How Tropical Storm Allison Blew Me into the Cell Phone Age
As a newly hired postdoc, I joined the cell phone age in the year 2001. I was not an early adopter. While many of my colleagues and extended family already wore phones daily, I had delayed my entry into this corner of the technological world. The stipend I was earning as a graduate student simply didn’t justify buying into another service I would have to pay for each month.
Motherhood and a new job were quickly changing my world. That summer, I was sent to South Carolina to learn the latest LCMS techniques at a workshop on Hilton Head Island. An airline booking error extended my stay an extra evening in South Carolina. With two children anxious for mom to come home, and a husband ready to fly out of town the next day, the error had created what initially appeared to be only a small inconvenience. The news that evening featured Tropical Storm Allison, which was rapidly approaching Houston, so you can imagine my surprise the next morning, upon boarding my flight to Dallas, when an announcement from the cockpit revealed we were being re-routed to Houston. With the rationality of a bureaucrat, the stewardess calmly explained that it was company policy to fly planes into their hub in a major storm. Their hub was in Houston.
The flight was uneventful, though it was raining heavily when we landed. Planes landing in Houston were grounded. There were no taxis to hotels. I would have to wait in the airport until the storm cleared. I quickly headed for a pay phone only to discover that the phone lines were all dead. For the next 48 hours, I wandered around a cold and crowded airport wondering who my husband had left our kids with, and wishing I could talk to them. With 75 counties along Allison’s path designated as disaster areas, 23 people dead, 30,000 left homeless, and one mother I watched on the news delivering her baby inside her vehicle as the rains came down around her, I knew my own Allison drama was dwarfed by what others experienced. But for two days, what I wanted the most was to talk to my kids. I never wanted to be in that situation again. Upon returning home, I signed up for a Verizon cell phone.
Wearing a Cell Phone Eased the Worries of a Working Mom
It didn’t take me long to fall in love with my phone. No matter how far I had to travel for work, how many off-road sites I needed to collect samples in, or who was watching my children, I knew my kids were just a phone call away. I could check on them during the daytime, as often as I liked. More importantly, my kids knew they could call me in a heartbeat if something was wrong. The cell phone was an anti-dote to the guilt I felt as a first generation working mom. But the phone offered other benefits too. Those long waits in line at the doctors office? When the kids dosed off, I could play games on the phone. And when the smart phones came available, I could get some real work done. I started reviewing manuscripts, answering emails, and staying connected more efficiently than I could have imagined in that pre-cell phone world of the 1990s. I loved my smart phone. I still love my smart phone.
Harmful Effects of Cell Phone Radiation Are Easily Ignored When You Are Healthy and Happy
As a scientist, you’d think I may have looked into the safety of these great new tools. Surely I would have asked some questions about the effects its radio frequencies were having on my my own DNA! Like most of us, I was so absorbed in the day to day challenges of work and family that I keyed into the benefits of the device, and assumed someone else was looking into the risks. Twelve years later, my fibromyalgia became debilitating. Chronic pain and related symptoms rocked my world enough to start questioning every detail of my lifestyle and my environment. That was when I learned that there are few environmental battles more controversial than the safety risks of cell phones. As CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has pointed out, about the only real point of agreement among experts on cell phone safety is that we really don’t know how much cell phone radiation the body can tolerate.
Yet even as I began eliminating foods with synthetic chemicals from my diet, growing more food at home, eating out less, and filtering my water more diligently, I was hesitant to reduce my phone usage. In fact, when I left my research job and began working from home, my smartphone usage actually increased! This is when I began to notice headaches and ear pains that increased with time spent on the phone. Today, almost everyone I know uses a cell phone or a smart phone daily. Those who do not, are still exposed to radiation through the numerous wifi and other electronic devices that surround us. Our computers, our tablets, our smartphones, and countless other electrical devices expose us daily to invisible frequencies now identified as “electrosmog.”
What Do Experts Say about Electrosmog?
In 2007, the World Health Organization identified minimal risks to exposure from electrosmog. While they did not believe the evidence warranted promoting policies that place arbitrary limits on exposure, they did encourage ongoing dialog and exploration of low-cost ways to reduce exposure. Not surprisingly, dialog has been forthcoming. The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, cites growing concerns about exposure to the very low frequency voltage signals found, not only with cell phones, but also with certain Energy Star rated appliances. These signals are thought cause our body cells to become less permeable to toxins and nutrients. As a result, nutrients fail to enter the cells, and toxins fail to be released. This leads to oxidative stress, a cellular condition that is associated with the buildup of free radicals and with inflammation and disease. Oxidative stress can damage structural proteins, enzymes, and DNA that are critical for cellular health.
The inconsistencies across studies are noted in this fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute, which also shows that most US government agencies recognize the need for more research before defining the relationship between cell phone use and health. The reader who uses this as evidence that cell phones are without risks should be aware that the jury is still out. These are difficult studies to conduct, and debate is certain to continue for years. As with so many environmental issues, there are risks involved in waiting for governments to make decisions before taking steps to protect yourself.
Perhaps the most alarming studies on the biological effects of electrosmog include those summarized by the Bioinitative Working Group, which examined 1800 studies and found alarming evidence of reproductive, neurological, and genetic damage created by exposure to EMF’s. Their group has called for more stringent exposure regulations, noting that even the World Health Organization has recognized EMF’s as possibly carcinogenic. They are challenging government agencies to take action to prevent a public health crisis.
Not Ready To Ditch Your Smart Phone, Wi-Fi, or Other Electrosmog Generators?
The reality of living in the 21st Century is that we have adapted so quickly and so thoroughly to the lifestyles afforded by cell phones, wi-fi, and other electrical devices that most of us would find it quite challenging to support ourselves without them. Even our vehicles now come equipped with Bluetooth, GPS, and computerized panels. But those of us who are seeking to improve our health cannot help but consider evidence that we are exposing our bodies daily to electrical frequencies far more intense than those our ancestors evolved to handle. In a political arena as emotionally and economically charged as discussions about EMF regulations, it is unlikely that governments can ever develop reasonable policies that simultaneously protect your health and afford access to tools you desire. This means it is really up to you to inform yourself and identify safety measures that best address your needs.
Here are 5 ways you can minimize exposure to electrosmog:
- Keep cell phones, alarm clocks, radios, and other electronic devices away from your bed or your nightstand.
- Remember that old corded phone? Use it. Or use a speaker phone. Avoid putting a cell phone up against your head.
- Turn off wireless routers at night, or at times when when not in use.
- Do not carry your cell phones in your pocket, tuck it into your socks, or keep it in contact with your body. Do not set your laptop on your lap. Every centimeter you can place between you and your wireless device reduces the intensity of the energy it emits, and the risk of cellular damage it can cause.
- Spend time outdoors, away from electrical devices, powerlines, and other EMF sources.
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