NEWS

Safety limits overshot

The Swedish study went on further to examine the murky area of the effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation (also emitted by cell phones), the so-called non-thermal effects. A thermal effect is when the temperature of exposed tissue rises to measurable levels, whereas non-thermal effects are when tissue appears unaffected by exposure. Up until now, studies in the West, as well as relevant legislation, dealt only with the thermal effects of radiation. In the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, however, scientists have been examining the non-thermal aspects of radiation for years and as such, these countries have much tighter controls on legal exposure levels. «If Salford’s results are confirmed by follow-up studies in the works at research facilities worldwide, including one run by the US Air Force, the data could have serious implications for the 1 billion-plus people glued to their cell phones,» says the Popular Science article. On the other hand, cell phone manufacturers say that the levels of radiation emitted by their devices are well within the limits set in the USA and the European Union. In Greece On the Greek front, the National Polytechnic of Metsovo is running its own experiments through the Biomedical Simulation and Imaging Technology Workshop and the longstanding COST 281 research program, which includes collaborations with foundations from six other countries. The program, which came to an end recently, was based on simulated experiments on a computer-generated image of the human brain. The conclusions of the study are no cause for panic, but they do raise a number of concerns. First of all, tests on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of radiation – that is, a measure of the energy absorbed in living tissue, which determines how much the brain heats up – showed levels higher than those adopted in the USA, though slightly lower than EU standards. While the American limit is set at 1.6 w/kg, the average SAR in the study stood at of 2.2 w/kg in children and up to 2.4 w/kg in adults. According to Assistant Professor Constantina Nikita, who coordinated the Greek research program, cell phone use may indeed cause higher electromagnetic radiation absorption rates in sensitive brain tissue than the legal limit. She also adds that «we cannot be absolutely certain that exposure to cell phone radiation, even at levels lower than those set by safety regulations, is not potentially related to irreversible health problems.» This is why, the professor warns, «we must discourage extended cell phone use in adults, and especially in children, when it is not absolutely necessary.» Costas Lioliousis, associate professor of electronics at the Athens University, reiterates: «The user’s brain is lit up and heated, as it absorbs up to 70 percent of the electric power emitted by a cell phone. The negatives effects of this are already a statistical certainty.»