I just read yet another article discussing if cell phones are safe or not to use that, in my opinion, doesn't contain any error yet just misses the point. I don't care, or I care very little, if using a cell phone causes cancer or any other health problem to the person using it. Even if somebody proved it beyond doubt tomorrow morning, I would still care very little. To explain why, here is an edited/updated copy of an email that I wrote to a friend in February 2007. The basic question is still valid, if not more valid, today, when everybody is talking about not-so regulated Wi-Fi networks on top of all the other radiation sources.

Worrying for the cell *phone* is misleading

I am both pissed off and worried to see all this press about "the danger from cell phone radio frequencies". I am pissed off because, be it true or not, it just hides what might be the real problem, the one the industry doesn't even want to talk about (at least in Italy).

I don't care if any cell phone causes cancer or some other disease in whoever uses it. Because, if it's true (and I'm not saying it is!):

  • personally, I will simply be free to stop using a cell phone or just keep it around as an emergency device
  • if other adult people feel the need to talk into a cell phone until they get cancer, that becomes only their problem, and
  • (at leat in theory) cell phones may be forbidden to kids, just like cars, smoking or alcoholic beverages

What worries me instead is that, whether I want it or not, I, you, and any city kid, for his or her whole life, are exposed 24/7 to the sum of all cell base stations, plus broadcast TV, plus satellite, plus wireless internet, plus nearby computers, plus GPS, plus all kinds of radio stations, plus radars, etc... All these radiations are there for real: in 2009 Nokia was even studying how to make cell phones that "recycle" just those radiations to recharge themselves.

Now, for all I know (please correct me if I'm wrong), all of these combined, uninterrupted, artificial electromagnetic radiations may very well be powerful enough to recharge the cell phones of tomorrow but still low enough to be completely harmless for humans. I only say that I have never seen this problem dealt with in an extensive way, not even as a speculation.

What if it turned out that non-stop, combined artificial radiations absorbed by simply living in a city are indeed as much or more dangerous in the long term as those that one receives from his or her cell phone when actually using it? In such a context, those few minutes of radiation would become irrelevant, if not a marketing strategy to make people buy new phones every other month. If cell phones are unsafe, I can stop owning one. If cell phone networks are unsafe (and again: I'm not saying they are, I'm just criticizing some priorities in research, communications and policy-making!) I must run away from them to be safe.

So, what is the scientific level of confidence that living one's whole life under the artificial EMF fields of today has no meaningful long term consequences on health?

Is this question never asked because all scientists already studied the issue and agreed that there's no danger, or simply because nobody can give a satisfying answer yet? This uncertainty about methods is what makes me less than happy with the whole "are cell phones safe to use?" discourse.

But if surrounding radiations were a problem we could only avoid them with regulations that say, more or less, "in any residential area, the total electromagnetic power from X mHz to Y GHz must never exceed Z watts per square meter".

Even regulations limiting the radiating power of one cell base station could become meaningless: apart from all other radiation sources, if two competing mobile operators placed their compliant antennas on the two blocks adjacent to mine, I'd be still frying in the middle thanks to the sum of their two fields.

Of course, this would be a catastrophe, because it would mean that you can deregulate and be for the market economy as much as you want, but there could never be more than (very few) cell operators or TV repeaters in any given area, or unregulated spectrum.

There is one thing of which I'm sure though: no matter what they say, cell phone operators and manufacturers are very happy to see people worrying about radiations from single cell phones. Because if that is the only problem, it also is a problem whose solution brings more money to those companies: just market a more efficient model next year.

So don't bother too much about whether or not wireless phones are safe to use (they almost surely are) until you've got a really satisfying answer to whether combined wireless networks are safe to live in. Very likely, they are safe too, but in my opinion worrying about phones before networks isn't the right way to proceed.