Mobile-phone radiation damages lab DNA
December 21, 2004 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Mobile-phone radiation damages lab DNA. Sure to be controversial and certainly not the last word, but it raises some interesting points of conversation. Government surveillance becomes much easier with wireless communications and there is a huge corporate financial investment in the infrastructure. Could we really trust the government(s) to tell us if this particular technology was harmful? And at what point would you give serious consideration to giving up a technology that had proved to be such an intrinsic part of your life? Are you addicted beyond the point of no return?
Other media carrying the story via Google News.
posted by spock (28 comments total)
Ouch...I once nearly got a job as the press person for what was then the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (now the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association)...would hate to be that guy today.

The current head of that outfit is former member of Congress (and Hall of Fame football player) Steve Largent, by the way.
posted by 1016 at 12:58 PM on December 21, 2004

Mobile-phone radiation damages lab DNA.

posted by Mayor Curley at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2004

I heard this on the news this morning and am in complete agreement with Mayor Curley.

Hopefully the first wave will be the asshats who are too important to turn off their phone in movie theaters and during funerals.

And I'm looking forward to having bands of cell-addicted mutants roaming the streets looking for free minutes and new features. "I need SMSssssss", "I must have video capabilityyyyyyy" and "Tumor in brain, must call back after MRIiiiiiiiiii!"
posted by fenriq at 1:14 PM on December 21, 2004

personally, i would welcome any excuse to not be available via my cell phone at any given minute of the god-damned day. i'm tired of the people in my life, and specifically my employer, feeling entitled to talk to me while i'm eating, driving, etc. and getting huffy later when i explain once again that yes, there are times when i hear the thing ringing but i don't answer. but would i suffer brain cancer for my peace of mind?

posted by radiosig at 1:18 PM on December 21, 2004

I'm looking at my Blackberry on my desk right now and wondering if it will kill me. This is spooky stuff, correlation to disease or not. Like radiosig, I would like to not carry a cell.
posted by TeamBilly at 1:21 PM on December 21, 2004

I gave mine up, and it was one of the best things I have ever done. Even if people look at me like I'm a caveman when I tell them I don't have a cell number.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:26 PM on December 21, 2004

just a little curious how old the above posters are and whether or not they were forced to get a cell because of work. I'm early 20s and love being connected at all times via my cell, even though I don't use it that often.

might have to keep it off more often and get one of those headset things though....
posted by slapshot57 at 1:27 PM on December 21, 2004

Next: Monitor radiation responsible for teh mystery of 1337.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:33 PM on December 21, 2004

what is the mechanism by which non-ionizing radiation causes changes to DNA?

until this question is answered, the empirical evidence can't conclusively connect the effect to cell phones. it could just as well be repeating the phrase "are you still there? can you hear me?"

raqdiosig, mayor curley, i have a cell phone and often use that magical button called "off." it works wonders.
posted by three blind mice at 1:37 PM on December 21, 2004

i'm 21. i was enticed to get a cell phone because i'm in my fourth year of college, and so for the past three years i've been moving once per because of my changing living situation. for long distance calling, which i do quite a bit of to keep in touch with my high school friends (especially toward the beginning of college, while my ill-fated long distance relationship was still on life-support), a cell phone plan is much cheaper i found than a standard long distance plan. also, of course, i'm able to keep my phone number through all my moves. originally i never took my cell phone out of my room when i left it, treating it as a land line...but slowly, i've become the thing i hate. i still will not talk on it in the car or inside a public place like a restaurant, but i fear it may only be a matter of time. maybe i have that brain tumor already.
posted by radiosig at 1:38 PM on December 21, 2004

and three blind mice:
c'mon, you can't tell me a hysterical friend or family member has never said to you: "your phone was in your pocket but it was turned off? i was stranded on the side of the fucking road what is wrong with you?!"

maybe i just have a responsibility complex.
posted by radiosig at 1:42 PM on December 21, 2004


I'm 30. Required to carry the cell for work, though I have found that I've been able to offload a bunch of the voice calls since getting the blackberry.

That said, I'd just as soon give it up entirely and use a payphone if I really need to make a call. Except that the payphone business is all but extinct because of cell phones. I don't like the feeling of an invisible leash.
posted by TeamBilly at 1:52 PM on December 21, 2004

three blind mice

what is the mechanism by which non-ionizing radiation causes changes to DNA?

until this question is answered, the empirical evidence can't conclusively connect the effect to cell phones. it could just as well be repeating the phrase "are you still there? can you hear me?"

It's a valid question, but it's not as if it's impossible. Microwave radiation could heat up (minutely?) the cell interior, causing proteins to undergo conformational changes or to just not work properly. Heat affects all kinds of things.

Don't forget this.

(23, and cell phone free.)
posted by greatgefilte at 1:56 PM on December 21, 2004

I'm 35 and got a cell when my wife was big and pregnant. I keep it now because I need to be reachable in case she or my son needs me. I answer it if there are specific people calling.

