Sunday, July 02, 2006

Warnings About Cell Phones and Lightning

July 2, 2006 - Linknet Mobile News

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Warnings About Cell Phones and Lightning

A 15-year-old girl was struck by lightning while using her cell phone in a London park last year. Some doctors and health advocates are warning against the outdoor use of the devices during storms.

Because she suffered cardiac arrest when struck the girl has no memory of the incident. She survived the strike, but is confined to a wheelchair, has lost some hearing in the ear she was holding the phone to, and suffers a variety of physical, cognitive and emotional problems.

Three British doctors writing in the British Medical Journal warned of cell phone use during lightning storms. "This rare phenomenon is a public health issue, and education is necessary to highlight the risk of using mobile phones outdoors during stormy weather to prevent future fatal consequences from lightning-strike injuries related to mobile phones."

But other experts dispute these conclusions, pointing to other variables that may have caused the incident.

John Drengenberg manager of consumer affairs at Underwriters Laboratories Inc., said "I am not aware of any research on a cell phone being a particular attractor of lightning. There's nothing that would indicate they would attract lightning other than the fact that this girl with her cell phone and antenna would be something that would be the only thing that lightning would go to in that area."

Those who warn of the dangers suggest that the proximity of the conductive materials in the phone would disrupt the "flashover" effect caused by the skin in normal lightning strikes. A person's skin is quite resistant to electrical conductivity and usually prevents serious damage to the interior of the body. But "flashover" can result in greater damage and more deaths.

In spite of this convincing sounding theory, the group could find only three other instances where death or serious injury resulted from a lightning strike while using a cell phone.

Experts generally warn against using any electrical appliance during a thunderstorm, including landline phones and household appliances.