The Risk-Monger

The mobile phone industries today remind me of the chemical industry in the 1970s. They are profiting hand over fist from the smartphone boom and do not seem to have time to consider public safety or environmental health concerns from public use of their products. A few decades of litigation and class action suits later, maybe the mobile industry survivors will tell us they did not realise the risks of 4G phones. They will be liars.

IARC recently concluded that using mobile phones does increase the risk of brain tumours. I won’t get into phone masts, since while visible and controversial, pound for pound, these localised EMF exposures are far less of a health risk than the use of mobile phones. IARC did not release new, shocking information (pushing a radiation-emitting device into the soft tissue next to the brain is not considered as a ‘health-inducing’ activity) but most of us had been massaging the results for years with reassurances that most mobile phone use is not long term, chronic exposure and that 2G and 3G technologies emit far less radiation into the brain than the earlier popcorn-popping models that are long gone from the market. Even the Risk-Monger had declared that mobile phone improvements is a good example of an industry being responsible and voluntarily applying the concept of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) to reduce exposure. With 4G, the mobile industry has abandoned ALARA and hence any semblance of corporate responsibility, and all I can do is throw my hands up in the air, sit back and wait and watch as lawyers start pecking flesh from that sorry industry’s fattened rump.

Why is 4G such an industry-induced death-trap? I would like to refer to it as the curse of Steve Jobs – the contrived need to have all of my data with me all the time. Phones are no longer for transmitting voice messages and the antenna power in the 2G and 3G designs proved insufficient for serious data transmission. So the 4G designers needed to increase the juice with something call multiple antenna technology (industry refers to it as smart antennas) – a series of antennas in a handset that can receive and transmit from multiple sources. A retired industry engineer once told me 4G was like having four antennas in a handset rather than one. So 4G phones then are capable of emitting more radiation (from multiple lower level sources) rather than less into the brain. Why doesn’t the mobile phone industry just teach teenagers to inhale tobacco through their ears? The carcinogenic effect will be just as quick.

When an industry is fully aware of the potential carcinogenic effects of its products, what would possess them to multiply the risk rather than search for a way to reduce the potential public health effects? Perhaps only an industry racing to take first-mover advantage rather than one concerned about public health. And the potential for wider wireless applications (automotive, market research, shipping) are getting mobile industry directors all hot and sweaty. This is very similar to the chemical industry in the 1960s-70s – salivating years that saw new chemicals for everything and making many very rich. The chemical industry woke up with a litigious and moral hangover and belatedly introduced the concept of Responsible Care®: an industry-wide commitment to manage the production supply chain with responsibility and stewardship. I see nothing remotely similar on any mobile industry websites. Do they provide any advice on how to reduce exposure? No interest at all, which means governments should come in to regulate.

Governments have been shockingly docile on 4G. Regulators are not even forcing producers to label the radiation exposure levels in the packaging of each handset (not that it would really matter for when I am in the Apple shop getting all excited about their shiny new toys, I don’t see any box until after I have paid for my gadget). SAR ratings exist on government websites somewhere hard to find with tables hard to read and data hard to comprehend (a job well done by some bureaucrat!).

It is stunning to think that we cannot introduce a new drug or chemical on the market without proving it to be safe, and yet when we introduce a new radiation-emitting device that we push next to our brain, there is little demand for anything other than technical standardisation. I fear governments are being equally irresponsible.

Do we desperately need 4G? How important is it for me to upload a photo on the web of me skiing before I get to the bottom of the slopes? Couldn’t my friends wait until I get to the chalet before I make them jealous? Since the mobile networks won’t have the capacity to handle the explosion in data transmissions 4G will bring, couldn’t we take some time to ask these questions until the mobile producers can prove that four antennas are safer than one?

We have to wait for life-saving drugs to be proven safe before we can use them, so maybe my ski pictures can wait.

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