Cell phone radiation during pregnancy: Effect on newborns needs authentic research

Users are continuously assured by the authorities that current cell phone radiation safety limits protect us all. The new study from Yale seriously questions this assumption. It is a wake-up call for research.

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HELSINKI, March 18, 2012Potential health effects of cell phone radiation in children were examined by very few studies published in the last 2-3 years. Assurances from the committees advising governments on cell phone radiation safety limits, that the current safety limits protect all users, are not supported by the currently available scientific evidence.

Effects on children are only now beginning to be examined.

One of the crucial questions to which we have no scientific answer is whether exposure of fetus to cell phone radiation will have any impact on physical and mental health of a child and, in due time, adult.

In 2011, researchers from California, using the data from the “infamous” Danish Cohort, analyzed whether exposure of fetus, by a mother using a cell phone, will affect development of child during the first 18 months of life.

An interesting twist in how the study was executed was that:

Outcomes for developmental milestones were obtained from telephone interviews completed by mothers at age 6 and 18 months postpartum.”

What it means in plain language is that the scientists from California called mothers in Denmark and asked them to judge the development of their own children. Is this the reliable and unbiased scientific method to evaluate child development?

All of us who followed the development of our own children, know how difficult it is for parent, obviously biased observer of own children, to determine whether a child is developing as expected or whether there are any developmental delays or speed ups. Asking mother of the child age 6 or 18 months (time-points examined in the study), whether her child is delayed in cognitive/language or motor development will obviously prompt biased answers. Such evaluation should be done by someone who is not involved emotionally.

The study based its research on this type of “emotionally biased scientific data”.

Furthermore, there was another problem with the data. The study did not examine whether a mothers cell-phone-related lifestyle had any potential impact on the development of children. Mothers using cell phones during pregnancy exposed fetuses, to some degree, to cell phone radiation. However, additional factor that could have an impact on the children’s development was mothers’ lifestyle. Using cell phone changes behavior of the users. They are available to others 24/7. Their life is more stressful by being all the time “on call”. Such maternal stress could have impact on development of children. But it was not examined.

Not surprisingly, the conclusion of this human study was:

No evidence of an association between prenatal cell phone use and motor or cognitive/language developmental delays among infants at 6 and 18 months of age was observed. Even when considering dose-response associations for cell phone, associations were null.” 

Such poor quality scientific studies are not rare and, unfortunately, are used by the committees setting safety limits. What is worse, once a study is published, it is nearly impossible to remove it. The only reason for retraction of the study is scientific misconduct. If there is no “scientific foul play” then no matter how bad the study is it remains forever as valid peer-reviewed evidence.

It is really very bad situation because it propagates and perpetuates misinformation.

However, in respect to fetal exposure to cell phone radiation, there might be a “light at the end of tunnel”. The new study, published on March 15th, 2012 in Scientific Reports published by the prestigious British NATURE, should provide much needed stimulus for serious research.

Scientists from Yale, using animal studies, researched how exposure of fetuses to cell phone radiation affected the behavior of newborn mice. The use of regular cell phones for the exposure certainly did not provide best possible exposure.

However, as one of the “guru” scientists in the area of exposures told me is that if exposure to regular cell phone shows a biological effect then such study should not be dismissed off hand. It should be the reason for making replication, with better radiation exposure information. 

This is exactly the case with the Yale study. Radiation dosimetry is not the best possible. However, elegantly performed behavioral experiments in mice indicated that the exposure might affect mice behavior:

Overall, the mice exposed in-utero to radiation were hyperactive, had decreased memory, and decreased anxiety.”

Interestingly and importantly, the Yale study examined also the possible molecular mechanism of the effect and the potential impact of maternal stress, and not only radiation, on the offspring’s behavior.

The authors summarized their findings and their significance as follows:

In summary, we demonstrate that fetal radiofrequency radiation exposure led to neurobehavioral disorders in mice. We anticipate these findings will improve our understanding of the etiology of neurobehavioral disorders. The rise in behavioral disorders in developed countries may be, at least in part, due to a contribution from fetal cellular telephone radiation exposure. Further testing is warranted in humans and non-human primates to determine if the risks are similar and to establish safe exposure limits during pregnancy.”

The Yale study provides very important information concerning cell phone radiation exposures (only cell phones and not other sources as e.g. cell towers, wlan or wi-fi). It suggests that current safety limits for cell phones might be insufficient. Based on this single animal study it would be, however, foolish and irresponsible to demand a change in safety limits.

However, this study provides a very important scientific justification for further research on cell phone radiation effects in humans. There is an urgent need for studies that are well designed, executed by the scientists (not by mothers) and take into consideration not only the possibility of radiation effects but also the possibility that parental life-style’s stress and behavior will affect the offspring.

We should not rush and jump to conclusions but pregnant women should be advised to use cell phones sparingly until more information will be obtained. Also, it would be prudent, if all cell phone users would limit to the necessary minimum exposures to cell phone radiation instead of being blinded by the “race for free minutes”.

Precaution is the name of the game – be rather safe now than sorry later.

Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” at http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  Dariusz is a Research Professor at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the STUK - Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.


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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health: http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski

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