Is that cell phone in your pocket sterilizing you?
Remember when your mom and dad used to tell you to back up from the microwave? They probably didn't tell you that the 700-watt monster in the kitchen heating up your soup was potentially killing your chances of reproducing, but more than likely that was their fear.
Hmm, can you think of any other microwave-emitting device that we use daily? Your pocket microwave oven, perhaps? Also known as your cell phone—perhaps your wireless Internet hub, too? Yes, microwaves can be dangerous—the U.S. military is even developing microwave-based weapons, for example. Maybe I've been drinking the tech-loving Kool-Aid for too long, but this seemingly well-researched story in this month's GQ stopped me cold in my tracks last week when I finally got around to reading it. There's the bit about the dangers of brain tumors from a decade or more of using cell phones—particularly for young people. You can find similar alarming news about elsewhere. Swedish researcher Lennart Hardell "reported that those who started using cell phones before the age of 20 were five times more likely to develop a glioma, a type of brain tumor," according to www.microwavenews.com—but as you would guess, his stats are disputed. And there are few, if any, official bodies that will endorse a link between cell phone use and cancer.
But I had heard about the brain tumors before—and agreed, scary. The bit about "sperm die-offs," however is something I hadn't heard before–and applies to just about any guy who keeps a cellie in his pocket and, as a friend pointed out, was perfect coming from a men's magazine. To be fair, I can't find anything anywhere about a sterilization risk for women, and I would suspect the GQ writer looked into that, too.
The GQ story took the tack that the U.S. has been pretty nonchalant about the health dangers of cell phones, while Europe has seen more major news outlets reporting. But as it turns out, the U.S. has more stringent standards for cell phones. SAR measures the quantity of radio-frequency (RF) energy absorbed by our bodies. The U.S. and Canada allow a maximum SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram, while Europe caps it at 2 watts per kilogram. Cell-phone SAR rates vary; see the charts below.
In my efforts to fact-check the possible dangers of cell phones, I've run up against a mountain of science, much of which seems to support the idea that cell phones are not powerful enough to cause damage to human cells. Importantly, just about every major source indicates that "the jury is still out" on cell phones. Consider that the GQ article details various efforts to suppress troubling studies of the effects of EM fields, and well, I'm not going to carry my cell phone in my pocket until I know more. Without a major impartial study in the United States, we just don't know—there's one under way, and we should have the results in two to three years.
To limit your exposure, try using a hands-free device, keeping the phone away from your head when making a connection,
Here's a rundown of the mostly hype-free data on the cell phone safety debate: