EarthTalk: Could our health be negatively affected
by all the radio frequencies being bandied about by cell phones
and cell phone towers, wireless pagers and Internet systems,
and other uses of radio frequency and microwave radiation?
-- Beverly Filip, Santa Cruz, CA
Since the middle of the last century technological advancements
in telecommunications and other industries have led to significant
increases in the use of radio frequencies. Equipment employing
microwave and radio waves is today widely used not just in
broadcasting and communications, but also in the health care
industry, the food industry, and in a host of other industries
in a wide range of applications.
Health advocates have worried for decades that exposure to
frequencies emanating from these many sources might be harmful.
And the ubiquity of such technology today--especially considering
the quantum leap in cell phone usage in recent years--only
makes such concerns that much more pressing.
Various studies researching the health effects of cell phone
use have yielded mixed results. Some earlier studies suggested
a link between exposure to radiation from cell phones and
an increased risk of acoustic neuroma--a cancerous tumor of
the nerve connecting the ear to the brain--but more recent
research found no such links. The issue is primarily heat.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Department
of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), “As high
frequency radio frequency radiation…penetrates the body,
the exposed molecules move about and collide with one another
causing friction and, thus, heat…If the radiation is
powerful enough, the tissue or skin will be heated or burned.”
According to CWA, “there is substantial scientific data
that establishes negative health effects associated with microwave
radiation.” CWA cites cataracts as one possible negative
health effect from prolonged exposure, as well as well as
nervous system damage and even reproductive problems in both
males and females. This issue was in the news in 1992 over
the issue of the safety of police radar devices, but subsequent
studies were inconclusive.
As to cell phones, the results of a study recently published
in the academic journal Environmental Health Perspectives
do not bode well for habitual chatterers. Researchers documented
brain damage in laboratory rats exposed to radio frequencies
from cell phones at levels comparable to what people would
experience during normal use. The study’s authors expressed
concern that “after some decades of (often) daily use,
a whole generation of [cell phone] users may suffer negative
effects, perhaps as early as middle age.”
The environmental effects of radio frequencies are also largely
unclear. Migrating birds have been known to fly right into
cell phone and other communications towers. Some blame the
radiation emanating from such towers for disorienting the
birds and undermining their navigational abilities. Others
chalk such incidents up to poor visibility associated with
bad weather and nothing more. Some farmers have observed that
cows grazing near cell towers are more likely to experience
still births, spontaneous abortions, birth deformities and
behavioral problems, not to mention general declines in overall
health. Moving cattle herds away from such towers has reportedly
led to immediate health improvements.
CONTACT: U.S. Department of Labor, Radiofrequency
and Microwave Radiation, www.osha.gov/SLTC/radiofrequencyradiation.
COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES
jury is still out as to whether -- or how much -- radio and
microwave frequencies from cell phones and other sources may
negatively impact human health.
I recently heard the term “carbon sequestration”
in relation to climate change. What is it and how can it help
stave off global warming? -- Bob Whelan, Pawtucket, RI
Carbon sequestration is simply the intake and storage of the
element carbon. The most common example in nature is during
the photosynthesis process of trees and plants, which store
carbon as they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) during growth.
Because they soak up the carbon that would otherwise rise
up and trap heat in the atmosphere, trees and plants are important
players in efforts to stave off global warming.
Environmentalists cite this natural form of carbon sequestration
as a key reason to preserve the world’s forests and
other undeveloped lands where vegetation is abundant. And
forests don't just absorb and store large quantities of carbon;
they also produce large quantities of oxygen as a by-product,
leading people to refer to them as the “lungs of the
According to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, the
billions of trees in the boreal forest of the northern hemisphere
that stretches from Russian Siberia across Canada and into
Scandinavia absorb vast amounts of carbon as they grow. Likewise,
the world’s tropical forests play an important role
in naturally sequestering carbon. As such, environmentalists
see preserving and adding to the world’s forest canopy
as the best natural means for minimizing the impact of global
warming caused by the 5.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide generated
by factories and automobiles each year.
On the technological front, engineers are hard at work developing
man-made ways to capture the carbon spewing from coal-fired
power plants and industrial smokestacks and sequester it by
burying it deep within the Earth or the oceans. The Bush administration
has embraced carbon sequestration as a means to mitigate U.S.
carbon dioxide emissions and is spending upwards of $49 million
annually on research and development, hoping that the technology
might play an important part in keeping greenhouse gas emissions
out of the atmosphere. The U.S. is also funding related research
in China in hopes of stemming the tide of Chinese CO2 emissions
that are increasing quickly as that nation develops rapidly
(China has already surpassed the U.S. as the largest coal
The Bush administration refused to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol,
an international agreement adopted in Japan in 1997 calling
on countries to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Instead, many environmentalists feel, they are pursuing carbon
sequestration technology as a quick fix or “Band-Aid”
approach that enables them to preserve the existing fossil
fuel infrastructure instead of replacing it with clean renewable
energy sources or efficiency gains. Essentially the technology
involves disposing of carbon dioxide after it is produced,
rather than trying to hold down its production in the first
place. United Nations’ studies suggest, however, that
it might play a bigger role in fighting global warming this
century than any other measure.
CONTACTS: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage, www.ipcc.ch/activity/srccs/index.htm.
SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM