Communications: We have been bemoaning the over-abundance, over use, over-price, over-tech, over-indulgence, and over-rudeness of cell phones for a good, long time.

Finally, although they get things generally wrong, California may be about to get something right.

Start with the Forbes article here: “California’s Latest Precautionary Move Against “Cell Phone Radiation”.

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The story is potentially huge.  It came out last week as a press release from the California Department of Public Health in a press release: “CDPH Issues Guidelines on How to Reduce Exposure to Radio Frequency Energy from Cell Phones.

In the public advisory, the California health folks mention this data which is glossed-over by the communications industry showing potential links between:

• brain cancer and tumors of the acoustic nerve (needed for hearing and maintaining balance) and salivary glands

• lower sperm counts and inactive or less mobile sperm

• headaches and effects on learning and memory, hearing, behavior, and sleep

As if that wasn’t enough, there has been plenty of concern over both the effects of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC):

“Exposure standards for radiofrequency energy have been developed by various organizations and governments.  Most modern standards recommend safe levels of exposure separately for the general public and for workers.  In the United States, the FCC has adopted and used recognized safety guidelines for evaluating RF environmental exposure since 1985.  Federal health and safety agencies, such as the EPA, FDA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have also been involved in monitoring and investigating issues related to RF exposure.

The FCC guidelines for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields were derived from the recommendations of two expert organizations, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).  Both the NCRP exposure criteria and the IEEE standard were developed by expert scientists and engineers after extensive reviews of the scientific literature related to RF biological effects.  The exposure guidelines are based on thresholds for known adverse effects, and they incorporate prudent margins of safety.  In adopting the current RF exposure guidelines, the FCC consulted with the EPA, FDA, OSHA and NIOSH, and obtained their support for the guidelines that the FCC is using.

Many countries in Europe and elsewhere use exposure guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).  The ICNIRP safety limits are generally similar to those of the NCRP and IEEE, with a few exceptions.  For example, ICNIRP recommends somewhat different exposure levels in the lower and upper frequency ranges and for localized exposure due to such devices as hand-held cellular telephones.  One of the goals of the WHO EMF Project (see above) is to provide a framework for international harmonization of RF safety standards.  The NCRP, IEEE and ICNIRP exposure guidelines identify the same threshold level at which harmful biological effects may occur, and the values for Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) recommended for electric and magnetic field strength and power density in both documents are based on this level.  The threshold level is a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value for the whole body of 4 watts per kilogram (4 W/kg).  “

Unfortunately, the Federal government is more likely to “give” to industry pressure because it’s easier for communications lobby groups to round up lawmakers in Washington rather than 50 capitols around the country.

Which explains the double-talk in the FDA statement, found online here, that says:

“Many people are concerned that cell phone radiation will cause cancer or other serious health hazards. The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.”

Or has it?

The way cell phones are considered “safe” is if each of the individual risks is taken absent all the other risks.  So, for example, we all know that accidents happen with cars because of people texting and not paying attention to traffic.  But THAT doesn’t figure into cell phone risk…at least not directly.

Yet here’s a recent study that says, in so many words, you’re a lot safer listening to an ebook than texting: “Good distractions: Testing the effects of listening to an audiobook on driving performance in simple and complex road environments.

And to be sure the “Life-Time Dosimetric Assessment for Mice and Rats Exposed in Reverberation Chambers of the 2-Year NTP Cancer Bioassay Study on Cell Phone Radiation” doesn’t actually give cell phones to rats and mice….

For all the talk of how good our electronics are, there are still costs of using them. Musculoskeletal pain and musculoskeletal syndromes in adolescents are related to electronic devices.

Still, not enough to indict cell phones as a health risk.  And, here’s the key thing, as we see it:  While the California guidelines came out as a shock, they are really quite commonsensical. We just don’t have enough data, yet.

All of which gets us around to the point of this morning’s epistle:  No, it’s not about cell phones.

It’s about the government’s database.

Oh, it’s dandy, and its current, and it’s useful.

All except for the ONE BIG GLARING shortcoming when I go through and look at reports.

There is no disclosure about who paid for the research.

Since we know (thanks to climate change/global warming) that the science goes where paychecks are issued, it’s abundantly clear that especially in MEDICINE it’s important to  have a solid handle of who’s a partisan in the issue, and who’s not.

Years ago, we had an issue with the small international airline I was with (yeah, SR VP) and it was marketing related.  So this colleague named Alex suggested we pay a substantial Florida university to do a “learned report” that would justify the position we were promoting.

Check done, report done and oh, how surprising:  It supported our objectives.

Can you believe that?

This is precisely where we are on cell phones.  As one example, there’s a hearing loss study that says “no impact” based on head side used for cell calls.  n – statistically the sample size, was 160 cases.  Another study (n-1600+) found just the opposite.

So back to our point:  When even ham radio operators (like Ure’s truly) have to post property with exposure signs and have a radiation exposure calculation in our local files (which we do…we don’t want to get cooked), how is it that cell phones don’t come with more risk awareness training?

Let me cite an Israeli study (2009, here) because it’s not common to line up the ducks this well.  Let’s see which countries are most restrictive on phone exposure:

Now consider the “loose” countries:

If it’s too early for math: We get 1.33 times more than the Swiss allow, 13 times the Israeli number and 1.66 times what Greece allows.

California is onto something…and it’s rare I will congratulate them with getting things so right.

Long-term public health longitudinal studies take years and as we figure it, an abundance of caution on the front-end is preferable to a national of half-baked zombies on the other end.

But, those microwave neighbors (cell phones) are already generating things like phantom rings…what will they generate next?   And who’s buying the research?

If you get a new one for Christmas, ask yourself: “Is this a lump of coal?

Write when you get rich,