Summary of the Study’s Findings
Cell Phone Patterns of Use
- Cellular Device Adoption Rates: There are nearly 276 million
cell phone subscribers in the United States, up from 97 million
subscribers in 2000. Rapid growth in the access to
cellular technology has been accompanied by steadily
increasing frequency and duration of personal cell
phone use. The volume and speed of data transmitted
have increased rapidly, and demand for dataintensive
video applications seems insatiable.
- Technological Innovation and Marketplace
Lifespan: Most cell phones have a market life of only nine
to 24 months, meaning product availability normally ends
within this time span. Newer models often are built on earlier
hardware platforms, offering additional features or greater speed.
Consumers replace phones, on average, every two years, a rate influenced
by the duration of their service contracts.
- Changing Patterns of Use: Use of cellular devices for voice
conversations is declining as texting and other forms of non-verbal
communication increase. Texting is now the predominant method
of communicating among adolescents, followed by calls, talking
face-to-face, use of social network sites, and email. More than 75
percent of teens own cell phones, and one third of them text more
than 100 messages per day. Children between the ages of eight and
18 spend an average of 7.5 hours per day on smartphones, computers,
televisions, or other electronic devices.
- New Features Motivate Increased Cell Use: Patterns
of use are strongly affected by the development of new features
such as GPS locational services, video chats, internet radio and television broadcasts, photo editing, video games, social networking
applications, and educational programs.
- Psychological Dependency: The rise in psychological
dependency on cell phones is well documented in the peerreviewed
social scientific literature. The need to “stay in touch” and
the ever-strengthening expectation of a near term, if not immediate
response, can lead to obsessive and compulsive patterns of use. It
can also distract users from work, play, relaxation, safe driving
practices, and from more traditional forms of social interaction,
such as a face-to-face conversation.
Cell Phone Exposures
- Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) Exposure Varies by
Phone Model Signal Strength: Exposure to electromagnetic
radiation emitted from cellular devices varies by model of phone,
antenna configuration, and signal strength.
Weak signal strength leads to higher levels of exposure, as the device
routinely seeks a stronger signal. The energy emitted by specific
models is measured in watts per kilogram (W/kg). The
recommended limit in the United States is 1.6 W/kg, which is the
amount absorbed by the body, known as the Specific Absorption
Subscribers can visit the Federal Communications Commission
website to identify the intensity emitted by any brand and model
of phone. Because exposure varies by proximity of the device to
human tissues, most models include warnings in packaging materials
about the need to hold the device a safe distance from the body.
Since the intensity of exposure falls exponentially as the distance
from the body increases, users can limit their exposure dramatically
by using speakerphones.
- Children’s Exposure is Greater Than Adults: The thinner
skulls of young children permit cell phone radiation to penetrate
more deeply into the brain than is the case with adults. Children
and fetuses’ rapidly developing nervous systems, their more rapid
rates of cell division, and longer potential lifetime exposure all
heighten their risks for adverse health effects.
- Exposure Standard Based Upon 1986 Study: The FCC’s
exposure standard (1.6 W/kg) is based upon a 1986 U.S. Air Force
study that estimated safe thermal-level references for a healthy adult
male. The authors cautioned that the results would differ for a person
of a different size, age, or general health condition, yet this limitation
has not resulted in any public health advisory. Nor has it led
the FCC to conduct additional studies to explore health implications
for groups who are more exposed or more susceptible.
- Heat is Not the Only Worry: The FCC’s current limit for
public exposure assumes that the devices only affect health via the
heating of tissues. However, molecular, cellular, and organ system
changes and damage that are not explained by heat have been
reported in numerous peer-reviewed studies. A 2011 Na tional
Institutes of Health study confirms that changes in the brain
occur from exposure to cell phone radiation at non-thermal levels.
This study included 47 healthy people using a cell phone for a
- Use and Storage: How cell phones are held and carried while
in standby mode affects the intensity of user exposure to electromagnetic
radiation. During calls the devices commonly contact the
head, and electromagnetic radiation can enter the skull, exposing
human brain tissues. Devices stored in pants pockets while in
standby mode expose sensitive reproductive organs to radiofrequency
energy. Storage in shirt pockets will increase exposure to
- People Living in Rural Communities Experience Higher
Exposures: Those who live in rural areas farther away from
cellular transmission towers may be receiving higher doses of EMF
radiation than people in urban areas. Lower signal strength causes
a cell phone to search often for a signal, even in standby mode, and
it is this increased frequency of transmission that leads to higher
- Cell Phone Use and Cancer: In 2011, the World Health
Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer
(IARC) classified electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic
to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant
type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.
- Susceptibility of the Developing Nervous System: The brain is especially susceptible to numerous environmental
insults that can produce irreversible damage during critical periods
of nervous system development between conception and the age
of 21. This vulnerability is well recognized for ionizing radiation,
alcohol, tobacco, some pharmaceuticals, cocaine, and stress.
The effects of these agents are dependent on dose and timing
of exposure. However, even small exposures during periods of
neurogenesis have a more profound effect than exposures during
- Effects on the Nervous System: A number of peer-reviewed studies reported changes in the
nervous systems of rats, mice, and humans following exposure
to cell phone radiation. These include diminished learning,
diminished reaction time, decreased motor function, reduced
memory accuracy, and diminished cognition. Also, higher mobile
phone use has been associated with faster but less accurate response to high-level cognitive tasks. Prenatal and postnatal cell phone
exposure have both been associated with behavioral problems, such
as hyperactivity in children around the time of entry into primary
school at the age of six.
