When I typed "green cell phones" into Google, the top link brought up pictures of cell phones that are the color green. The various shades looked festive, but I was more interested in the materials inside and whether any models were free of toxins. Also, I wanted to know how much electromagnetic field radiation each brand emitted.
Why was I so interested in toxins and radiation? Years ago, I read about cell phones and their potential link to brain cancer. Debate rages on about whether the risks are hyped or genuine, but because we essentially live in a soup of cell phone radiation (thanks to the millions of mobile phone users in the U.S. plus the numerous cell phone towers and antennas), I figured I should try to limit my use.
In 2007, I installed an old-fashioned land line and carried a cell phone only for emergencies and travel. The problem is I have a basic model with no bells or whistles, so when emergencies do pop up, my cell phone doesn't tend to come to my rescue. Last week, for example, I was traveling in a remote region of the country under a work deadline when my laptop went berserk. I needed to access e-mail and, although I found a cell phone signal, it didn't help (no Web browser on my phone). That day, I decided to go forward with an idea I had been toying with for years: buying a smartphone.
Of course, I still want to protect my brain, especially because scientists and neurosurgeons continue to warn of cell phone dangers. A 2008 Swedish study found that young adults who started using cell phones before age 20 are five times as likely to develop a brain tumor.
"Radiation from cell phones has been shown to cause double-strand DNA breaks -- the kind that cells can't repair," said environmental health consultant and EMF expert Stan Hartman of Boulder, Colo.
Hartman added that cell phone radiation "makes the blood-brain barrier more permeable, allowing toxins and pathogens to get into the brain."
Not having a cell phone isn't practical for many, but limiting use to emergencies and short calls is a good start. Opt for a wired headset (not Bluetooth, which is wireless). Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, said if you're not using a wired headset, then hold the phone away from your ear. "Even a little way helps -- especially at the beginning of a call when radiation is the greatest," he said.
Or, better yet, text.
Also, don't keep cell phones close by when sleeping because if it's on -- meaning it can receive a call -- it's radiating. "Maybe not constantly but regularly," Hartman said.
Some phones emit more radiation than others. Their specific absorption rate values can be found in their manuals or online, but according to Hartman, "SAR levels simply measure how much the power of the cell phone may heat up the brain, not what other non-thermal damage they may do." Still, he thinks it's "probably better" to opt for a phone with lower SAR.
Motorola and Nokia have eco-friendly options, and Sony Ericsson's Aspen GreenHeart is made from recycled materials and comes with an energy-efficient charger, but I have my heart set on the Samsung Reclaim. Made with 100 percent biodegradable materials, it's free of lead, mercury and cadmium. Unfortunately, it's not available through my carrier, Verizon. I returned to Google and typed "eco-friendly blackberries." Information on fruit popped up. At the Verizon store, I learned Verizon doesn't have an option -- BlackBerry or otherwise -- comparable to the eco-friendly phones I was finding through other carriers (although Verizon's HopeLine program is dedicated to keeping tech waste out of landfills).
So now I'm faced with the decision of changing carriers or waiting for additional eco-friendly cell phone options to hit the market. In the meantime, I plan on reducing my exposure to EMFs in other ways. Next on my list? Getting rid of my office's Wi-Fi in favor of returning to an old friend of mine: the ethernet cable.