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Originally published Oct. 1, 2008.

by Christopher Brinckerhoff

Video by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Chicagoans swarm Madison Street every weekday morning and evening walking to and from their jobs. A number of them are speaking, but they’re not talking to each other.

The commuters are talking on their cell phones, and some are using headsets and wireless earpieces. Their phones are conveniently tucked away in their purses and pockets. Some research published this year suggested this may not be healthy for human reproduction.

The study, published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine,  said cell phone usage by men might affect sperm quality. The research was completed by the Cleveland Clinic and was called “Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) from cellular phones on human ejaculated semen: an in vitro pilot study.”

The study looked at the effects of electromagnetic waves on human semen by putting it into two small receptacles and exposing one of them to a common model cell phone two centimeters away.

In  the 36 samples they tested the results showed a decrease in the movement and viability of the sperm.

Though the study concedes it was limited in scope, in part, due to a small sample size and having to test in test tubes instead of on live people, another study they also conducted had results consistent with the theory that cell phones impair sperm viability.

In the other study the researchers looked at more than 300 men, and reported a correlation between daily cell phone usage and sperm quality. The research showed that men who used their cell phones more than four hours a day on average also had the least vital sperm on average.

The scientists’ “Effects of radiofrequency…” report said the most significant finding was the increase in  what are called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). ROS is normally created in semen, and antioxidants bond with ROS, thus neutralizing them. This is good because then there aren’t as many free radicals. Free radicals can be bad because they have been associated with cancer formation.

What they found out was that the ROS increased in a statistically significant amount, according to one doctor.

Dr. Paul B. Odland at Columbia College’s Student Health Center said the research seems to pick up on a statistically significant ROS increase.

“The P value is a statistical measurement in which a P value of .05 means that the finding is less due to chance,” Odland said. “This is less than .05 (.022). So that means that it’s unlikely this is a chance measure. It’s suggestive that it’s an actual difference. So that would mean statistically significant. Actually what significance this has for sperm measure and fertility, I don’t know that.”

With the explosion of cell phone usage over the last 20 years and the subsequent growth of cell phone manufactures and carriers, a lot of money has been spent by consumers on these products. One cell phone carrier we contacted has yet to weigh in on the health issue these studies raise.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Verizon Wireless store supervisor Dwayne Garner at the 1105 S. State Street store said he was not permitted to comment on the issue. Garner said any comments made must go through their legal department. Messages left for Verizon’s Midwest media relations manager were not returned.

Some college students are not concerned with this possible cell phone hazard.

Columbia freshman and illustration major Mathew Hamilton was working out at the Student Wellness Center at the 731 S. Plymouth building. Hamilton said he’s not worried about the implications of the research.

“Maybe I will be more concerned if it turns out to be true,” Hamilton said.

Columbia student and film major Kyle Norwood said he’s not concerned about the possible danger either. Norwood said perhaps his future self will be mad at his current self for not being more cautious, but he’s so addicted to the technology it doesn’t bother him now.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Photo by Christopher Brinckerhoff.

Copyright 2008

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