This is a headline I cam across recently. "Well, it's in the news again.
Cell phones can cause genetic damage and cancer. If you want to read more about
it you can find some information at
" The author of this article
is relaying the news of an important and revolutionary book soon to hit the
stands that reveals the dangers of cell phone, the industry cover up and active
denial from the scientific community.
Well, this will pop up into the news every so often. The problem is, Cell phones do not cause cancer. Everything we know about physics and science says that not only do they not cause cancer, but also they can not. To understand why, you have to understand what it is a cell phone does. Cell phones do indeed emit 'radiation'. But radiation is simply a generic term used for anything that 'radiates' out from a source. There are many kinds of radiation, separated mainly into two categories, electromagnetic radiation, and particle radiation. Some people are familiar with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. Alpha radiation is particle in nature and is actually a helium 4 nucleus, two protons and two neutrons. These are very easy to stop, as they are large and heavy. But if they are traveling with significant velocity, they can do some damage. Beta radiation is actually just high-energy electrons being ejected from atoms. Gamma radiation is not particle in nature*, unlike alpha and beta, gamma radiation is specifically electromagnetic radiation, and it is very harmful. There are other kinds of particle radiation, like 'solar wind' and 'cosmic rays' But cell phones do not emit particle radiation, they emit electromagnetic radiation, specifically a particular class of electromagnet radiation usually called 'radio waves'.
Electromagnetic radiation is classified by one key component, its frequency. The energy contained in electromagnetic radiation is proportional to the frequency of the radiation. Imagine holding the end of a string, with the other end attached to a wall. If you shake the string up and down, you start sending a wave back and forth over the string. The harder you shake it, the more waves there are on the string, and the higher its frequency. Thus the more energy the higher the frequency. This is true of any kind of wave. Electromagnetic radiation also has another name, its called Light. The light that we know of is usually referred to as visible light and it actually consists of a very small portion of the overall electromagnetic spectrum. Frequencies below that of visible light contain less energy, and they include infra red, microwave, radio, radar, and low frequency waves. Notice now that the energy contained in the 'radiation' emitted from a cellular phone is less than the energy contained in the 'radiation' emitted from a normal light bulb in your house. In fact, the energy in that light coming from your light bulb has millions of times the amount of energy that cell phone radiation has. Lets look at this another way, if you take the battery from a cell phone and plug it into a light bulb, how bright will that light bulb be? It will be very dim, if it even lights up at all. So how does the energy from your weak cell phone battery send your conversation to a cell phone tower miles away, when it can not even light a common light bulb up enough to be seen beyond a few feet?
To answer this, we have to find out how electromagnetic radiation interacts with the world around us. That is, how does it interact with matter? Well, fortunately, this is a very easy question to answer. Electromagnetic radiation, or light rather, can interact with matter in only on of two ways, it can 'contribute to intermolecular vibration' or it can 'ionize it' Meaning that when light hits an atom, it either shoves it around a bit, or it knocks an electron off of it. By shoving it around, all that really means is it heats it up. The entire spectrum of light can be separated into two categories, ionizing, and non-ionizing. Anything below ultraviolet is classified as non-ionizing. Which means that no radiation below that of Ultraviolet in frequency has the energy to knock a single electron out of an atom. Ultraviolet light is above visible light in frequency, which means that visible light can do nothing to matter but heat it up. Likewise, anything below visible light in frequency can also do nothing to matter (including us) besides heat it up. Ultraviolet radiation can knock electrons right off of atoms. This is the mechanism that can cause cancer, if the right electron at the right place is knocked of the right atom, a cancerous mutation can form. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause cancer in human tissue that most commonly interacts with the sun, the skin. X-rays and Gamma rays are higher then ultraviolet in frequency and that is why they can also cause cancer. For anything below ultraviolet to cause cancer it would have to effect matter in some way that would be conducive to a cancerous cell forming. But the only way that electromagnetic radiation below the frequency of ultraviolet light has ever been known to interact with matter is to heat it up, and that's it.
If light below the frequency of ultraviolet light could do something other then heat matter up and therefore cause cancer it would be quite an astounding discovery. Unfortunately, for would be class action lawsuit lawyers, one of the most successful theories of all time says this is not possible. QED (Quantum Electrodynamics), which describes the interaction between light and matter, is considered to be one of the if not the most successful and accurate theory ever published. Physicist Richard Feynman won a nobel prize for it.
