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Must-read journalism: Cell Phones and You

Jan 28, 2010 by

My experience is that the biggest potential stories are simply too big for the major organs of daily journalism. That’s the lesson I learned writing my book, Family of Secrets. That’s also why I started www.WhoWhatWhy.com.  Where we do find the really explosive material, it often pops up in the seemingly least-likely places. So it is that we must turn to the Men’s fashion magazine, GQ, for a bracing look by freelancer Chris Ketcham at the field of radiation that is now everywhere, thanks to those nifty and now essential cell phones and handheld devices that dominate our lives. Read this and quake.

Here are a few snippets:

It’s hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. This is especially true in the United States, where non-industry-funded studies are rare, where legislation protecting the wireless industry from legal challenges has long been in place, and where our lives have been so thoroughly integrated with wireless technology that to suggest it might be a problem-maybe, eventually, a very big public-health problem-is like saying our shoes might be killing us. Except our shoes don’t send microwaves directly into our brains. And cell phones do-a fact that has increasingly alarmed the rest of the world….

 Though the scientific debate is heated and far from resolved, there are multiple reports, mostly out of Europe’s premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to “brain aging,” brain damage, early-onset Alz­heimer’s, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs (many men, after all, keep their cell phones in their pants pockets or attached at the hip). In September 2007, the European Union’s environmental watchdog, the European Environment Agency, warned that cell-phone technology “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol.”

Perhaps most worrisome, though, are the preliminary results of the multinational Interphone study sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyon, France. (Scientists from thirteen countries took part in the study, the United States conspicuously not among them.) Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor-specifically on the side of the head where you use the phone-goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Interphone researchers in Israel have found that cell phones can cause tumors of the parotid gland (the salivary gland in the cheek), and an independent study in Sweden last year concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor. Another Interphone study reported a nearly 300 percent increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the acoustic nerve.

You may have heard bits and pieces of this, but Ketcham brings more of it together in a more persuasive manner than I’ve seen before. Time to discuss.

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