Otherwise, I have little to no problem ignoring it when it rings and I don't feel like talking.
posted by fenriq at 1:59 PM on December 21, 2004

greatgefilte, sure it's possible, but the established threshold for thermal effects is cataracts in the eyes. ischemic tissue in the cornea (i.e., lacking blood vessels) can't pump the heat away making the eyes particularly sensitive. the brain on the other hand is a massive heat pump.

i'm not saying it's impossible, but studies on microwave radiation have been carried since the 1950's and not one has said anything about cancer or DNA changes so it's a bit of a surprise that suddenly this comes up... sounds like the plaintiff's attorneys have run out of ambulances to chase.

radiosig, tell 'em the battery died.

fenriq, that's what i do with my fixed line. doesn't bother me at all to let it ring. just cause someone calls doesn't mean y have to answer. then again, my wife's not preggers.
posted by three blind mice at 2:10 PM on December 21, 2004

Are you addicted beyond the point of no return?

No. It is a convenience, but I never use my monthly minutes. And I use a landline whenever it's available.
posted by Doohickie at 2:33 PM on December 21, 2004

one more thing. there was a study done by lund university in sweden that suggested that thermal effects could dialate the blood-brain barrier allowing larger molecules to pass through, but as far as i know no clinical study has been done.

there is a clear link between ionizing radiation (e.g., x-ray) and cancer derived from studies first carried out in hiroshima and nagasaki. as long as you stay under 5 mREM per year (if i rememer correctly) you suffer no increased risk. (the levels are lower for women.)

people have been exposed to strong levels of microwave radiation since radar was developed. stand anywhere near a naval radar and you're subjected to levels of microwave radiation many orders of magnitude greater than cell phones placed next to your head. the soviets, who built massively powerful radars, did a lot of the pioneering work on the subject. hundreds of studies have been carried out and again not one (to my knowledge) has indicated any increased risk of cancer. cataracts yes, but cancer no.

again, i'm not saying it's impossible, but it seems unlikely.
posted by three blind mice at 2:35 PM on December 21, 2004

three blind mice, even in the realms of microwave chemistry there's a few questions about the rate enhancement of some reactions, outside of "the efficiency of heat." I think there's an interest in non-thermal effects -- developing.
posted by gsb at 2:38 PM on December 21, 2004

It's funny that many people here seem to think cell phones are benign when you're not actively talking on them.
posted by knave at 2:40 PM on December 21, 2004

slapshot57, 24 years old, I've kept up with the advance of technological gadgets as much as budget allows, but I got rid of my cell phone after a few months because I thought it was a horrible thing to have people expect you to be available 24 hours a day--regardless of whether you turn it off, if you have a cell phone you're EXPECTED to be available. And I'm just not interested. I'd rather have a smaller amount of quality communication with someone than be expected to blather on about every worthless, banal thought each of us has.

[apocalyptic] I'm convinced cell phones are destroying our ability to have meaningful communication with people. Because: a) what I said above. If you can and do talk to a given person any and every time you want to, that devalues the time spent with them, because you begin to take it for granted. If you know that the communication you can have with someone is limited, you make it more meaningful.

b) I can't count the number of times that I'll be having a face-to-face conversation with someone, the cell phone will ring, and even if they decide not to answer it, it hurts the conversation. Conversations have their own natural ebb and flow, and a cell phone or other similar interruption is like throwing a big ole' rock into the middle of a smoothly-flowing stream.

c) Cell phones are a facilitator of what I uncreatively call the "looking for something better" effect. This is when an individual or group of people is unable or unwilling to commit to a plan of action because they want to be available in case something else more interesting or enjoyable comes along. Before cell phones, if someone wanted to do this they'd have to stay at home and wait for someone to call there. Now, they can go out and tentatively enjoy the activity while really waiting for someone else to call (or while actively calling around to see if someone knows of something better to do), which hurts the unity and community feeling of the group.

d) Also, the things are just annoying. I don't know of anything besides rush hour traffic that raises my blood pressure more than some novelty rap/hip-hop/pop ringtone going off in a public place. [/apocalyptic]

Sorry to rant.
posted by Fontbone at 3:04 PM on December 21, 2004

I use my hands free thingy whenever I talk on my cell, so I'm more worried about monitor radiation than I am about cell brain cancer...
posted by Specklet at 3:16 PM on December 21, 2004

From the article:
To me there is no doubt that it causes DNA damage under certain conditions (emphasis mine)

I'd like to know what those conditions were, anyway ... cancer from my cell phone is WAY down on my list of worries. I worry about BSE from my hamburger more than cell phone radiation (I work in the industry, and have been subjected to rf radiation pretty consistently for 14 years now).

As for the people decrying the constant use of cell phones ... well, hate to break this to you, but its gonna get worse. People seem to enjoy and want to be connnected MORE not less. They want control over who can contact them and when, so that technology will evolve. Mail, Telegrams, Phones, Cell Phones, Internet ... in a few dozen years we'll be arguing about how uncool it is to read people's thoughts in public. Undoubtedly, I will rail against the new mind reading technology as invasive and destroying intimacy, and be promptly ignored by the (typically) younger generations that thrive on the interconnnectedness.

