In Thomas Edison’s day, the X-ray machine was the gypsy’s potion at the fair.
It was snatched up by a scientific community giddy over its ability to reveal the insides of the human body without cutting it open.
And it quickly became the cure-all for everything from unwanted facial hair on women to chronic acne on teenagers.
Shoe salesmen even used it to dazzle customers with a show of their own skeletal toes clawing at the insides of the latest fashions.
But Edison’s top assistant paid for his boss’s X-ray excitations with his excruciating death in 1904, a fact for which Edison never forgave himself.
The radiation Clarence Dally exposed himself to several times a day caused burn-like lesions on his hands, a cancer that eventually spread throughout his body and led to the amputation of both his arms before killing him. His was the first radiation death in US history.
Despite this potent example of the possible harm X-rays could cause, the world was slow to temper its use of X-ray’s fabulous radiation technology.
Even now, more than 100 years and a two detonated nuclear radiation bombs later, we are still niggling the details of radiation regulations in the workplace and in doctors’ offices.
The cellphone, a revolutionary technology in its own right, has only been around since 1983 and it hasn’t burned or killed anyone that we know of.
But as the original cellphone generation enters its 25th year with a radioactive telephone glued to its ear, evidence is mounting that the low radiation levels emitted from cellphones are not as harmless as the companies would like us to continue believing.
It was an advertisement in What’s Up Yukon? that prompted my interest in the cellphone-radiation connection.
In the ad, Quantum Yukon promotes a cellphone cover called a “cell chip,” made by Biopro Technology (“a new generation of wellness solutions”).
How long had it been since I heard any debate about the safety of cellphones? I assumed, like microwave ovens, that they were in the clear.
Boy, was I wrong. It turns out cellphone companies and service providers after just 20 years in the business are facing what asbestos and Big Tobacco did after more than 100.
Class action suits in several US states are pending against a laundry list of companies. The plaintiffs claim the cellphone industry has failed to protect consumers from unsafe levels of radiation and that it has caused health problems ranging from headaches to deadly brain tumours.
The companies stand accused of purposely hiding evidence and knowledge of these ill effects.
As if the early warnings to adults fell on deaf ears and the scientists got discouraged, the scientific community has moved on to studying the effects cellphones have on children and fetuses.
Warnings have been issued in Europe and elsewhere of the dangers of cellphones on young children, who have thinner skulls and are more susceptible to harm by even low and “acceptable” radiation levels.
In 2004, a conglomerate of 12 institutes in seven countries found that cellphones caused genetic damage in fetuses and is continuing its research to find out just how much danger fetuses are in.
The evidence linking cellphones with biological effects, such as DNA damage and changes to the brain’s electrical activity, appears conclusive.
Biopro, maker of the cellphone cover, warns that EMF-radiation causes nervousness, fatigue and forgetfulness because 70 to 80 per cent of the energy emitted from the antenna is absorbed by the head, and cellphone frequencies break down the so-called blood-brain barrier that protects the brain.
But what scientists have failed to conclusively prove is that these effects are directly linked to greater health problems.
There are hints of serious problems such as headaches, cancers, benign tumours, early onset Alzheimer’s and reduced fertility caused by cellphone use. But it could be decades before we know for sure.
Radiation from cellphones going straight into our ear canals could cause deafness. Cellphone radiation absorbed into the eyeballs have caused eye cancer in rats.
Brain, neck and salivary gland cancers in lab animals have resulted after extended cellphone exposure.
But none of these findings has been enough to convince governments and regulatory bodies to encourage curtailed cellphone use among its populations.
The conclusive evidence they require to stand up to the multi-billion-dollar wireless phone industry will come only after several more generations of cellphone users become old.
Brain tumors can take up to 40 years to develop.
Meanwhile, by refreshing our memories about the long and litigious histories of tobacco and asbestos, lobbyists are trying to drive home the point home that early warnings about cellphones have a familiar ring.
In 1898, a UK factory inspector reported asbestos dust was harming workers. But it wasn’t until the 1990s, after at least 70 years of evidence that asbestos caused lung cancer, that countries decided to ban it.
Tobacco has enjoyed much greater success evading official censorship.
As early as 1856, The Lancet medical journal began debating the health effects of tobacco.
The first doctor made the link between smoking and lung cancer in 1912, and finally, in 1964, the US Surgeon General said that smoking caused lung cancer.
However, even though in the 1990s Big Tobacco itself admitted smoking was bad for your health, cigarettes have not been banned in any country but one — quirky and poor Bhutan.
There a pack of smokes costs the average citizen two months’ salary and only one per cent of Bhutanese actually smokes.
It is a country that has the nerve to limit tourists for the sake of “gross national happiness” over gross national product.