Effects of Mobile Phones on Children’s and Adolescents’ Health: A Commentary
Author: Lennart Hardell
In: Special Section of Child Development. Contemporary Mobile Technology and Child and Adolescent Development, edited by Zheng Yan and Lennart Hardell, May 15, 2017.
The use of digital technology has grown rapidly during the last couple of decades. During use, mobile phones and cordless phones emit radiofrequency (RF) radiation. No previous generation has been exposed during childhood and adolescence to this kind of radiation. The brain is the main target organ for RF emissions from the handheld wireless phone. An evaluation of the scientiﬁc evidence on the brain tumor risk was made in May 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer at World Health Organization. The scientiﬁc panel reached the conclusion that RF radiation from devices that emit nonionizing RF radiation in the frequency range 30 kHz–300 GHz is a Group 2B, that is, a “possible” human carcinogen. With respect to health implications of digital (wireless) technologies, it is of importance that neurological diseases, physiological addiction, cognition, sleep, and behavioral problems are considered in addition to cancer. Well-being needs to be carefully evaluated as an effect of changed behavior in children and adolescents through their interactions with modern digital technologies.
In spite of the IARC evaluation little has happened to reduce exposure to RF fields in most countries. The exposure guideline used by many agencies was established in 1998 by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and was based on thermal (heating) effects from RF radiation neglecting non-thermal biological effects. It was updated in 2009 and still gives the guideline 2 to 10 W/m2 for RF radiation depending on frequency.
In contrast to ICNIRP the BioInitiative Report from 2007, updated in 2012, based the evaluation also on non-thermal health effects from RF radiation. The scientific benchmark for possible health risks was defined to be 30 to 60 µW/m2. Thus, using the significantly higher guideline by ICNIRP gives a ‘green card’ to roll out the digital technology thereby not considering non-thermal health effects from RF radiation. Numerous health hazards are disregarded such as cancer, neurological diseases, psychological addiction, cognition, sleep and behavioral problems.
For obvious reasons the extent and severity of long-term health effects among children and adolescents using this technology are not know. However, there are already numerous peer-reviewed studies showing health hazards from wireless devices. Urgent action using the precautionary principle is needed.
Exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation was classified as a possible human carcinogen, Group 2B, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer at WHO in 2011. Outdoor RF radiation levels were measured during five tours in Stockholm Old Town in April, 2016 using the EME Spy 200 exposimeter with 20 predefined frequencies. The results were based on 10,437 samples in total. The mean level of the total RF radiation was 4,293 μW/m2 (0.4293 μW/cm2). The highest mean levels were obtained for global system for mobile communications (GSM) + universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) 900 downlink and long‑term evolution (LTE) 2600 downlink (1,558 and 1,265 μW/m2, respectively). The town squares displayed highest total mean levels, with the example of Järntorget square with 24,277 μW/m2 (min 257, max 173,302 μW/m2). Measurements in the streets surrounding the Royal Castle were lower than the total for the Old Town, with a mean of 756 μW/m2 (min 0.3, max 50,967 μW/m2). The BioInitiative 2012 Report defined the scientific benchmark for possible health risks as 30‑60 μW/m2. Our results of outdoor RF radiation exposure at Stockholm Old Town are significantly above that level. The full report can be found here.
We measured the radiofrequency (RF) radiation at the Stockholm Central Station in Sweden in November 2015. The full study can be read here. The exposimeter EME Spy 200 was used and it covers 20 different RF bands from 88 to 5,850 MHz. In total 1,669 data points were recorded. The median value for total exposure was 921 µW/m2 (or 0.092 μW/cm2; 1 μW/m2=0.0001 μW/cm2) with some outliers over 95,544 µW/m2 (6 V/m, upper detection limit). The mean total RF radiation level varied between 2,817 to 4,891 µW/m2 for each walking round.
Hot spots were identified, for example close to a wall mounted base station yielding over 95,544 µW/m2 and thus exceeding the exposimeter’s detection limit, see Figure below. A man is standing with his smartphone just a couple of meters below a base station (see arrow). In that area maximum measured power density in the GSM +UMTS 900 downlink band from the base station was 95,544 µW/m2, which is the upper limit of measurement for EME Spy 200.
Almost all of the total measured levels were above the precautionary target level of 3 to 6 µW/m2 as proposed by the BioInitiative Working Group in 2012. That target level was one-tenth of the scientific benchmark providing a safety margin either for children, or chronic exposure conditions. Considering the rapid progress of this technology, including 5G that is to be launched in the near future, it is important to monitor current RF radiation exposure in the environment.
There is growing international concern on the biased representation of persons in the preparation of the WHO Monograph on Radiofrequency Radiation. As discussed earlier the group is dominated by members of ICNIRP. In fact the Ethical Board at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden concluded already in 2008 that being a member of ICNIRP may be a conflict of interest that should be stated in scientific publications (Karolinska Institute Diary Number 3753-2008-609).
A recent letter to WHO written by members of the BioInitiative Working Group describes the unbalanced ‘no-risk’ group at WHO preparing the document. The full text may be read here.
A novel mobile monitoring system was used to measure outdoor radiofrequency fields (RF) in Sweden recently published in Bioelectromagnetics. The system was car based and the frequency covered was 30 MHz to 3 GHz.
In total more than 70,000 measurements were made. According to Table 1 in the article the following results were obtained:
Rural area Urban Stockholm
Median (μW/m2) 16 270 2,600
Arithmetic mean (μW/m2) 230 1,500 6,700
Most of the radiation comes from base stations for mobile phones, 2G and 3G (UMTS). Unfortunately the range of measurements is not given. Especially high values are found in Stockholm. These results can be compared with the evaluation in BioInitiative Report 2012 especially regarding biological effects of RF-EMF:
‘A scientific benchmark of 0.003 uW/cm2 or three nanowatts per centimeter squared for ‘lowest observed effect level’ for RFR is based on mobile phone base station-level studies.’