Cell phone dangers
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
There are enough cell phones in use for almost half the people on Earth. They've opened communication and convenience to literally billions of people, but is that a problem? Here are four ways your cell phone could be dangerous.

Texting While Driving

In the summer of 2009, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute released a headline-grabbing report showing that the act of writing a text message while behind the wheel is one of the most dangerous things a driver can do. That "How R U doing?" can make a car crash—or near crash—23 times more likely for drivers of large trucks and six times more likely for most motorists.

A separate test by Car and Driver even suggested that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunken driving.

What makes texting behind the wheel so dangerous? It's pretty simple. Every second spent looking at a phone is one not spent looking at the road. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute report says in the time it takes to write even a short text, a driver could travel the length of a football field without even once seeing the road.

In his opening remarks on September 30, 2009, at the two-day Distracted Driving Summit, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "Distracted driving is a menace to society." The federal government reports that almost 6,000 people died and a half million were injured in 2008 because if distracted drivers.

New laws could take the danger of phones right out of drivers' hands. Already, 18 states and the District of Columbia have banned speaking on cell phones while driving, and pending congressional legislation could nudge states into passing bans on texting while driving by threatening to take away federal highway dollars.

Diagnosing Cell Phone Elbow

According to a report in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, long hours spent on your cell phone might not only burn through your plan's minutes—it could also lead to "cell phone elbow," technically known as cubital tunnel syndrome. With nerve pressure and decreased blood flow, this condition leaves suffering talkers with aching, burning, numbness or tingling in the forearm and hand.

Cell phone elbow is the second most common upper extremity nerve compression problem after the better known carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes similar pain and weakness in the wrists.

The Cleveland Clinic says cubital tunnel syndrome can also be triggered by other actions like leaning on an elbow while driving or nonergonomic work desks. If cell phone elbow progresses, it could lead to weakness and difficulty opening jars.

If you feel the symptoms of cell phone elbow, seek medical treatment. A doctor will first need to check for other possible causes for the pain, like a herniated disk or tumor. If it is cubital tunnel syndrome, the good news is most people can fix their problem with simple changes like talking on the phone less, using an earpiece or switching hands more frequently. But surgery is necessary in some cases.

Is a Link Between Cell Phones and Cancer for Real?

In his first month as the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin announced he would begin an investigation into a possible link between mobile phones and cancer. "I'm reminded of this nation's experience with cigarettes," Sen. Harkin was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. "Decades passed between the first warnings about smoking tobacco and the final definitive conclusion that cigarettes cause lung cancer."

The announcement of this investigation comes after years of warnings by advocacy groups. One of the most prominent of these advocates for greater scrutiny of cell phones' cancer risk is Devra Lee Davis, head of the department of environmental oncology at the University of Pittsburgh and author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer. "I don't know that cell phones are dangerous. But I don't know that they are safe," she says.

In 2007, Dr. Oz addressed the issue of cell phone safety on The Oprah Show, saying he practiced caution. "My personal belief, based on some data that shows that brain cells are affected by the cell phone ... [is] we may actually find some problems down the road," he said. "I wouldn't throw my cell phone away. I have one, but I think for a lot of us we ought to think at least about how much we're on the cell phone."

Environmental Hazards of Electronic Waste

When signing a new contract with a cell phone provider—which usually happens once every year or two—you often have the option of buying a new phone at a significant discount. And with the recent proliferation of Internet-enabled phones, even more old phones are now out of use—often shoved into drawers and forgotten. With an average lifespan of 18 months, it's no wonder that between 100 million and a half billion phones are ready to be discarded.

This is good for your service provider because they sign up another customer. It's good for you because you have the opportunity to get the latest technology. But it could be catastrophic for the environment.

If these phones end up in landfills, the materials used to make these cell phones could wreak serious havoc on the environment, some say. According to the website RecyclingforCharities.com, cell phones contain toxic materials and heavy metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium, antimony and nickel. They say electronic waste, or "e-waste"—which includes cell phones, computers, TVs and other electronic devices—is the source of more than 75 percent of those toxins found in landfills. If these electronic devices are not properly handled, some of these toxins can leak out of the landfill space and into the water supply and hurt wildlife.

If those cell phones were recycled, however, enough energy could be conserved to power nearly 200,000 homes for a year. Many technology stores and even some municipalities collect old electronics and recycle them. Find out more about recycling your e-waste from the Environmental Protection Agency.


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