Most of us would agree that a mobile phone is an essential part of our lives today. We use them not only for texting and calling, but also as a calculator, a weatherman, a games console, a compass, a camera, a watch and to access the internet. In fact, some of you may be reading this article on a mobile phone!
But how many of you have stopped to think about the possible dangers of this little, radiation-emitting box you’re willing to hold so close to your head?
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The World Health Organisation takes the potential dangers of mobile phone transmissions very seriously, because of their widespread use. Their potential effects on human health have been the subject of many a scientific study with most of them looking at the potential links with cancer.
So far, most research has found mobile phone transmissions (both from the phone itself and from the telephone masts) insufficiently powerful enough to cause cancer. However, some suggest that this little amount of radiation may interact with natural electrical oscillations in the body and still have detrimental effects including; headaches, sleep disturbances, epileptic fits and tumours. Research remains inconclusive, and, thus, mobile phones remain classified as a “possible carcinogen”.
The International Agency for the Research on Cancer comments that any link that is found between mobile phone use and cancer could also be explained by a common factor. For example, someone that lives a sedentary lifestyle is more likely to get cancer but also more likely to use their mobile phone a lot. The cause of cancer could be the sedentary lifestyle, rather than the mobile phone use.
Other, potential health effects that have been investigated include; an increase in reaction time, effects on the brain’s ability to absorb sugars near the site of the mobile phone antenna, interference with pacemakers and effects on sperm motility and quality. Although, most of the studies that lead to the above observations are hard to replicate and we cannot be sure that the results are not just down to coincidence.
Social effects are also apparent. With the increased use of the mobile phone people are more contactable than ever. We can be contacted by our spouses at work and our bosses on the weekends. This increased contact may explain the rise in telephone phobia. The second, most obvious social effect is using mobile phones at inappropriate times. We’ve all seen the adverts and we all know the dangers of using a mobile phone when driving. Mobile phones provide a distraction that is not always welcome and can have devastating consequences.
It’s not just human health that is under investigation; visual pollution and environmental effects are also very real problems related to mobile phone use. The reason most people protest the construction of a mobile phone mast is not the potential health risks but the blight to the landscape. Masts are big, metal and – in most people’s opinion – ugly.
The potential environmental effects are as vast and varied as the potential health effects. There are potential problems with the mobile phones themselves, in that they contain heavy metals which, if disposed of incorrectly, can be introduced into the environment and affect the food chain. There may be problems with the telephone masts too, as studies are being conducted into the effects on surrounding wildlife and tree density. The effects on the environment, like the effects on health, are not certain and require further research.
Mobile phones have not been in popular use for very long they are a recent invention and we cannot be sure of the consequences of long term use. No one generation has lived a full life with regular mobile phone use and with some scientists suggesting the risk is amplified in children how can we be sure that there will be no effects in someone who has used a mobile phone from a young age when they reach their 60’s or 70’s?
One thing is clear, though, driving whilst fiddling with your mobile phone is a real danger.
NHS recommendations for mobile phone use:
- Only make short calls and do not use it more than necessary.
- Children should only use mobile phones for essential purposes.
- Keep your mobile phone away from your body when you are not using it.
- Only use your phone when the reception is strong.
- Use a hands-free kit to keep your phone away from your head whenever possible.
Department for Transport guidelines for safe use of mobile phones in cars:
- It is illegal to use a hand held mobile phone when you are driving.
- Keep your mobile phone switched off when you are driving.
- If you need to use your mobile phone, stop in a safe place.
- Avoid using a hands free device – they can still be distracting.