Put Down That Phone and Back Away Real Slowly

Dear Mr. Dad: This may sound paranoid, but all of a sudden I’m getting worried about electricity. My wife, three kids—ages 9-16—and I have smartphones. We’ve also got laptops, a wireless router, wireless phones, Bluetooth headsets, remotes, printers, satellite TV, Wii, Kindles, and about 25 other electronic gadgets spread out all over the house. I’m can’t believe that we aren’t being damaged in some way. Am I crazy?

A: Okay, have you been hacking my email? I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the same thing—and I have a feeling there are a lot more like us out there. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I received two books in the mail—both painting a very ugly picture of electronic pollution. I’ve barely been able to sleep since.
In “Disconnect,” scientist Devra Davis focuses on cell phone radiation and what she believes (and shows pretty convincingly) the industry has done bury the bad news. Health writer Ann Louise Gittleman, author of “Zapped,” also tackles cell phones, but she goes even further, pointing out that potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are and lurking in places we’d never suspect: wall outlets, electric blankets, dimmer switches, hair dryers, iPod docking stations, refrigerators, electric razors, digital cameras, and even those electronic collars dogs wear that let them through their doggy doors.

Both authors present a number of eye-opening studies and facts. For example:

  • France has banned the sale of cell phones for children. Russia, the UK, Canada, Belgium, and a number of other countries, all strongly discourage cell phone use by kids.
  • There is compelling evidence that cell phone radiation actually unravels DNA and can inhibit cell division. Oh, and apparently 3G and 4G phones are worse than 2G.
  • Israeli researchers found that people who kept their cell phone against one side of their head for several hours a day were 50 percent more likely to develop a rare cancer on that cheek.
  • Exposure to EMFs has been linked with sleep disturbances, memory problems, depression, poor sperm production, heart disease, miscarriage, birth defects, immune-system suppression, and even cancer and Lou Gherig’s disease.

So here’s the problem. There’s no going back. We aren’t going to give up our cell phones, microwaves, refrigerators, or very many of the electronic devices that we’ve come to depend on so completely. Nevertheless, there are a few steps you can take to at least reduce some of the risks:

  • Do an EMF audit of your house. There’s a nice checklist in “Zapped” that takes you through your house, room by room, and points out the many hazards.
  • Restrict cell use—especially by kids. If you have to use the phone, keep it away from your head. Use a corded headset. Don’t make calls in cars, trains, or basements, because the phone has to work harder to get the signal out, which means more powerful EMFs. Texting (as long as you’re not driving) is far safer. And at home, consider going back to corded phones.
  • Keep your laptop off your lap. Too much radiation.
  • Keep televisions out of bedrooms. Gittleman says they emit magnetic fields that interfere with the hormone (melatonin) that governs our sleep-wake cycles.
  • Keep furniture away from walls. The wiring in the walls may expose you to dangerous EMF levels.
  • Cook with gas. It doesn’t produce any EMFs. But electric stoves and ovens emit EMFs that can reach up to two feet from the appliance.
  • Wear an aluminum foil hat. Okay, just kidding.
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