Friday, July 13, 2007

Cellphones and lightning don't mix

If it starts to thunder on the soccer field, don't call home on your cellphone to say the game has been cancelled.
Three doctors warn in this week's British Medical Journal that using cellphones during stormy weather could be fatal.
In a letter to be published Saturday, Dr. Swinda Esprit of Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex, U.K. and colleagues describe the case of a 15-year-old girl who last year was struck by lightning while using her cellphone in a London park.

"The girl has no recollection of events because she had an asystolic cardiac arrest," they report.
The teen was resuscitated, but one year later is in a wheelchair with "complex physical, cognitive and emotional problems", including muscle contractures and weakness. She also has a permanently perforated eardrum and hearing loss on the side she was holding the cellphone.
The researchers found three more cases reported in newspapers in China, Korea and Malaysia since 1999. "All these events resulted in death after the people were struck by lightning while using their mobile phones outdoors during storms," they write in the BMJ.

"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."
Their warning appears in a brief letter, but the journal highlighted the communique in this week's media releases. And it caught two Canadian weather experts by surprise.
"Cellphones don't have an antenna sticking up or wires leading into it, so the physics to me are nothing more than the usual physics of someone standing in a place where lightning hit," such as under a tree, says William Burrows, a senior Environment Canada research scientist. "They're going to get electrocuted anyway."

His colleague, senior climatologist David Phillips, has for years been cautioning Canadians not to talk on regular, landline telephones during a lightning storm. Lightning can strike a telephone pole, or a roof and then travel down conduits such as water pipes, phone or electric lines, "and then jump out at you at the phone.
"Frequently people say, `Well, what about cellphones?' Our policy is that cellphones are all right, that there is no risk from being hit by lightning," Phillips says.
Lightning is lazy and wants to look for the shortest route to the ground. "If you're playing golf and it hits your two iron and then travels down, it can smoke you," Phillips explains.
The British doctors believe metallic cellphones can act in a similar way.

"If you're struck by lightning without holding something conductive it's going to flash over your body causing superficial burns," Esprit said in an interview.
"But if you're holding a mobile or something conductive, the current is going to internalize and you're going to get cardiac arrest and all these other problems. Your injuries are going to be much worse if you're holding the mobile."
The three fatal cases included a 25-year-old Greek tourist who was struck by a bolt of lightning in 2004 on the Great Wall near Beijing while using a mobile phone, and a 46-year-old Korean man who died the same year from a lightning strike while talking on a cell.
"It's rare to be struck by lightning, but people need to be aware that if you are struck by lightning with a mobile you're going to have much more severe, disabling, even fatal injuries as a result," Esprit says.
"Everyone has a mobile. Children have a mobile. And people are not so aware of lightning safety rules."
The Australian Lightning Protection Standard recommends people not use cordless or cellphones during a thunderstorm.
There were approximately 17.1 million cellphone subscribers in Canada about 53 per cent of Canadians as of the end of March, according to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association.
Between six to 10 people are struck and killed by lightning every year in Canada. Ten to 12 times that number are hit and seriously injured.

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smartlegacy said...

"Cellphones and lightning don't mix"

I would have to say that nothing mixes with lightning...

I bet the lightning can get you thru an IPOD too.