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What's the Latest on Wireless and Your Health?

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the first cell phone call in 1983, the handsets, along with technologies such as Wi-Fi, are as ubiquitous as ever for IT workers and consumers. But are we getting cooked by the radio waves entering our brains?

Although current research shows no clear evidence of health risks from cell phones, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices, as a precaution, you may want to avoid extended use and passing the phones to young children while the jury is still out.

Based on information from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), FDA, FCC and other government agencies, little risk exists as far as ailments such as brain tumors -- at least within 10 years of use -- the NCI reports.

However, studies are ongoing for terms of more than 10 years and the effects of wireless radio waves on children, who, due to their smaller amounts of brain tissue, may be more susceptible to the amount of radiation in wireless devices, according to the NCI.

"There's particular concern with smaller heads and more of the brain receiving radiation from cell phones," explained Joe Bowman, research occupational hygienist for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal government agency that performs research on workplace health hazards.

"We don't know enough about whether theyre might be some effects while the child is still developing," he told InternetNews.com.

So far, so good…

The NCI also has a helpful fact sheet on its site.

"Studies suggest that the amount of RF energy produced by cellular phones is too low to produce significant tissue heating or an increase in body temperature," the NCI reported on its site.

"However, more research is needed to determine what effects, if any, low-level non-ionizing RF energy has on the body and whether it poses a health danger."

The FCC is the government body responsible for monitoring the safety of radio waves coming from wireless devices.

"If there is a risk from these products -- and at this point we do not know that there is -- it is probably very small," reported the FCC, the agency responsible for setting the acceptable levels of wireless radio waves. In the FAQ section on its site, it says there's no evidence that cell phones cause cancer.

"All wireless phones sold in the United States meet government requirements that limit their RF energy to safe levels," the FCC stated on its site. The amount of RF energy a wireless handset user absorbs into the head is measured by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), the FCC reported. The FCC requires wireless phones to have SAR levels no more than 1.6 watts per kilogram.

Short-term usage of cell phones is not a proven problem, according to Bowman. "It's the nature of brain cancer that it takes a long time to develop," he said. Bowman explained that for survivors of the atomic bomb attacks in Japan during World War II, brain cancers took the longest to develop compared with other cancers.

According to Bowman, wireless LAN base stations and 3G cell phones emit less radiation than older mobile phones. He said that in order of wireless radiation absorbed by the body, first comes cell phones, then portable phones in the home, then Wi-Fi wireless devices.

"Of all the wireless devices, Wi-Fi is somewhat in the middle of the pack as far as radiation," he explained. "At the low end, you have the cell phone base stations, the towers, the broadcast antennas."

As for Bluetooth, the popular technology that has people hanging headsets from their ears, the hazards are lower than those of cell phones, according to Mike Foley, Bluetooth SIG executive director.

"Bluetooth wireless technology emits very low electromagnetic waves," Foley said in an e-mail statement to InternetNews.com. "Mobile phones radiate about 200 times more energy than a Bluetooth headset because their signals must travel miles to the nearest cell tower versus the 30 feet range of most Bluetooth devices."

As for cell phones, snagging the iPhone 3G is not a bad idea. Bowman says 3G technology brings down exposure by a factor of 10.

In addition to radiation concerns, research has examined the possibility of rashes developing from mobile phone use. Last week, the British Association of Dermatologists announced research that shows the nickel surface of the phone can cause a rash called "mobile phone dermatitis."

Next page: what's unclear.