The Truth About Mobile Phone and Wireless Radiation – Part 1

Presented by Dr Devra Davis Ph.D.

Dr Devra Davis is the visiting Professor of Medicine at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, and Visiting Professor of Medicine at Ondokuz Mayis University, Turkey.

The Lecture

What are the health effects of mobile phones and wireless radiation? While Australia has led the world in safety standards, including compulsory seat-belt legislation, plain packaging on cigarettes, and product and food disclosure legislation, it falls behind in addressing the significant issues associated with mobile phone use.

In this Dean’s Lecture, epidemiologist and electromagnetic radiation expert, Dr Devra Davis, will outline the evolution of the mobile phone and smartphone, and provide a background to the current 19-year-old radiation safety standards (SAR), policy developments and international legislation.

New global studies on the health consequences of mobile/wireless radiation will be presented, including children’s exposure and risks.

Transcript - The Truth About Cellphone & Wireless Radiation - Part 1

Thank you very much, Dean Murrells. I’m honored to be here. It’s a privilege to see so many of you. I must say, I’m thrilled to be at this great university, which has a tradition of open and democratic discussion.

And I look forward to having a frank and full conversation, as we say in the diplomatic world. Because the issue I’m going to talk with you about is, there isn’t one truth. Of course, truth is an irrelevant term. At one point, the truth was, the world was flat.

When we talk about truth and sciences, of course it’s always relative. But there are now more than 6 billion cell phones in the world today, 8 billion wireless transmitting devices, more than 50 billion are anticipated to form the Internet of Things. And we have to recognize that we don’t know a lot about the public health and environmental effects of this form of radiation.

You’ve mentioned some of my career, I won’t go through this in any greater detail. But I would say to you that probably the most important thing I did, and I see many people in this room aren’t even old enough to remember it. But long time ago, we used to have smoke on airplanes, people could smoke tobacco on airplanes.

And I was involved as a young scientist in the committee that actually reviewed the data and recommended that there be no smoking on airplanes.

You may be shocked to hear that it was even a question for science at the time, but it was. And when I look at what we know now about mobile phone radiation, I see some very interesting similarities, because there were a lot of questions that were raised about the safety of tobacco on airplanes.

And they were, in fact legitimate questions, things we did not know. There are a lot of important questions to be asked about mobile phone radiation today without any doubt. But the reality is we’re not asking those questions.

And with the exception of some researchers, here and elsewhere, very little new research is being done in this field. So, it’s a thrill to be here because Australia has been a leader in research in the field of electrical engineering and its applications to medicine, doing some of the most exciting work in the world and funded by institutions around the world, including the US Department of Defense.

And I’ve worked at some of the top institutions in the world in science. And so, when I first thought there could be something wrong with mobile phones.

I actually owned three phones at the time. I own two now. Everybody has to downsize a bit. And I didn’t believe there was a problem. And I thought if there were a problem, I would know about it because of course, I knew all about what’s important in science. Well, I was wrong.

I liked the fact that I could call people or actually send them messages and expect an answer at all hours of the day and found it kind of fun in the beginning. And when somebody said to me, there could be a problem with this with our health. I said, oh, don’t be ridiculous. If there was a problem, I’d know about it.

Well, I was wrong. And what I now know is that information is being sent to people routinely to give them safety information, but it is not being followed.

I’m going to ask you to help me out here by looking at how many of you have an iPhone? Now, I assume you didn’t all turn them off. So, for those who have an iPhone, would you raise your hand again? I’d like you to share with your colleagues.

So, please go to the Settings on your phone. Right. Please take a moment and nod when you’ve got there. All right. And be prepared to share, alright? Go to Settings on the phone. Got there? All right. Now, go to Settings. Now go to About. I’m sorry, you have to go to General first. You have to go to General. All right? Under General, under Settings. Then go to About, which is at the top. Got there? About? Yes. Okay?

Now you have to scroll all the way down to something you don’t normally see called Legal. You are to Legal? All right. Now click on RF exposure. Now you can read it later. But it’s basically telling you that you need to know that you cannot keep the phone directly next to your body without exceeding the as tested exposure guidelines.

And by the way, the iPhone does it. I happen to know how to find it on the iPhone. I’m just learning the Android system myself. But all smartphones come with some information that basically says, don’t keep the phone in your pocket or you will exceed the as tested exposure guidelines

Now, how many of you knew that before today? Well, this is a very well informed audience relative to others.

I want to thank Telstra because they actually are now giving people this information. And by the way, they’re one of the first telecom companies in the world to do this. So, I actually think it’s a good thing. They’re sending this message. How many of you have seen it? How many of you have actually looked at what it said?

Picture of Telstra Cellphone Radiation Exposure Guidelines

Well, here’s what it says. This is what it says. And like most of you, I found messages like this annoying. But the reality is, Telstra is telling you to use a hands-free device, to keep a mobile phone away from the head and body to reduce mobile phone exposure.

So that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, I think that we all need to do better to give people information so that you have knowledge about how to reduce exposure. And I’m going to explain to you why we need to reduce exposure.

