use of cell phones, which may be the only phones available or the best choice due to their reliability in some parts of the world, is expanding rapidly. It is estimated that there were approximately 4.6 billion cell phone users internationally by the end of 2009.
With such huge numbers of cell phone users that are growing every day, there have been concerns about the health risks of using cell phones since they first came on the market. Cell phones are low-powered radiofrequency transmitters that only transmit power when turned on. Cell phones transmit radio waves, which create electromagnetic fields, using networks of stationary antennas (often referred to as cells). The radio waves are not ionizing radiation. Most cell phones operate within the frequency range between 450 megahertz and 2700 megahertz. The maximum power transmitted is typically between 0.1 watts and 2 watts. The power from the handset decreases rapidly as you move farther from the handset, which means that exposure to radiofrequency energy drops off rapidly as the distance between the handset and the user is increased.
There have been anecdotal news stories over the years regarding people claiming that they developed cancers in parts of the body that came in long-term close contact with cell phones. Cell phone manufacturers and cell phone service providers have challenged such claims and no studies have conclusively established a connection between cell phone use and cancers or other health conditions. Conflicting studies have reached conflicting results and findings. As of the present, scientific studies have provided no consistent evidence of a causal relationship between radiofrequency exposure and any adverse health effect.
The studies are necessarily limited because the wide-spread use of cell phones is so recent. It is suggested that longer-term studies that may be completed in the future will provide more significant and reliable results. Nonetheless, there is concern for the many young cell phone users whose use of cell phones over a greater period of time may expose them to greater health risks that may be identified in the future.
Some have suggested that the use of hands-free devices, which allow the handset (the power unit) to remain at a farther distance from the body, reduces exposure to radiofrequency and therefore reduce the health risks of cell phone use. Reducing use of cell phones (limiting the number of calls and/or the length of calls) and using cell phones in good reception areas (which reduces power output) have also been suggested as reducing possible health risks.
Cell phone use and possible associated health risks are once again in the news because the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issued a press release on May 31, 2011 in which it announced that it has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk for a type of malignant brain cancer known as glioma associated with wireless phone use. And the World Health Organization, which established the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) project in 1996 to evaluate scientific evidence regarding a possible association between electromagnetic fields and adverse health effects, announced that it will conduct a formal health risk assessment of radiofrequency fields exposure by 2012.
(According to its website, WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.)
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