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Stephen King Was Right: Cell Phones Can Kill You—and Your Kids, but Low-Cost Solutions Are Available

Steven King's terrifying book about cell phones (Cell) used to seem far-fetched—but research shows cellphones are indeed deadly. Don't panic. An old-fashioned wired headset offers a quick, affordable defense.

WE'VE ALL BEEN THROUGH DEAD ZONES. Engrossed in a conversation on our cell phones, we bristle whenthe call drops. An annoyance to be sure, but it turns out these may not be dead zones after all, but rather the safest places for humans to be over the long run, according to recent reports on the dangers of wireless technologies.
Kids Exposed to EMFs

Deadly Companion The ubiquitous cellphone is too often held up to a child's head for extended period. Don't wait. Train them to use a wired headset, starting now. These headsets should NOT be confused with wireless bluetooth devices, which may carry risks similar to that of cellular phones.

For example, the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy (NISLAPP) report, “Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution,” details the health consequences of microwave radiation exposure from cellphones, neighborhood antennas, wireless networks, wireless routers, portable phones, and other devices. In the late summer, another report, “Cell phones and Brain Tumors,” was released by a collaborative of EMF experts. 

In addition, a growing body of evidence on the deleterious effects of electrical field exposure—the relentless 60-cycle-per-second, negative-to-positive alternation of AC voltage emanating from electrical wires in our homes, along with magnetic field exposure from current on water pipes—adds to a disturbing trend of humans under electrical siege.

“Electromagnetic radiation [EMR] has the potential to become the most controversial toxin of our lifetime,” says Rob Metzinger of Canada-based Safe Living Technologies. “Certainly in our day-to-day business we have seen an overall increase in public interest and understanding of this pollutant.”

“Exposure to cell phone radiation is the largest human health experiment ever undertaken, without informed consent and has some 4 billion participants enrolled,” adds lead author of “Cellphones and Brain Tumors,” Lloyd Morgan. “Science has shown increased risk of brain tumors from use of cell phones, as well as increased risk of eye cancer, salivary gland tumors, testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and leukemia. The public must be informed.”

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The Downside of Always Connected

Compounding the cell fad is Wi-Fi, or wireless Internet routers. The alluring promise of being able to work remotely from anywhere in the world has captured the imaginations of business professionals. Enough images of a business person in a lounge chair checking email beachside have taken root in our collective psyche. At the very least, we think, we should be able to work on our back decks, if not in Hawaii.


Schools have signed on, too. As the “SOS” report points out, the fact that schools, in this country at least, are increasingly using wireless networks to access the Internet—instead of hard-wired connections—increases the amount of radiation children are exposed to over their lifetimes. Several countries outside the United States, however, now recommend limited cell phone and Wi-Fi access for children, including Germany, Russia, India, Belgium, and Finland. Clearly the United States is behind the curve on this issue.

In late spring, France banned cell phones in primary schools and has become the first European

How mobile phones affect the brain

government to publicly announce a proposal for an outright ban on some aspects of mobile phone use. The proposed bill aims to ban advertising to kids under 12 and selling cell phones for the use of children under six. Paris is removing Wi-Fi from libraries, and Lakehead University in Ontario has banned Wi-Fi on their entire campus.

“We are addicted,” explains “SOS” report author Magda Havas, associate professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Canada. “Cell phones are being misused as a way of keeping in constant touch. They were supposed to be used for business or emergencies, but people are using them in their homes because they are so convenient. And now kids are using them. Giving a kid a cell phone is like giving them a pack of cigarettes.”

Why not a hue and cry here, then? “There’s a lot of power behind ignoring the downside of wireless, notes consultant Larry Gust of Gust Environmental. It may have something to do with the fact that the $4 trillion per year cell phone industry packs political clout.

“You don’t hear about this in the American media,” agrees Oram Miller, a certified building biology environmental inspector. “But the European and Asian press is full of reports on this issue. A year-long review released by the University of Albany in New York, called the BioInitiative Report, says that the so-called ‘safe exposure limits’ set by the American government are thousands of times too lenient.”

What’s the Health Upshot?

Gust and others paint a dismal global problem. “The atmosphere is full of digital transmissions. If the signals were colored blue, you wouldn’t be able to see through it. These signals are taking a toll on our bodies.” The health effects run wide and deep, and are cumulative over time.

