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Is Cell Phone Radiation Hurting Your Fetus?

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Is Cell Phone Radiation Hurting Your Fetus?

Oct 02, 2014

It seems that we’re adopting technology faster than we can assess the risks. Fetal exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phones and other sources is occurring with little understanding of potentially harmful effects. Dr. Kirtly Jones investigates the safety concerns with Patty Wood, executive director of Grassroots Environmental Education. They discuss some recommendations for what to avoid.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Dr. Jones: Radiation, it's a scary word that causes visions of nuclear bombs, exploding nuclear power plants. Radiation is a term for a kind of energy that goes from one place to another, like infrared radiation that keeps us warm, ultraviolet radiation that makes vitamin D in our skin, and the visual spectrum that lets us see the world around us.
But let's go back to radiation of sorts that we have more questions about; microwave radiation, big power line radiation, and electromagnetic radiation from that little device that we hold next to our bodies all day long, our cell phones. What about this kind of radiation and pregnancy? This is Dr. Kirtly Jones from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care. Today on The Scope we'll be talking with Patti Wood in New York City who is the Executive Director of Grassroots Environmental Education, and a visiting scholar at Adelphi University School of Nursing and Public Health. And she's going to help us try to think about exposures in pregnancy to cell phone radiation. So welcome to The Scope, Ms. Wood.

Ms. Wood: Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be with you.

Dr. Jones: So Patti, tell me a little bit about what might be the concerns about the kind of electromagnetic radiation that comes from cell phones in pregnancy. What do we know, or what are we worried about?

Ms. Wood: Most people never really thought about what this is; what is making those cell phones actually work. But radio frequency waves have been used for more than 100 years, and this was when we actually were able to have the small receivers in our homes, called radios, and the distant transmitting towers. The technology offered today by the wireless industry puts these same powerful transmitters as well as receivers much closer to us than we think they should be. It's actually the two-way communication using this type of RFR, or radio frequency radiation, that is the reason for concern.

Dr. Jones: And people who are carrying a cell phone with them and when they have it on so they can receive calls, they may not know that they are constantly exposed to this radiation every minute, because your little cell phone while waiting to get a call is always signaling where you are. So it's on all the time.

Ms. Wood: That's right. Then you are actually receiving and transmitting all the time.

Dr. Jones: So tell us a little bit about what the concerns are, and in particular, in pregnancy.

Ms. Wood: Since we do use these ubiquitously and the cell phone towers are now becoming closer and closer to us as well, we are dealing with something that we have actually never seen before. It's a perfect example of how technology gets out ahead of science, and we're way out with the technology, and the science is really trying hard to catch up here.

Dr. Jones: Do we have some animal models?

Ms. Wood: Our baby-safe project, which is a project just to educate pregnant women about the safe use of wireless technology during their pregnancy, actually was inspired by the work of Dr. Hugh Taylor, who is the Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University.
He and his team of researchers actually did mouse studies where they found that the prefrontal cortex of the offspring of the pregnant mice who were exposed to very typical cell phone radiation levels actually were wired differently. That could be reason for concern, because we have so much of these neurobehavioral problems in our children today. I think the latest statistic is one in five, and anything from ADD, ADHD, to dyslexia, just behavioral problems, even autism. In fact there's a researcher at Yale, Dr. Martha Herbert, whose sole focus of her research is the link between cell phone radiation, or wireless radiation in general, and autism.

Dr. Jones: Did they put the phones right next to the mouse, or did they put it across the room from the mouse?

Ms. Wood: No, actually the cell phones were placed on top of the cage. And they actually had a control group where there was a cell phone that was turned off, placed on another cage. And they actually were able to look at not only the behavior of the offspring, but they were also able to look at the structure, the brain structure, of these offspring.

Dr. Jones: And do we have any data from humans yet?

Ms. Wood: Absolutely no data from humans, in fact the team at Yale is very interested in doing primate studies next. This would bring this closer to the human model. They were able to show that, like I said before, they had different electrical activity in their prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that controls these behaviors that we just spoke about.

Dr. Jones: So what are your recommendations in terms of a precautionary story; well, we're not sure what's going to happen in humans, but it seems like it would be wise to take precautions.

Ms. Wood: When you're talking about precautions, this is what guides much of our work, is the precautionary principle, which states that if there is an indication of harm that precautionary measures could be taken even without scientific certainty. And this is certainly an area where I would employ that. Generally speaking proximity is the most important factor in determining the amount of wireless radiation to which you and your baby are exposed. Radiation levels will actually fall off pretty dramatically as you distance yourself from the source. We're just recommending avoiding carrying your cell phone directly on your body, not in a pocket, not in a bra, not in a bag that you carry on you all the time.
If you have to carry it, we recommend that you actually just turn the phone around so that the back of the phone, which is where the antenna is, is actually facing out. Obviously don't place your cell phone or your wireless laptop or tablet on your abdomen. I know that it's a convenient spot when you have that big bump there. If you're lying down you just kind of prop up your computer there. But it's probably not a great idea.

And then we advise talking on speaker setting, or with an air tube headset. We really recommend that you avoid using cordless phones as well, because a cordless phone gives you about the same amount of radiation as a cell phone does. We strongly advise that people have at least a couple of places in their home where they are talking on a hardwired or a landline phone, which of course presents zero risk.

Dr. Jones: The speaker phone allows you to put the phone several feet away.

Ms. Wood: That's right, and that's excellent. I mean, you really even begin to see the radiation levels fall off at a few inches. So the further away you get it the safer you are. Technology is moving so fast that we're beginning to replace our old analog utility meters now; so yet another exposure to try to avoid. I mean, if you're bed is right up against the wall, you know, which has these smart meters on the other side of it, we would strongly advise that you just move your bed or even move it into another room so that you're not right there.
Unplugging your home Wi-Fi router every single night should just be routine, like you lock your doors, you turn off your lights, and the router goes off, too.

Dr. Jones: I have one last little question, because although we're talking about women and pregnancy, I'm a fertility doctor, and I always think about my men. So what about those guys who carry their cell phones in their pockets, right next to their testicles?

Ms. Wood: We actually have quite a few studies linking cell phone exposure to harmful effects on sperm, and they've actually been done here in this country, as well as Australia and some European countries, and South Africa in particular. But they've used very diverse methodologies, and they've compared sperm counts and sperm health in men who wore cell phones on their hips, and those who carry them in other places on their bodies or didn't use them at all. And they actually saw a real difference in those men who were wearing their cell phones on their hips, or in their pockets. It's just something that you would probably try to avoid if you could.

Dr. Jones: Yeah, be careful with your man parts.

Ms. Wood: Be careful with your man parts.

Dr. Jones: Well, we've been talking with Patti Wood, who is the Executive Director of Grassroots Environmental Education, and she has her own radio show and a website. Patti, can you give that to our listeners?

Ms. Wood:

Dr. Jones:

Ms. Wood: There's a lot of information there and a lot of scientific studies on there, and a lot of helpful information about what you can do to just reduce those exposures.

Dr. Jones: And a website for your Grassroots Environmental organization?

Ms. Wood: Right, and our non-profit website is GrassrootsInfo, as in information; So that's

Dr. Jones: Well thank you so much and I'm going to even carry my cell phone farther away than I currently do in my purse. But thank you so much for joining us everyone who's listening, and thank you for joining us on The Scope.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope; University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.