Let’s go back to almost 20 years ago when standards for cell phones were first set up. At that time, it was believed that the only thing you had to worry about was avoiding heat. That was the only effect you had to be concerned about.

And so they employed the head of a very large person, a 220-pound male, who was at the top 98th percentile of military recruits in 1989, United States. And they set the standards to avoid heating up that fellow’s brain after a six-minute phone call.

Now, there’s probably one or two people in this room with a head that size. But the rest of you, like most of the world, have much smaller heads and relatively smaller bodies.

And this standard, which is very much out of date, doesn’t take into account the fact that people the size of these two bright young people here in the front row are using these devices today with no thought that maybe they’re getting exposed to levels of radiation that have not been evaluated for their safety in young developing brains.

Now the electromagnetic spectrum, this is information from ARPANSA, actually goes all the way from the invisible to the visible, ionizing, radiation, gamma rays, x-rays over here, and light here. This is, from our Ponza, you will see here, they say, FM radio, microwave oven, radiant heat.

Of course, microwave oven actually happens to be of the same frequency as the cell phone, the mobile phone. A mobile phone and the microwave oven use a very similar frequency. The difference between them is power.

The power of the microwave oven is 1000 watts, and of course that’s power that can heat up a cup of water in maybe 60 seconds.

The microwave oven, the mobile phone, the cordless phone, the Wi-Fi monitor, the baby monitor, they all use the same frequency. They differ in power. They also differ because mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices emit pulsed microwave radiation. It’s the pulse, not the power that appears to be biologically most important. The pulse that is erratic and irregular.

For thousands of minutes a month, for dozens of hours a week over a lifetime, that irregular pulsed signal may be much more biologically important, and in fact, the continuous wave signals have a lot of therapeutic effects as are being applied in medicine today.

This visualization from my colleague at the University of Athens shows you the variation in frequency, in amplitude, in pulse, all of these variables influence the properties a signal has and how it can affect a biological system.

This is just to show you what happens in a four second mobile phone call. This is power density, power density indicated here, and of course Phone is on standby, it’s not doing too much. But 900 times a minute, it’s looking for a signal. It says to the tower. 

Where are you? Here I am. Where are you? Here I am. It’s smart. That’s how it’s supposed to do. Now, when the phone rings, the worst time for you to put a phone right next to your head is when you answer it and say hello, because it’s smart, and it goes to max power. They’re programmed to do that, max power.

Picture of Cellphone EMF Exposure Amplitude during typical call

Now, it’s going to go to max power, you’re going to listen and then it will go up and down and up and down. And again, it’s that variation, it’s the Delta, it’s the cumulative integrated dose under the curve over a lifetime exposure that looks to be biologically important.

Now exposure is the kind of a funny thing. There’s a rather widely distributed paper by Ken Foster and CK Cho that said that the exposure of an adult and the exposure of a child is identical. And therefore, there’s no real difference in how the radiation might be affecting them. Well, let me explain something by showing off my daughter and my granddaughter.

My granddaughter is a very light skinned, red hair, blue eyed child. Her skin is very sensitive. My daughter is darker hair like I am. If they have sunscreen on, they still will get a different dose of ultraviolet light, even though they have the same exposure.

Because the exposure may be uniform, but the amount they will absorb differs because of the properties of the skin, the properties the eye, the thinness of the skin and a number of other variables. And those same things are relevant when it comes to thinking about cell phone radiation. 

Now, way back in the dark ages when the standards were developed, two dimensional modeling showed that children and smaller adults might absorb more radiation than larger adults. And this was scalar modeling that has now been superseded, done by own Gandhi in 1996.

Interestingly, and this is why I’m really delighted to be here, Dean. When he did this work in 1996, he was working with support from Motorola and the Department of Defense. And after he published this, he lost all his funding. That’s why I’m really happy when you told me that Australia is not America. 

Because I think you have an opportunity to do something here in this great country. You have a tradition of independence, in science, and in this country that we do not have, unfortunately, on this issue in the United States.

So, Professor Gandhi with whom I’m collaborating now updated his work in 2002, showings that with a smaller adult head the amount of exposure is quite similar. But because the head is smaller, it will absorb proportionally more.

More recently, we have been working with colleagues at Porto Allegra with environmental health trust and we have developed three-dimensional modeling with anatomically based models using MRI to create the models with one millimeter voxels. 

And what we have done is to show the difference in radiation dose in heads of different ages and sizes.

And I’ll just show you one example here, coming from our colleagues at the Swiss National Institute of Technology, the ITIS, which have produced some of the most brilliant work in the world in this field.

And they have shown here of course, that there is going to be greater exposure absorption into a younger head versus an older head.

Picture of model of cellphone radiation exposure to brain of six year old

This is another item from their website of target tissue dose for the infant with using a system called the Virtual family. Is there anyone here who’s worked on the virtual family?

It’s a really powerful and very sophisticated system that is used today to set standards for medical devices and surgical procedures. But it’s not used for mobile phone standards. I find that odd.