Hmmm .... cell phone radiation ... mind reading ... tin foil hats are sounding better all the time ...
posted by forforf at 3:48 PM on December 21, 2004

Another bit from the article ...whose results were published online this month, although they have not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal.

Science by press release. It's easy to bump the dose up to something far in excess of what's 'normal' exposure, then point&say look! look! there's something different!
posted by PurplePorpoise at 4:17 PM on December 21, 2004

Hm, let me get my pseudo-science checklist:

"...results were published online this month, although they have not yet appeared in a peer-reviewed journal."
Not peer-reviewed? Check.

"...researchers also saw hints, but not conclusive evidence,..."
Subjective hints proffered as research findings? Check.

"The damaging effects occurred when cells were exposed to electromagnetic radiation of intensities between 0.3 and 2 watts per kilogram. This overlaps with the level of radiation typically emitted by phones of around 0.2 to 1 watt per kilogram."
So the damage appears at doses double of what you'd get from actual cell phone usage? Why so few details?

This is almost certainly bunk.

Also, what three blind mice said.
posted by spazzm at 4:31 PM on December 21, 2004

How much of what we call science is simply a sensational play for more funding? Doesn't the funding generally come with an expectation of some sort of finding? "Thanks for the multi-million dollar grant, but after our 4 year study we really didn't notice anything different."
posted by spock at 6:44 PM on December 21, 2004

When it's a choice between reading the footnotes and trusting in faith, I go with the footnotes. A quick look:

-- Google: "about 21,300 for microwave chemistry amplification reaction"

-- the article linked by gsb above, from Chemistry World
".....microwaves permit chemistry that would otherwise fail with conventional heating, ..... a reaction that had been refluxed for 48 hours failed to yield anything until researchers turned to microwaves, which quickly delivered an 85 per cent yield of aminated product. ‘Microwave technology is a real chemistry enabler', agrees Neil Moorcroft, a medicinal chemist at Aventis Pharmaceuticals...."

There's an established and growing market for the technique, it's not just a few researchers using microwave-amplification of organic chemistry.

" the market leader in microwave assisted organic synthesis.... promising and unique compounds developed using Personal Chemistry's Coherent Synthesis platform."

Although the use of microwaves to enhance and select organic chemical reactions has become a routine, there is still no certainty about _how_ it works -- the easy answer is that vibration is heat, heat speeds reactions, so microwaves are applying heat, and heat can't hurt you if it doesn't boil your brain or denature the proteins. But, since microwaves can be tuned to favor and disfavor particular paths in reactions, perhaps because they can change the proportion of time that a variable shaped molecule stays in any specific configuration (think 'resonance'), it's possible other effects are involved.
8th International Electronic Conference on Synthetic Organic Chemistry. ECSOC-8. 1-30 November 2004.
Abstract: Microwave irradiation becomes a widely used method to synthesize many useful organic chemicals rapidly, with good yields and high selectivity. .... Sometimes the effects are thought to be only specific forms of heat effects, but not always.

"We have recently observed some of the effects in the microwave initiated polymerizations and oxidations when the microwave power was quite low [1-3]. Here we shall try to discuss briefly possibilities that can be useful to explain the microwave effects. ...."
"The energy level of a microwave photon is only 10-5 eV, whereas the energy required to break a covalent bond is 1-4 eV. Based on this fact, it has been stated in the literature that "microwaves are incapable of breaking the covalent bonds of DNA" [19,20], but there is, in fact, plenty of evidence to indicate that there are alternate mechanisms for causing DNA covalent bond breakage without invoking the energy levels of ionizing radiation [21-26]. Still, no theory currently exists to explain the phenomenon of DNA fragmentation by microwaves.....

"We have observed [34] microradicals appearance when styrene, methyl methacrylate or olygocarbonate methacrylate in the presence of para-nitroaniline were irradiated by microwave with frequency by 9.45 GHz and the incident power of 0.05-0.1 W cm-2. The irradiation time was ca. 30 s...."
"In addition to the microwave-initiated polymerizations we have observed [33] hydrocarbon oxidations by molecular oxygen under irradiation by the low power microwave radiation.

"Energy of the microwave quanta in our experiments is about 10-5 eV and the power flux is less than 0.1 W cm-2.."
posted by hank at 6:58 PM on December 21, 2004

It's funny that many people here seem to think cell phones are benign when you're not actively talking on them.

Well, they're not right up against your head, and they're transmitting only in short bursts every second or so. So yeah, that's pretty damn benign.
posted by kindall at 8:42 PM on December 21, 2004

I have a Motorola i305 with Nextel and my phone seems to make other devices (Alarm clock radios, TVs, phones, etc.) click while I'm using it. Sometimes I hear the click before my phone rings.

So is this extra radiation or are cellphones the beginning of Skynet's attempt to control all machines and destroy humanity?
posted by john at 10:23 AM on December 22, 2004

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