A pediatrician’s concerns about cell phone exposure

A pediatrician’s concerns about cell phone exposure

A guest post by Troy A. Jacobs, MD, @DrTroyJacobs

A proposed Montgomery County zoning bill, regulating residential-neighborhood placement of 5G “small cell” towers, became mired in controversy over the county’s response to claimed health and environmental impacts and has been withdrawn. However controversy continues on several other fronts. We have Montgomery County suing the Federal government over outdated small-cell antenna emission standards and over preemption of local action on cell antennas. And activists’ attention, motivated by health-impact concerns, has shifted to the City of Takoma Park, which is considering an ordinance on small-cell tower rules. Activists will no doubt focus again on the county, should a new bill come before the next council.

Dr. Troy Jacobs

I am a pediatrician. And yes, I have many concerns about cell phones and families but not with cell-phone towers.

It is prudent for many reasons to minimize exposure to cell phones, which can negatively impact children and families in terms of learning, interaction, and physical activity. But there is no current evidence to worry about the non-ionizing radiation that would come from cell towers. By some accounts, having more and smaller towers could potentially DECREASE exposure to this type of radiation. Sure, this radiation is a environmental pollutant that deserves further ongoing research just like light pollution or other toxins in environment. There is always some uncertainty in science but we do have compelling evidence to go forward.

I would direct truly concerned people to credible, vetted evidence-based sources where there is ongoing review of the science, for example, to the National Cancer Institute or American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which explains that “several studies have been done to find out if cell phone use can lead to cancer. These types of studies in people have not shown clear evidence of an increased cancer risk with cell phone use.”

Groups like the AAP have developed understandable and authoritative resources for lay audiences. I’m sharing a link to AAP’s web portal, which has educational and more technical resources available in English and Spanish for anyone on a number of hot topics: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/all-around/Pages/Cell-Phone-Radiation-Childrens-Health.aspx/.

While the AAP advises, “parents should not panic over the latest research, but it can be used as a good reminder to limit both children’s screen time and exposure from cell phones and other devices emitting radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMF),” the group also supports more research into how cell-phone exposure affects human health long term, particularly children’s health. The page linked to above provides sensible safety tips for families.

There are lots of things I could worry about killing someone or causing cancer, plausible threats, but cell-phone towers wouldn’t be high on that list.

Troy A. Jacobs, MD, MPH, FAAP

Troy is a guest blogger who is a pediatrician with both clinical and public health experience. He focuses on health issues impacting Montgomery County and DC area. He lives in Takoma Park.

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