California Department of Health Issues Advice on How To Reduce Cell Phone Radiation
The newly released guidance has made headline news internationally.
December 14, 2017
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) just issued long-awaited recommendations to reduce microwave radiation exposures from cell phones, especially for children. Spurred by a lawsuit and research suggesting that “long-term, high use may impact human health,” the CDPH press release includes guidance on why and how to reduce cell phone radiation. The CDPH drafted more than 27 versions of this advice since 2008, but December 13, 2017 was the first time CDPH published it online. The CDPH original 2008 guidance referred to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Cell Phone Advice and also included recommendations for state employees to reduce exposures to microwave radiation from cell phones as well as home and office cordless phones. The newly released guidance focuses only on cell phones cautioning that “children may be more at risk” because they will be exposed to cell phone radiation for a “lifetime” and with radiation exposures deeper into their brain.
“Children’s brains develop through the teenage years and may be more affected by cell phone use,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith. The new three-page CDPH guidance includes practical steps to reduce exposure to cell phone radiation, including keeping the phone away from the body, reducing cell phone use when the signal is weak, reducing the use of cell phones to stream videos and not sleeping with your cell phone. The guidance also states:
“Laboratory experiments and human health studies have suggested the possibility that long-term, high use of cell phones may be linked to certain types of cancer and other health effects, including: brain cancer and tumors of the acoustic nerve and salivary glands, lowered sperm quality and inactive or less mobile sperm, headaches and effects on learning and memory, hearing, behavior and sleep.”
The first draft of the CDPH cell phone guidance listed ten steps to reduce exposure and referenced the website of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Center for Environmental Oncology cell phone radiation recommendations developed by Dr. Devra Davis and Dr. Ronald Herberman [then Director of the Institute and Associate Chancellor of the University].The Memo made worldwide headlines advising all 3,000 UPCI faculty and staff about why and how to reduce microwave radiation exposures from cell and cordless phones.
“This advice has been in development for far too long,” Dr. Davis added. “More than a decade ago, Dr. Herberman and I felt that scientific evidence merited advice to the public on reducing exposures to microwave radiation from cellphones and cordless phones. We felt that oncologists could provide advice to cancer patients that cellphone radiation could promote or worsen the disease.”
Scientists have called for reducing exposure for decades and the Pittsburgh recommendations were the first from a major US medical institution based on an International Expert Panel of prominent French physicians and other scientists, many of whom remain active on the issue of cell phone radiation today, such as Dr. Annie Sasco, former Acting Chief of the Cancer Control Programme of the World Health Organization, David Carpenter, MD, Director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University of Albany and former Dean of the School of Public Health and Co-editor of the Bioinitiative Report, and Devra Davis PhD, then Director of the UPCI Center for Environmental Oncology and currently Visiting Professor of Medicine at Hebrew University and President of Environmental Health Trust, a nonprofit founded by Davis and Herberman in 2007 to advance this issue.
Over the course of a decade of rewrites, CDPH softened their summary of the science and edited out several recommendations previously included in the initial versions.
- State Employees: Earlier drafts included detailed recommendations such as a section entitled, “What State Governments and It’s Employees Can Do To Lower Potential Risks From Cordless Phones and Cell Phones” to educate state employees on how to reduce exposure when they were on call such as using a beeper so that cell phones and Blackberries could be turned off unless needed. Recommendations on purchasing phones for employees were made to the Department of General Services to “create contract language to require manufacturers to provide SAR ratings for phones and to offer low-emission accessories.”
- Issue Description: Earlier drafts framed the recommendations as the “consensus” of the CDPH Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control citing the growing scientific evidence of cancer and reproductive risks, while the newly issued guidance states that “some scientists and public health officials believe RF energy may affect human health” but that “scientists disagree about whether cell phones cause these health problems.”
- Children Specific Recommendations: The first draft stated, “Do not allow children to use a cell phone except for emergencies” which was changed in later drafts to “Parents may want to limit children’s use of cell phones to necessary conversations and emergencies. ” Although the final document has a section on how children may be “more at risk” the specific advice to parents on limiting children’s cell phone use was deleted from the published guidance.
- Pregnant Women: The first draft stated that “the developing organs of a fetus or child are the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields” but this reference to the fetus and pregnancy was edited out early on.
- Cordless Phones: Initial drafts stated, “employees should know that cordless base stations in the home are constantly emitting fields particularly to those working near them” and “State employees could avoid purchasing cordless phones for office use.” Early drafts also had a section entitled “What about cordless phones?” with recommendations such as reducing time spent on cordless phones. However the final CDPH published piece does not mention cordless home/office phones nor does the final document inform the public about ways to reduce exposures to the other sources of radiofrequency radiation exposures which include wireless laptops, computers, printers, gaming devices and accessories.
According to Dr. Joel Moskowitz of the University of California at Berkeley, “The preponderance of the research indicates that cell phone radiation poses a major risk to health… State and federal health agencies have not kept up with the research.” Moskowitz was the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed under the California Public Records Act by the Environmental Law Clinic at UC Berkeley Law and the First Amendment Project that resulted in the March 2017 Sacramento Superior Court order to release the 27 drafts of the CDPH cell phone advice.
“This is a major victory for Californians as our government is admitting, despite industry attempting to silence them, that cell phones pose serious health risks. Had this advice not been suppressed for years, then Senator Leno’s 2011 Right to Know Bill might have passed, and this would have changed the dynamics of the San Francisco and Berkeley Cell Phone Right To Know Bills, perhaps even leading to a domino effect nationwide. This vindicates what San Francisco, Berkeley and California were attempting. Consumers deserve the right to this information and we applaud the CDPH for releasing this valuable potentially life saving information,” stated Ellen Marks of the California Brain Tumor Association who led a public demonstration outside of the CDPH offices in July, calling for public disclosure of health department warnings about wireless phones.
Public Health Advice by Governments
San Francisco became the first city in the country to pass and adopt cell phone safety legislation in 2011, but the full ordinance was blocked in 2012 after a three year court battle with the wireless industry. Berkeley’s 2015 Cell Phone Right To Know Ordinance has successfully won industry court challenges. Greenbelt Maryland, Burlingame California, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Pembroke Pines, Florida have taken action to inform the public. Massachusetts is considering seven Bills this legislative session.
The Maryland State Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council issued a 2017 Report advising the Maryland Department of Education to recommend local school districts reduce wireless radiation exposures in the classroom by providing wired—rather than wireless—internet connections. The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended children reduce exposure to cell phones and issued ten steps to reduce cell phone radiation in 2016 after the National Toxicology Program released research findings linking cell phones to brain cancer. The Connecticut Department of Public Health issued cell phone advice in May, 2015. France recently launched a new campaign to educate the public about how to reduce cell phone radiation exposure and is one of more than a dozen countries with policies to reduce cell phone radiation exposure to the public.
State of California. “How to Reduce Exposure to Radiofrequency Energy from Cell Phones.” Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control, California Department of Public Health. December 2017.
December 2017 News Reports on CDPH