Do You Do These 5 Things With Your Cellphone That Health Officials Say You Shouldn’t?
By April M. Short
The California Department of Public Health has just released the first-ever guidelines on avoiding too much exposure to the radiation cellphones emit. State officials said one of the reasons for releasing the guidelines is that statistics show cellphone use is at an all-time high, with 95 percent of Americans using cellphones each day, Pew Research Center noted.
Karen Smith, of the state health department, said there is widespread public concern over cellphone safety, according to a San Francisco CBS station.
Perhaps another reason the guidelines are coming out now is due to pressure from researchers and others.
Psychologist and UC Berkeley professor Joel Moskowitz sued the health department in 2009 for its refusal to release information on the risks of cellphone use to the public. He won the lawsuit this spring. "People are being injured and harmed by the delay in having this information accessible to them," Moskowitz told San Francisco's CBS News affiliate.
Cellphone use may increase the risk of cancer, but the scientific evidence so far is inconclusive, mainly due to the relatively short period of time cellphones have been around.
Cellphone radiation could be harmful due to the type of radio waves the devices emit: non-ionizing radiation. Tissues close to phone antennas—which exist inside of every smartphone—can be heated by the radiation, as the FDA, American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute all recognize. When you hold your phone up to your head, those nearby tissues include your ears and brain.
Some studies have linked cellphone radiation exposure with brain tumors and other brain cancers, as the American Cancer Society acknowledges, but most studies have not shown conclusive evidence one way or another. Because cellphone use has only been widespread for a few years, as ACA noted, it is impossible for any study to conclude what the long-term health effects of exposure could be.
Higher levels of exposure to non-ionizing radiation are known to impact the health of human cells and DNA, but whether cellphones can expose us to those higher levels is a question researchers are still working to answer.
AlterNet ran an article by Christopher Ketcham in 2011 exploring the widespread reports of cellphones and WiFi making people and animals sick. For the first time in human history, Ketcham noted, people are being exposed to electromagnetic frequencies from cellphones, WiFi and digital meters 24 hours a day. He quotes David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York, who said, "Radio frequency radiation has a number of biological effects which can be reproducibly found in animals and cellular systems. We really cannot say for certain what the adverse effects are in humans. But the indications are that there may be—and I use the words 'may be'—very serious effects in humans."
While the National Cancer Institute's official stance is that cellphones likely do not emit high enough levels of radiation to affect human health, at least in the short term, its fact sheet on cellphone safety states: "Radio frequency exposure from cellphone use does cause heating to the area of the body where a cellphone or other device is held (ear, head, etc.). However, it is not sufficient to measurably increase body temperature, and there are no other clearly established effects on the body from radio frequency energy."
CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta warned in 2012 that the risks of cellphone radiation are largely unknown. See the video, below:
An Atlantic article from earlier this year notes that a study published in PLUS ONE concluded there is a "'significant' association between long-term mobile phone use and the risk of glioma," a type of brain tumor.
"But the actual significance of the link is questionable," the Atlantic piece stated. "The data they used spanned 11 studies between 1980 and 2016, but the researchers themselves acknowledged the evidence is limited and much of the data is 'poor quality.' The biggest takeaway, then, may be their conclusion that more study is needed." As in the U.S., European health experts continue to argue over the potential risks of cellphone radiation amid lack of long-term studies. A large-scale cellphone health study, the COSMOS project, is currently working to track the phone usage and health of more than half a million people across Europe. The study began in 2007 and will continue for the next two to three decades.
The New Guidelines
Since the long-term risk of cellphone use is unknown, why not take some simple, commonsense steps to reduce radiation exposure just in case? This was the apparent thought process behind California's new guidelines.
The risk of cellphone radiation exposure can increase or decrease exponentially based on some simple do's and don'ts. It's a matter of tweaking a few basic habits.
Here are five things not to do, according to the California guidelines for cellphone health, How to Reduce Exposure to Radiofrequency Energy from Cellphones.
1. Don't hold your phone up to your ear.
"Use the speakerphone or a headset instead," because "wireless (Bluetooth) and wired headsets emit much less RF energy than cellphones." The guidelines also suggest sending text messages rather than talking on the phone whenever possible.
2. Try not to use your phone if you're in a fast-moving vehicle.
"Your phone puts out more RF energy to maintain connections to avoid dropping calls as it switches connections from one cell tower to the next unless it is in airplane mode," the guidelines state.
3. Avoid using your phone when you have one or two service bars showing.
"Cellphones put out more RF energy to connect with cell towers when the signal is weak," the guide notes.
4. Don't carry your phone in your pocket, bra or holster close to your body.
The guidelines suggest you carry it in a backpack, briefcase, purse or elsewhere, so that the device is kept several inches away from your body. A few inches can make a difference, it notes. Also, put phones on airplane mode when carrying them close as the devices don't emit RF energy when in airplane mode.
5. Never sleep with your phone under your pillow or near your head.
Karen Smith from the state health department suggests keeping your phone at least an arm's length away from your body when sleeping. You should also turn your phone off or on airplane mode while you sleep, the guidelines note.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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