It helps to understand how electromagnetic fields work on our bodies.

Save Your Brain. Ditch the Bluetooth

Bluetooth May Cause Cancer

If you're walking around with a bluetooth headset behind your ear, you're bombarding your skull with damaging EMF. The fix is to go retro. Experts say the safest way to use your phone is to use an old fashioned wired headset or a wired hollow earpiece--or keep the phone away from your body with a hands- free cellphone speaker. Sure, you'll look a little retro, but you might avoid shaving your head for cancer treatments.--Editor

EMFs are terms that broadly describe exposures created by both wired and wireless technologies. Environmental exposure to artificial EMFs can interfere with fundamental biological processes, in some cases causing discomfort or disease. Today, everyone is exposed to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields from electrical wiring, electronic appliances, and power lines. Harmful low-frequency information-carrying radio waves are also generated by wireless devices, such as cell phones, cordless phones, and Wi-Fi and Wi-Max networks.

With low-frequency electromagnetic fields, the body senses the magnetic signals and sees them as a threat. These fields compress cell membranes, which get thinner and restrict the movement of nutrition into cells and waste out of cells. If this goes on long enough, it can compromise organs and cause cells to die. This effect is most pronounced within the so-called “near field” around a cell phone, which extends 5 1/2 wavelengths, or about 6”–7” from the phone when transmitting. Our head is within that field the whole time we are on a call, and the effects are cumulative.

EMF experts point to the suffering of an alarming number of people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity, who are often referred to as the canaries in the coal mine.

Their symptoms include irritability, insomnia, fatigue, chronic pain, difficulty concentrating, poor short-term memory, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular irregularities, nausea, skin disorders, and eye and ear disorders. While virtually unacknowledged in this country, electromagnetic hypersensitivity is now a “compensable” disability in Sweden’s health care system.

Because these symptoms are also the same for a host of other ailments, it’s been difficult in the past to trace them to EMFs. However, complaints are widespread, and the recent rollout of 3G wireless phones caused almost immediate public complaints of illness, according to research from the TNO Physics and Electronics Lab in The Netherlands.

England Study on Brain TumorsThe story behind electrical fields—not to be confused with magnetic fields, also caused by electricity—from house wiring is that the polarity of the AC electricity in wires in walls and floors, as well as in power cords pugged into outlets, changes from positive to negative 60 times a second (60 Hz). This causes a rapid, powerful alternating attraction and repulsion of ions and electrons in each of our body’s trillions of cells—especially all night long while we sleep. This subtle agitation keeps us from getting good rest because it suppresses melatonin produced by the pineal gland, a hormone that promotes deep sleep. No rest means the body can’t heal itself overnight, which is the intended purpose of sleep.

“It is estimated that about 3%–5% of people—perhaps as many as 30%—are affected by radio frequency radiation (RF) and 120 Volt AC electricity,” says Miller. “So these people can’t go to Starbucks, libraries [and other places where Wi-Fi is offered], and they don’t get a good night’s sleep in their own bedrooms.” Many others are equally affected, but they and their doctors don’t yet know the cause is the EMFs constantly around them.

Home as Sanctuary

The bad news: There’s not a whole lot builders can do about the worldwide infatuation with all things wireless. The good news? Builders can design and construct homes that serve as a sanctuary of health and calm.

Stephen King Cell NovelHorror author Stephen King explored the hazards of cell phone use and the benefits of avoiding EMF pollution in his 2006 novel Cell.

“We are trying in our profession to not only help people who are EMF-sensitive, but also to help architects and builders design living and work spaces that reduce occupant exposure to EMFs of all kinds. We feel that everyone is harmed by exposure to the increasing ‘soup’ of EMF exposure,” says Gust.

Architect Richard Bialosky is one of a growing number of building professionals tackling the EMF issue in homes. In fact, his Vedic Home in Vero Beach, Fla., which won an award in Green Builder’s 2008 green home of the year awards program, was built using safeguards against wireless signals as well as “dirty” electricity and other electromagnetic fields in homes.

His summary of the EMF issue? “Don’t be scared; be very, very frightened.” And he’s not just fearful of the enormity of the EMF problem. He’s distressed about the lack of interest this subject has garnered, even in the face of growing scientific and anecdotal evidence. “There needs to be an outcry to overcome the pressure from industry to keep the public in the dark,” he says.

