Part of the show Naked Science Q & A and the World of Chemistry
Pauline in Essex asked:
Is it dangerous to live 500 metres away from a mobile phone mast?
It's far less dangerous than using the phone yourself. No one's actually found a dangerous relationship with using a phone. When you use a phone, that transmitter is a couple of centimetres away from your head, and the strength of the signal goes down with the distance squared. So it's going to be thousands and thousands of times weaker than your mobile phone right next to your head.
To explore the science of this - if you look at the energy of a microwave, and the reason we have these things in our kitchen and cook with them and we are happy to put a microwave source or a mobile phone to the side of our heads, is because the energy in the wave of a microwave is not sufficient to break chemical bonds in the same way that an x-ray or a gamma ray, or more intense forms can. And therefore they're viewed as non-ionising forms of radioation, and are viewed to be safe. That said, there's no evidence that if you do expose your nervous system to these things that they won't have a temperature effect; because we think that they might warm your head up a little bit if you're exposed to a phone. But of course the mast is much further away than a phone is. But also, exposing tissue to microwaves for long periods of time may or may not have some sort of growth related effect.
Certainly in terms of cancer there isn't enough energy in phone radiation to damage DNA which is the ultimate cause of cancer. Virtually all the studies that have been done have not found a significant link between mobile phone use and cancer. The one thing we don't have is really long term data and that's hopefully coming in in the next couple of years. But the studies certainly haven't found an effect in terms of cancer.