- Effects on Reproductive Health: Many studies report molecular
and cellular effects following cell phone EMF exposures in
organs responsible for reproduction, especially in males. Oxidative
stress on human semen, declining sperm counts, reduced sperm
motility, and diminished sperm viability all have been reported to
be associated with EMF exposures from cellular devices.
- Difficulty in Understanding Long-Term Effects: The short
lifespan of many cellular products makes patterns of individual
exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted from devices
difficult to reconstruct historically, and nearly impossible to
predict. Some types of tumors exist for a decade or longer before
they are discovered. By the time most long-term studies are
published, their findings are irrelevant to predict future public
health risk, since networks, device technologies, and exposure
patterns change so rapidly.
- Psychological Health: Cell phones create a sense of freedom
to communicate quickly with those in remote locations. Yet
this freedom, if not managed carefully, can create feelings of
psychological dependency. Common effects, both reported in
the literature and easily recognized, include distraction from social
contact among those nearby, the inability to focus on complex and
long term tasks, and a heightened sense of anxiety.
- Genotoxic Effects and DNA Damage: Cell phones emit
non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that can energize nearby
tissues in a manner that can alter the biochemistry of human
tissues and change the structure of human DNA. Among 101 papers that examined the genotoxic effects of radiofrequency EMF,
nearly half reported damage to genetic material. Other studies
found that exposures impair the ability to repair DNA damage.
Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Effects
Following Fetal Exposure
- Aldad, Gan, Gao, and Taylor (2012) report that fetal radiofrequency
radiation exposure led to neurobehavioral disorders in
mice. Mice exposed in utero were hyperactive, had impaired
memory, and demonstrated behavioral changes due to an
alteration of normal neuronal developmental programming.
Vehicle Accidents, Injury, and Mortality
- Cellular device use while driving poses a serious threat to public
health and safety. The National Safety Council attributes 23 percent
of all traffic accidents to cell phone use—at least 1.3 million
crashes per year. Nearly 1.2 million of these are associated with
phone calls, while 100,000 are associated with texting.
- At any one time, approximately 11 percent of all drivers are using
their cell phones. Nearly 5,000 fatalities and 500,000 injuries are
associated with distracted driving each year. Approximately 20
percent of fatalities are associated with cell phone use, and this
percentage is an underestimate due to underreporting of cell use
at the time of accidents—some states do not examine the
coincidence of accidents and cell use. All of these losses are
- By January of 2012, nine states and the District of Columbia had
prohibited cell phone use while driving, and many states had
banned texting while driving. Widespread disregard for these
statutes poses a serious enforcement challenge to local and state police forces. The exceptionally small probability of being caught is
well known, so many people behave as if the prohibitions do not
exist. Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York, were the
sites of a Department of Transportation (DOT) experiment
involving tough municipal laws, intensive police surveil lance,
intensive enforcement, and public education about the
dangers of cell phone use while driving. In Hartford, cell
phone use dropped 57 percent and texting fell 75 percent
as a result of the campaign.
- The number of electronic distractions in vehicles is
increasing quickly. Televisions, video games, internet access, and
MP3 music player connections to sound systems have all been added
to tradi tional electronics, such as CD players, radios, radar detectors,
GPS locators, and increasingly complex electronic controls.
- Technologies exist that would block receipt or transfer of signals
from cellular devices while a vehicle is in motion. However, none
have been required by federal or state governments.
- Lack of Federal Oversight of Health, Safety, and
Environmental Effects: Cell phones have enjoyed freedom
from government scrutiny and control that would protect public
health and the environment.
No enforceable standards limiting human exposure to cell phone
radiation exist. No precautionary language on packaging is required
by the FCC to warn consumers about cell phone radiation
emissions, or how people can reduce exposures. By contrast, special
precautionary health warnings are required to be printed on the
packaging for many pharmaceuticals, alcohol, tobacco products,
- Chemical Content: The U.S. federal government does not
regulate the content of cell phones, or their method of disposal.
Cell phones contain lead, copper, mercury, flame retardants,
plastics and batteries that contain nickel and cadmium.
- Federal Communication Commission Authority:
The FCC relies on medical, public health, or toxicological
expertise in other agencies to conduct research on cell phone
- Regulating Producer Responsibility for Waste: Currently,
producers maintain no responsibility for cell phone waste. In 2011,
nearly 220 million cell phones will be discarded in the U.S., and
fewer than 10 percent of them will be recycled.
Nearly 70 percent of recycled cell waste is exported to China,
where environmental and health regulations are lax, leading to
dangerous occupational exposures and contamination of soil,
water, fish, and wildlife. This waste is especially hazardous when
burned because of the release of dioxins from some plastic
polymers. The discarded cell phones also contain diverse metals
that will not break down into nontoxic components, and which
are also known to be hazardous to human health.
- Warnings in Other Nations: Although the U.S. does not
require any regulations to restrict advertising or warn against use
of cellular devices by pregnant women or children, many other
nations do impose restrictions.