Since the 1920s, scientists have known that radio waves can cause heating of the skin and affect cells in the nervous system. People working with powerful radio waves have complained of impaired memory and ability to reason and the loss of control over both body movements and heart rate.
These observations form the basis of national safety guidelines for working with powerful radio waves. The safe limits for the public are about five times less than those recommended for workers.
But how do these compare to emissions from mobile phones? Mobile phones work on the lowest power possible. As a result, they don’t emit many radio waves. This is not specifically connected with any health issues, but due to the logistics of cost and efficiency.
The Stewart Report
In 1999, the Government commissioned a group of independent scientists to look into any health threat from mobile phones. In May 2000 the Stewart Report published its findings:
– There is no evidence of adverse health effects caused by radio wave radiation at current national safety limits. But gaps in current knowledge mean mobile phones cannot be classed as ‘safe’ yet
– Radio waves may affect biological cells but this may not necessarily lead to disease or injury
– Children should be especially careful about mobile phones use. Their skulls are still growing, so it is easier for radio waves from a mobile phone to enter their heads. Their cells are also developing and tend to absorb more radiation compared to adults. This is especially important in brain tissue, as the nervous system is very sensitive during development. Children should only use mobiles for short, essential calls
– Mobile phone manufacturers must publish the amount of radio wave energy that each handset transmits to the human body, called the SAR value
– There is no evidence of a risk to the health of people living near to base stations, but emissions should be monitored, especially near schools
– All new base stations should be subject to planning permission
– Drivers should be dissuaded from using either hand-held or hands-free phones whilst on the move
– A further report by the Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation said in 2004 that there is no evidence that mobile phones harm health. But, backing up the Stewart Report, it also argued that more research was needed before there could be absolute certainty about the risk.