Picture of model for cellphone exposure to an infant

And I want to show you an example of some of the work that we are doing now that I’m releasing here for the first time. And this is a modeled microwave radiation dose of a six-year old with greater levels to the frontal and temporal lobes, eyes and cheek. And watch this here.

Now, yellow, white, and red are the hottest, all right? And if you look carefully, you will see it’s going into the eye, the nose. Do it again, just so you’ll get to see it. And partly into the brainstem.

Now, that’s just showing you that there’s going to be some exposure into that area of a young head. It doesn’t tell you that there’s any biological effect. Right?

Now, the next slide is going to show you something that might be of interest to students and faculty here. And that has to do with exposure to the reproductive organs. We call them the gonads. I think you say the testicles, and bone marrow.

Image of model of cellphone radiation exposure to the male reproductive organs

And look here at the radiation as it gets into the groin area. And that’s just from having a mobile phone modeled into the pocket. And this, again, is based on normalized SAR with a dipole antenna. And there are many different variables you can alter in coming up with this kind of simulation, right? 

The number of antenna, whether it’s GSM, CDMA, whether it’s simultaneously operating only one antenna or more than one, but we believe that this is the kind of work that needs to be done and that this institution might be in a position to do it.

And my colleagues from Brazil would be happy to share with you the modeling that we have done to date to generate this. But based on this work and other studies that have been done around the world, the United States Magazine Consumer Reports recently recommended that nobody keep a phone in their pocket. 

Nobody. And in fact, if phones were tested in pockets, they would exceed the as tested exposure guidelines, which is why Telstra has recently issued that advice.

Now, when it comes to pregnancy, we’re working with Yale University and more than 100 physicians and experts in the United States and around the world, who are specialists in pregnancy, and we have been modeling exposure to the head at the end of pregnancy and at the end of pregnancy when of course the head, as any woman here knows is right at the surface. 

If you’re lucky, it’s at the surface and it’s not facing the spine. Then you can get the greatest exposure because of course the skin is completely permeable to this radiation exposure.

Image of model of cellphone radiation exposure for preborn baby

And that’s why we’ve developed the baby safe project with colleagues at Yale to advise pregnant women to protect their abdomens from mobile phone radiation, as well as from iPads, which I should add. iPads and other devices are called tablets because they belong on tables. They are tested 20 centimeters away from that big guy that I showed you before. 20 centimeters away. They are not approved to be held in the laps of little children.

Although millions of kids are having them now in schools because the people involved in educational technology and those involved in public health research are not talking to one another. Because if they were, they would understand that you’re giving children a two-way microwave radiating device. And if you must give them such a device for learning purposes, put it on airplane mode so that it’s not sending and receiving signals as it does otherwise.

Now, this is some new modeling, again, that we’ve developed with colleagues in Brazil, and we can share with you how we’ve done it. We first start out with the MRI and create the model with one millimeter voxels. And a quite a bit of work goes into creating this. And here is what it looks like after a period of six minutes. That’s really not as bad as it might look, because you see the red area only gets partway through the eye of the adult. Right?

The one that we’re really concerned about is this one with the young Child. And this is a three- year old brain that we modeled. And you see that by the end of that six-minute call, the peak radiation, yellow and red is getting all the way into almost both eyes. 

And again, this is one call and it’s not going to kill anybody. It may not cause any biological effect whatsoever for one call or two calls, three calls.

Image of cellphone radiation absorption model for child brain

But the question is, what’s the cumulative impact of this kind of exposure? How do we evaluate it? How do we study it? The problem we face is that right now, we’re in the midst of an experiment on my grandchildren and your children.

And we don’t have anybody to compare them with. We don’t have a control group in science.

The Truth About Cellphone Radiation continues Part 2.

About the Speaker - Dr. Devra Davis, Ph.D.

Dr. Devra Davis is an internationally recognized expert on electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and other wireless transmitting devices. She is currently the Visiting Professor of Medicine at the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical School, and Visiting Professor of Medicine at Ondokuz Mayis University, Turkey.

Dr Davis was Founding Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute —­ the first institute of its kind in the world, to examine the environmental factors that contribute to the majority of cases of cancer.

In 2007, Dr Devra Davis founded non­profit Environmental Health Trust to provide basic research and education about environmental health hazards. Dr Davis served as the President Clinton appointee to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in the U.S.A. from 1994–­1999, an independent executive branch agency that investigates, prevents and mitigates chemical accidents.

As the former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, she has counseled leading officials in the United States, United Nations, European Environment Agency, Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, and World Bank.

Dr Davis holds a B.S. in physiological psychology and an M.A. in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh, 1967. She completed a PhD in science studies at the University of Chicago as a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellow, 1972 and a M.P.H. in epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University as a Senior National Cancer Institute Post-­Doctoral Fellow, 1982.

She has authored more than 200 publications and has been published in Lancet and Journal of the American Medical Association as well as the Scientific American and the New York Times.

Dr Devra Davis is an internationally recognized expert on electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and other wireless transmitting devices.