Bialosky and others are working to write an electrical spec for homes. “We had to simplify the language to not scare the subs,” he notes. He’s also trying to educate organizations that reward sustainability. “I requested five points from the local green building program [for EMF-proofing his house] and I got no points for it. If you put in nontoxic paint—and that’s a minor health issue compared to EMFs—you get points. They paid no attention to me.”

His home minimizes the effects of EMF pollution by using fiberglass rebar in the masonry construction because with continuous steel loops of rebar connected to the grounding system, you allow the rebar to pick up ground currents and broadcast them into the home, like antennas. Plastic water service supply pipes avoid magnetic fields from “pipe current.” All the wiring is in metallic conduit to limit electric fields. There are no dimmers, no CFLs, and no wireless—nothing that can chop sine waves, which release bursts of RF, or “dirty electricity,” which may cause biochemical reactions in human cells. Everything is hardwired. (See “Power Down,” for a more thorough list of EMF dos and don’ts.)

Bialosky encourages builders to look at the science and then do their part to help: “If you ask someone, ‘If you knew you were making a lot of money but making people sick or killing them, would you keep doing it?’ People always answer no, of course, but the real answer in the corporate universe is why would we stop making money? If you don’t look out for yourself, who is going to look out for you?”

Starr Porter, for one, is doing just that. She just completed a $1.4 million green renovation of her 3,000-square-foot condo in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights.

Porter contacted Vicki Warren, who is the executive director of the International Institute for Bau-biologie and Ecology, and asked her to determine the amount of EMFs in her home. Using a radio frequency meter (which measures the strength of radio frequency, or RF, fields), Warren found the RF levels were 650 times higher than levels considered safe. Porter was encouraged to use a “shielding paint,” which is an electro-conductive primer paint that protects against radio frequencies. She also put protective film on the windows.

“The radio frequency readings are now under 50,” Porter says. “All the EMFs that were coming into this home were from the other buildings and homes around, in addition to the apartments above and below me.”

The Wired Problem

While the focus is on wireless or RF at the moment, builders should also address the issues surrounding electric and magnetic fields from building wiring.

Because the 120V 60 Hz AC power coming into houses is alternating between positive and negative at 60 cycles per second and most circuits and appliance cords are insulated in plastic and therefore not shielded, the charged particles in our cells are constantly being attracted and repulsed from circuits and power cords at the same rate. An electric field emanates 8’–10’ from the power cords and wiring, causing cell agitation, particularly when we try to sleep.

It’s not enough to simply shut off appliances or lights because the 120 volts of power, like water under pressure in a hose, simply sits there oscillating at 60 times a second. Because we use plastic-jacketed unshielded wiring in walls, the electric fields are able to go out up to 8’–10’ in all directions. Electric fields also extend up to 8’ or more from electric power cords, even if the lamp is turned off.

According to Miller, if you want to avoid electric fields from within walls, you should build with metal-wrapped wire (which he estimates to cost roughly 25% more compared with Romex) and install a system that allows homeowners to power down their lamps in bedrooms at night. Also, make sure you use plastic for your water service pipe rather than metal. There are a number of other steps you and your home owners can take. Miller’s consulting company, Environmental Design and Inspection Services www.createhealthyhomes.com, is a good place to start.

Where to Now?

As mentioned, manufacturers and industry are moving slowly to admit a connection between health and their products, which hampers the creation of solutions. Many simply point to the fact that they comply with federal regulations and leave it at that. Cell phone service providers (AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon were contacted for this story) punt journalists to the CTIA—The Wireless Association for response. The organization points to limits established by the FCC, which has denied any correlation between cell phones and health problems.

“There are solutions to EMFs, but when we don’t admit there is a problem there is no incentive to solve it,” says Gust. “But as more people want to create sanctuaries out of their homes and see a need for this, it will grow.”

Gust sees the movement toward EMF-neutral homes starting in the high-end, where the extra money spent toward it isn’t an issue. “There is room in high-end market for the people who have the money and understand the implications, then it will spread from there.”

Canada’s Metzinger agrees. “Generally speaking, there is a growing demographic in North America that understands the connection between toxins in our environment, practices in industry, and government policies. EMR is one of those toxins around which there is a serious lag between advancements in consumable technologies and consensus on public health impact. It’s just a matter of time before one catches up with the other.”