The release of Apple’s iPhone 7 has stirred up an old debate concerning your health and exposure to radio frequency (RF) when using a cell phone, particularly with wireless headphones.
Apple has dropped the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 in favor of using wireless earbuds called AirPods. They are sleek, water-resistant, high-quality and leave you no tangled wires, however public health officials warn the small devices could have a devastating impact on your health.
Powered by Bluetooth technology, the AirPods transmit low-intensity radiowaves into your ears. Research shows that over time these emissions wear down the blood-brain barrier, which is essential for keeping chemical toxins out of the brain. Basically it means you are putting a microwave-emitting device next to your brain.
Putting a cell phone up to your ear can create the same problem as using the wireless earbuds.
Major studies with humans have found increased cancer risk, including a three-fold increase in brain cancer among those who used wireless phones (cell phones and cordless phones) for 25 or more years. Based upon this research, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2011 declared radiofrequency radiation “possibly carcinogenic” in humans.
Other risks from cell phone use says WHO include reproductive harm and male infertility, and neurological disorders (e.g., impaired cognitive functioning, headaches and migraines, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in children.
The RF of any wireless device — a cell phone, Bluetooth headphones or a wireless router — emits non-ionizing radiation. These devices aren’t as dangerous as those that emit ionizing radiation, such as X-ray machines, but some experts remain wary of them nonetheless.
“I think it’s unfortunate, because Apple themselves acknowledges in their fine print — often hidden — that you need to keep cell phones away from the ear, and most people don’t do that,” says Dr. Anthony Miller on the Environmental Health Trust website which is an activist group that studies radiation and cell phone usage.
When testing RF exposure something called the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) rate is used to measure the rate at which the body absorbs RF energy. The SAR limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram. Most people talk on their cell phones while holding them directly in contact with their ear, and Apple does make warnings regarding radio frequency (RF) exposure available to consumers, but it’s buried in the legal section of the company’s website. You can also find it on your iOS by going to Settings -> General -> About -> Legal -> RF Exposure.
“The biggest problem we have is that we know most environmental factors take several decades of exposure before we really see the consequences,” Dr. Keith Black, chairman of the neurosurgery department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, told CNN in a recent article.
“What microwave radiation does, in most simplistic terms, is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain,” Black said. “So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones.”
Joel Moskowitz from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health also has some concerns about the bluetooth. Moskowitz, along with several hundred other scientists, recommends using wired devices whenever possible.
“We don’t have any research that long term exposures to radiation is safe, and we do have research that these kinds of exposure can open the blood-brain barrier,” explained Moskowitz.
Any metal in your head like fillings in your teeth, earrings or eyeglass frames can also intensify the about of exposure you are getting.
While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says the low levels of radiation emitted by devices like bluetooth headphones are safe, Moskowitz disagrees.
Some argue we’ve been using bluetooth for years without health consequences, but Moskowitz and others argue we may already have minor effects and not realize it.
Moskowitz says while it is safer to use wired headsets, users should at the very least turn off bluetooth headsets when not in use. He also says to never hold an iPhone to your body while making a call, a recommendation that can be found in the manufacturer’s handbook.
In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a partial report, based on experiments in rats and mice, on potential health hazards from cell phone radiofrequency radiation.
News source CNN reported on the growing concern of health hazards from cell phone radiofrequency radiation because of the HHS report on experiments on rats and mice. CNN claims it typically does not report on animal studies, because the results often don’t translate to humans. However, these rare, aggressive, malignant tumors that occurred in male rats are the very same tumors found in epidemiologic studies in humans using cell phones for the longest period of time.
HHS says the complete results from all of the rat and mice studies will be available for peer review and public comment by the end of 2017.
For now, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says, “If there is a risk of being exposed to radiofrequency energy (RF) from cell phones — and at this point we do not know that there is — it is probably very small.” Still, if you are at all concerned about your exposure, the FDA recommends reducing the amount of time spent using your cell phone, as well as using the speakerphone function or a wired headset to maximize the distance between your head and your cell phone.