Elaborating a little more on the way that light interacts with matter, it is important to note that microwaves and radio waves behave differently with different kinds of matter then light (the visible light) we are familiar with does. A piece of glass is transparent (for the most part) to visible light, while it is opaque to Ultraviolet light. A piece of copper is opaque to visible light, while it is transparent to X-rays. Copper interacts with X-rays in the same way that glass interacts with visible light. X-Ray lasers use copper lenses instead of glass lenses to focus their beams. Moving down the spectrum to microwaves and radio waves, it turns out that most anything is transparent to both of these forms of light with the exception of metals. This indeed means that radio waves and microwaves pass right through you (this is why microwaves are so good at heating, they penetrate deep into the material being heated) But because they are passing through you, does that necessarily mean they are harming you? They are, after all, passing right through your head and brain. But think for a minute about some other forms of life with much more powerful forms of radiation passing right through them. Jellyfish and transparent fish, these organisms are transparent for the most part to visible light. It passes right through them and is, in many cases, barely effected. This does not cause cancer in these organisms. Imagine that you could only 'see' microwaves and radio waves. Almost EVERYTHING around you would look like glass. Trees, people, brick walls, concrete, plastic... it would all look likes varying shades and opacities of glass. The only thing that would be dark and opaque would be metal. Because people and most things are mostly transparent to microwaves and radio waves, this means that very little interaction is going on between those things.
Take a look at your cell phone battery, mine says "3.6v 1600 ma"
this means it operates at a potential of 3.6 volts and carries a current of
1,600 milliamps, or 1.6 amps. To get total power output, you multiple voltage
and amperage together, mine would then put out 5.76 watts. That is a direct
measurement of the amount of power that is radiated from my cell phone. 5.76
watts, That's it. My microwave oven is 1500 watts. My light bulb is 250 watts.
That 5.76 watts is enough to communicate with a cellular tower many miles away
though, because to microwaves almost everything is as clear as glass! It may
very well be that lower frequencies of electromagnetic radiation interact with
matter in some way to cause cancer, but it is EXTREMELY unlikely. It is in fact
so unlikely that it is unreasonable to assume otherwise, unless some evidence
arises to suggest it can interact with matter in a manner that can cause cancer.
It could, of course, be argued that the manner it interacts with matter to cause
cancer in humans is only apparent as cases of brain tumors with cell phone users.
But since there are over 50 million cell phone users in the US, and there has
been NO increase in ear, brain, or hand cancer, it seems extremely unlikely.
Knowing this, I will examine some quotes from this article. First they suggest
the use of headphones where the antenna is not facing or right against your
head. The article also suggests that you make sure when you are talking on the
cell phone to try to point the antenna away from you. This is strange as these
kinds of antennas broadcast electromagnetic radiation in every direction with
the same intensity. Moving it away from your head may decrease the intensity
slightly, but the radio waves extend out as a sphere in every direction, so
where the antenna is pointing is completely irrelevant. Antennae that are directional
always have a parabolic dish behind them, which serves to reflect the electromagnetic
radiation that is emitted from a non-directional antennae source. After it reflects
off the dish it travels out in a straight line, much like a spotlight will focus
visible light into a coherent beam. The article goes on "Still the U.S.
government had taken no action and apparently given little thought to whether
or not this radiation-emitting instrument that people were pressing to their
skulls would cause any adverse health effects. " Notice in the quote that
the term of focus is 'radiation emitting instrument'. A light bulb is also a
'radiation emitting instrument' though the government has taken no action to
measure their health effects. Even though a light bulb is thousands of times
more powerful. And then "It is worth noting for instance, that studies
by the Swedish scientist Dr. Kjell Hansson Mild found that cell phone users
experienced headaches and dizziness." My response is that it is also worth
noting that there has never been a single link to cell phone use and cancer,
that there is no mechanism by which cell phones can cause cancer, and that there
has been no increase in any kind of cancer that could be attributed to cell
phone use. It is also interesting to note that holding anything up against your
head, whether it is emitting 5 watts of non-interacting 'radiation' or not,
will cause headaches and dizziness. Of course, the article doesn't mention those
things. Has anyone ever placed a 5.76 watt antennae an inch away from someone's
head and checked to see if it causes dizziness with out holding a phone against
It seems far more likely that this author is trying to scare people into buying his book. Notice how they continually throw hints of conspiracies into the mix! Keep that in mind and read the first quote again. It is more likely that scientists ignore these claims for the same reason they ignore your neighbors claim that he has proven Einstein wrong, it is a dead issue, and unless someone presents some compelling evidence to suggest otherwise, it will remain a dead issue. I for one will not hesitate to use my Cell Phone, but I will use sun block and not smoke, as these things are proven to cause cancer from forming.
(c) 1999 Michael Dickey