The situation: Just as we were chatting on our iPhones about our Memorial Day weekends, the news broke: The World Health Organization had just classified radio frequency waves — the radiation we know most from cell phones — as "possibly carcinogenic." No new studies were hatched, just a review of existing relevant research, which led to a conclusion of "limited evidence" for certain brain tumors from cell phones — meaning there "could be some risk" and we should "keep a close watch. "Oh, and, by the way, coffee and gas exhausts are also WHO-classified as "possibly carcinogenic." To many of us, this was infuriating and confusing in an orange-terrorist-alert kind of way. But alas, the ongoing wishy-washiness stems from the existing studies' being too small, too outdated, and too ill-designed to be definitive, explains Michael Wyde, Ph.D., of the National Toxicology Program — like the one based on human recall, reporting a 40 percent increased risk among those who used their mobiles 30 minutes a day over 10 years. In hopes of clearing up the confusion, Wyde's team has launched a comprehensive study intermittently exposing rodents to electromagnetic radiation levels mimicking human cell-phone use; final results are slated for 2015. The strategy: Minimize exposure. Smartphones often emit more radiation than simpler varieties, so if you're shopping for a new one, check out Environmental Working Group's cell phone radiation database, consider Pong's cell case, which reduces exposure to radiation by 60 percent, go hands-free by using a headset or speaker, and use landlines for long conversations.
Now that smartphones have replaced iPods, they're also wreaking havoc on our ears. The average listening time on a digital device is about 15 hours a week, compared with seven hours with a Walkman, reports Harvard University researcher Brian Fligor, Sc.D. — and the ear can tolerate only a finite dose of noise over a lifetime. Overworked sensory cells die and leave behind scar tissue, resulting in an errant hum and dissipating hearing. To slow the decline, listen no longer than 90 minutes a day at 80 percent of maximum volume, and trade earbuds for noise-canceling headsets to avoid turning up the volume.