What are the health risks during pregnancy?
Today, the evidence remains mixed. Radiation has long been cited as a health risk to young children and developing fetuses, but scientific experts still debate the nature and extent of that risk. Because the dangers caused by radiation can take years to show their effects in young children, the risks during pregnancy from radiation are difficult to pinpoint and represent increased probabilities of health impacts developing over time.
However, many health experts and governments recommend applying the “precautionary principle” towards these risks until we know more, especially during pregnancy. Parallels have been drawn to other toxins such as tobacco and asbestos, which took decades for policy and awareness to catch up with emerging scientific evidence. Most scientists agree that more studies must take place with large populations over extended periods of time, but funding for such studies has been limited.
What we do know, is that radiation at the levels emitted by cell phones and wi-fi DOES have a biological impact. Numerous studies have shown that it impacts the way cells grow, DNA replicates, and brain cells function. Because of this, health experts believe early childhood and pregnancy – when rapid and complex cell development occurs – are the times of highest risk. See below for the potential health impacts being discussed.
According to The New York Times and renowned researchers like Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington, about 70% of studies that were not funded by the wireless industry itself have found there to be adverse biological impact from everyday radiation. The biological impacts found primarily fall into 3 categories: cellular growth, DNA replication, and neurological functioning.
The impact on cellular growth has ranged from observed cell growth retardation and cell damage to impaired cell attachment (Aldinucci et al. 2003, Buemi et al. 2001, Pacini et al. 1999, Raylman et al. 1997, Linder-Aronson & Lindskog 1995).
At the genetic level, altered gene expression (Hirose et al. 2003, Hirai et al. 2002) and altered fetal development – specifically of the cardio-vascular systems (Okazaki et al. 2001) – has been observed.
Most of the studies to date have been conducted in controlled laboratories, so it is difficult to say how this manifests in the population at large as the effects may take decades to express themselves (additionally, radiation exposure today is orders of magnitude greater than 15 years ago). However, the concern is that small but pervasive changes to cellular and genetic processes early in life will have developmental effects, especially for children whose brains are rapidly developing and their tissues absorb relatively larger amounts of radiation than adults.
A 2010 study by researchers at UCLA spanning 29,000 children found that by age 7, there was a 50% increase in behavioral problems for children that had “regular exposure” to mobile phones in the womb and during early childhood. The behavioral problems included hyperactivity, attention disorders, and social issues. Similar findings came out of an early study of 13,000 Danish children.
According to these studies, the more frequently a mother used a cell phone, the greater the risk that her child would have a behavioral problem. Mechanisms behind the connection have not been established, though it has been theorized that the radiation from cell phone use may affect the regulation of hormone secretion impacting metabolism and brain development.
Research has found evidence tying magnetic field exposure — especially the type from video display terminals such as those in computers and televisions — to increased risk of miscarriage (Lee et al. 2002, Juutilainen et al. 1993, Lindbohm et al. 1992). Proximity to power lines has also been linked to miscarriage (Li et al. 2001, Robert et al. 1996). In both cases, the associations are especially strong for early stage pregnancies.
The American Pregnancy Association cites radiation, amongst caffeine, smoking and alcohol, as a potential contributor to the risk of miscarriage and recommends avoiding radiation to reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Over 5 million people in the US suffer from infertility. Multiple studies have linked everyday radiation exposure to lower fertility in both men and women, but there has generally been more research done around the impact of everyday radiation on men’s fertility.
In 2010, the European Science Foundation issued a report that at least 1 in 5 men is “subfertile” and that sperm count and quality has been dropping consistently in the developed world over the past couple decades – falling up to 20-30% over the past decade alone.
A 2008 study presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine found men who use cell phones for 4 hours a day had 25% lower sperm count than those that don’t use cell phones. Of the sperm they did have, 80% were not properly formed and motility (a measure of swimming ability and a crucial factor in conception) was down by a third.
Other studies have found similar results, such as the 2011 study out of Queens University which looked at 2,100 men and found a “significant difference” in sperm count between men who used cell phones and those that did not. Additionally, this study found cell phone use decreased the luteinizing hormone, a significant reproductive hormone secreted in the male brain.
Cancer is one of the most discussed impacts from everyday radiation. Evidence has been found of relationships with multiple types of cancer including breast cancer, hematological cancers, and brain cancer. The World Health Organization has classified cell phone radiation in the same potentially carcinogenic category as chloroform, lead, and engine exhaust. This conclusion draws on research that has found a greater risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with cell phone usage.
Childhood leukemia and other hematological cancers (lymphoma and multiple myeloma) have been shown in multiple studies to be associated with low-frequency magnetic fields, such as those from power lines. A causal biological mechanism is not understood, but the association has been found to have strong statistical significance. In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified these magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on the demonstrated “consistent pattern of a two-fold increase in childhood leukemia associated with average exposure to residential power-frequency magnetic fields.”