Cell phones pose danger to teens

Cell phones pose danger to teens

Afsah Khan

cellphone-640x426-320x2121.jpgSenior Elexis Ferguson is “addicted” to her phone. She uses it as her calendar, as her alarm, and as a phone book filled with numbers of all her friends and important contacts. Without her phone, Ferguson said she would not be able to remember more than a few numbers off the top of her head.

Ferguson is among the 78 percent of American teenagers ages 12-17 who own a cell phone, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Pew Research Center. That number is steadily rising, along with growing concerns of how cell phones may damage the human body. Ferguson herself heard of many problems that might arise from the radiation that is emitted from all cell phones, including hers.

“I have heard that … when people put their phones in their shirts or in their pockets, then they’re going to get some type of cancer. I think that could be very true since radiation does cause cancer,” Ferguson said. “But it’s to a limited amount. I mean, if your phone’s off and it’s in your pocket, it’s OK. But if your phone’s constantly buzzing and you’re keeping it somewhere where you can get cancer … I think that could be a possibility.”

A 2009 study by the Environmental Working Group confirms the rumors Ferguson heard. According to this study, there are strong indications that cell phone radiation could have the potential to cause damage to human bodies. However, the study also enforces that research is not complete yet because of how little time cell phones have had to show their effects on health.

“Because cell phone technology has been around for just two decades, scientists do not yet fully understand long-term health risks from cell phone radiation,” the study said. “But recent research has prompted serious concerns about exposure to wireless emissions.”

Even after just two decades of exposure, cell phones have already begun to impact human health negatively. According to the study, cancer typically takes 15-20 years to develop in the human body, so it is possible that future studies might find higher cancer rates.

For now, teenagers like Ferguson are starting to hear the theories people have of what kinds of effects cell phone radiation will have, including the theory of how cell phones might disrupt the functions of reproductive organs if the phone is kept in a pocket or on a belt.

Cell phones impacting reproductive systems “could happen just because radiation can just cause everything, basically,” Ferguson said. “It makes a lot more sense than getting, say, breast cancer, because everyone keeps their phone in their pocket, and that’s the most common place for it, so I think it’s true.”

The Environmental Working Group’s study indicates that the radiation from cell phones can penetrate different kinds of tissue in the human body and cause problems in those respective areas, including the possibility of reproduction organ disruption.

“Of the total radiation emitted towards the head, most (97–99%, depending on frequency and cell phone network) is absorbed in the brain hemisphere on the side where the phone is used,” the study said. “The temporal lobe, an area of the brain involved in auditory processing, formation of long-term memory, as well as some aspects of speech and vision, receives the highest radiation exposure. Additionally, when a phone is worn near the waist during its use (as may occur when a corded or a cordless headset is used), much of the outgoing radiation is be absorbed by adjacent soft tissues, which may pose health risks.”

Another recent study published by the Environmental Working Group indicates that radiation can indeed have a negative effect on reproductive systems. When comparing men who keep their phones clipped onto their belts and those who kept them further away from that region of their bodies, the study found that those who kept their phones closer to their reproductive systems have lower sperm counts or more inactive sperm, therefore making it harder for those individuals to reproduce.

Along with causing problems in the process of reproduction, the study found that increased cell phone use among pregnant women put their unborn offspring at risk for several different health concerns.

“In animal studies, scientists have found that exposure during gestation to radiofrequency radiation like that emitted by cellphones is associated with decreased fetal growth, developmental abnormalities, and death of offspring,” the study said. “In occupational health studies for female physiotherapists, conducted in Sweden, Israel, and Finland, scientists found that workplace exposure to radiofrequency radiation during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, congenital malformations, fetal death, and spontaneous abortions.”

Although teenagers often don’t find it necessary to worry too much about their reproductive systems, some do make it a point to take precautions in order to prevent other health risks such as cancer and tumors.

“I don’t keep [my phone] off. It’s always on and it’s in my pocket … but I’ve heard that you can get breast cancer from keeping it in your bra or something, and I don’t keep it in my bra,” Ferguson said. “I keep it in my back pocket or my front [pocket]. I don’t really think I could get cancer there or anything, but I do try to stay away from keeping it where I’ve heard you can get cancer.”

The study by the Environmental Health Group suggests many different ways people can lower the risk of developing health problems as a result of prolonged exposure to cell phone radiation. These preventative measures include buying low-radiation phones or keeping their phone in speaker mode or using a headset when talking for long periods of time.

Even though several scientists and even governmental agencies, particularly in Europe, are advising people to take precautions when using cell phones, Ferguson believes that people seldom listen to such warnings.

“I don’t think many [teenagers] pay attention [to warnings]. I think they all just overlook them, and they’re like, ‘Oh that’s just another lie or fib. That’s not true, it’s not accurate,'” Ferguson said. “But if it were to happen to someone then they would probably take a little more initiative to avoiding it.”

In the future, Ferguson believes those who did not heed the warnings about the risks of cell phones might pay the price of their ignorance.

“If it does happen, I’m pretty sure a lot of people will regret the way they treated their cell phone,” Ferguson said, “Or the way they kept their cell phones so close.”

By Afsah Khan