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Should you or your kids keep a cell phone pressed against your heads for hours?

No.

[Note: This post is slightly off-topic, but it is in response to a comment on an earlier thread. I hope it useful for my readers.]

I was asked on the previous radiation thread “Do you advise members of your family to take the train rather than fly? Get rid of their cell phones …?” and “What kinds of radiation do you consider dangerous?” Well, of course I advise people to take the train if possible. Even ignoring the issue greenhouse gas emissions, have you flown a plane recently? Indeed, by the time oil hits $200 a barrel, which may be just a couple years away, air travel will be both expensive and unpleasant.

The radiation people should worry the most about is ionizing radiation, “highly-energetic particles or waves that can detach (ionize) at least one electron from an atom or molecule.” Beta particles, neutrons, alpha particles, X-rays, gamma rays,and some UV — this is what most people think about when they worry about radiation. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about non-ionizing radiation, like microwaves or extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic radiation.

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On the specific matter of cell phones, I don’t have to advise members of my family, since my cousin Louis Slesin, runs “Microwave News: A report on non-ionizing radiation,” which Time magazine has called “meticulously researched and thoroughly documented,” and Fortune magazine has called “the most authoritative journal on ELF fields and health.”

So, should your kids (or you) keep a cell phone pressed against the side of their heads for hours at a time? I wouldn’t and I don’t — and I won’t let my daughter when she grows up. You can get advice from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Based on Advice from an International Expert Panel. They note: “Electromagnetic fields from cell phones are estimated to penetrate the brain especially in children.”

“Model estimate of the absorption of electromagnetic radiation from a cell phone based on age (Frequency GSM 900 Mhz) (On the right, color scale showing the Specific Absorption Rate in W/kg).”

CNN’s medical correspondent interviewed a number of experts, including Slesin, and offer “5 tips to limit your cell phone risk,” which I excerpt:

1. Use the speakerphone

This was, without question, the favorite alternative of the experts I talked to….

2. Use a wired headset with a ferrite bead

No, this is not a piece of jewelry. A ferrite bead is a clip you put on the wire of a headset….

3. Use a Bluetooth earpiece

A Bluetooth earpiece still has radiation, but it’s at least 100 times less than the radiation you get when you hold a cell phone to your head…. [And don’t keep it on your ear all the time since,] “when you’re not talking; it still sends out a signal.”

4. Use a “hollow tube” earpiece

It’s just like a regular wired earpiece, except the last six inches or so — the part next to your ear — is a hollow tube. There’s no wire under the plastic.

5. Get a phone with less radiation

Phone radiation is measured in specific absorption rate, or SAR. To look up the SAR for your phone, check CNET.com.

I would also recommend switching ears from time to time if you do have the phone pressed against your head.

I am fortunate in that I work at home, so I don’t need to use a cell phone very often.

You can choose to ignore the risks, of course, but from my perspective, I think the science is more than strong enough to raise concerns, and the measures needed to minimize risk are trivial.

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For more information or to stay up to date on all things microwave, go to “Microwave News: A report on non-ionizing radiation.”