California Issues Guidelines to Reduce Potential Harm From Cellphones

The California Dept. of Public Health issued guidelines for those who want to reduce their exposure to cellphone radiation. (Getty Images)

The California Department of Public Health Wednesday released a new set of guidelines concerning  the use of cellphones and radiation risk. 

Some studies have suggested that long-term use could be linked to brain or salivary gland cancer, lower sperm count, and headaches, the department said. And a study from Kaiser Permanente published this week in Scientific Reports found an association between exposure to the type of radiation emitted by cellphones and other sources and a higher rate of miscarriage. But the department was cautious in its framing of the potential harm:

"These studies do not establish the link definitely, however, and scientists disagree about whether cellphones cause these health problems and how great the risks might be," the guidelines state. "This document is intended to provide guidance for those people who want to reduce their own and their families’ exposures to RF [radio frequency] energy from cellphones, despite this uncertainty."

The creation of the guidelines was spurred by the exploding use of cell phones in recent years, said CDPH Director Dr. Karen Smith.

"We're finding that many more children are using cellphones and they're using them at earlier ages," Smith said.

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The  average age when children get their first phone is now just over 10, according to one 2016 study.

Activists have spent years campaigning for consumer warnings, despite pushback from industry groups. In May, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the California health department had worked on cellphone guidelines over five years and 27 revisions, "abandoning the efforts without ever making their concerns public until ordered by a judge." The order camein response to a lawsuit by a UC Berkeley public health researcher.

Berkeley law requiring cellphone health warnings in stores was upheld by a U.S. federal appeals court in April.

Some suggestions from the health department if you're concerned about health hazards from your phone:

  • When you talk on your phone, avoid holding it to your head; use the speakerphone or a headset instead.
  • Send text messages in place of engaging in phone conversations.
  • Reduce use when there's a weak signal.
  • Don't carry your phone in your pocket, bra or belt holster.
  • Reduce or avoid use of your phone when it is sending out high levels of RF energy, which occurs mainly when the signal is weak, you're in a fast-moving vehicle, and you are streaming media or downloading or sending large files. In these circumstances, try to keep the phone away from your head and body.

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In a statement to Capitol Public Radio,  CTIA, the cellphone industry trade group, said, "The Federal Communications Commission monitors scientific research on a regular basis, and its standard for RF exposure is based on recommended guidelines adopted by U.S. and international standard-setting bodies. That’s why the FCC has determined that all wireless phones legally sold in the United States are ‘safe.’ ”

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