Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Letters

Injury from lightning strike while using mobile phone

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7556.1513-b (Published 22 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1513

Rapid Response:

Mobile phones not a lightning strike risk

Editor - The claim in the recent letter (‘Injury from lightning
strike while using mobile phone’ – 24 June) that mobile phones are a risk
when used in a storm is misleading.

Although some people speculate mobile phones pose a risk when used
outdoors because lightning is attracted to metal, mobile phone handsets
generally contain insignificant amounts of metal.

Following worldwide media interest in the letter, the US National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responded, saying lightning
is not attracted to people carrying mobile phones.

“Cell phones, small metal items, jewelry, etc., do not attract
lightning. Nothing attracts lightning. Lightning tends to strike taller
objects,” said John Jensenius, a NOAA National Weather Service lightning
expert.

“People are struck because they are in the wrong place at the wrong
time. The wrong place is anywhere outside. The wrong time is anytime a
thunderstorm is nearby.”

The concern that mobile phones attract lightning was first raised a
number of years ago in an internet hoax and is now a recognised urban
myth.

The medical profession is well aware of the misinformation on this
topic as pointed out by Dr. Mary Ann Cooper- Associate Professor,
Departments of Emergency Medicine and Bioengineering, University of
Illinois at Chicago, in her paper on lightning injury facts:

“The medical literature and medical practice are resplendent with
examples of (lightning) myth that grow out of misread, misquoted, or
misinterpreted information and that then continue to be propagated without
further investigation.” 1

The types of injury observed in the letter are also well known 2 and
Dr Cooper also points out that:

“No lightning danger is inherent to cellular phones. Although many
reports of lightning injuries involve people who are using cellphones,
these reports represent the ubiquity of cellphone usage and of their
users' inattentiveness to weather conditions and have nothing to do with
the phones themselves.” 3

Furthermore, the claim that the Australian Lightning Protection
Standard recommends mobile phones should not be used during storms is
incorrect. The standard (AS/NZS 1768-2003 not AS/170 as cited) does not
make any such recommendation.

In fact, the standard advises people use mobile phones instead of
conventional corded telephones during storms because conventional phones
pose a well documented risk.

The very real risk presented by your letter is people may not have
their mobile phone with them in order to call emergency services if
someone is struck by lightning nearby.

Yours sincerely

Chris Althaus
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association

1 Cooper MA, Lightning Injury Facts Myths, Miracles, and Mirages,
Adapted from Seminars in Neurology, Volume 15, Number 4, December 1995.
http://www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury/ltnfacts.htm (Last accessed 28
June 2006)

2 Cooper MA, Disability Not Death is the Main Problem, National
Weather Digest, 25:1,2:43-47, June 2001.
http://www.uic.edu/labs/lightninginjury/Disability.pdf (Last accessed 28
June 2006)

3 Lightning Injuries eMedicine Clinical Knowledge Base, Last Updated:
October 26, 2005 http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic299.htm (Last
accessed 28 June 2006)

Competing interests:
AMTA is the peak body representing mobile phone carriers and handset manufacturers in Australia and is funded by member fees.

Competing interests: No competing interests

29 June 2006
Chris W Althaus
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)
Canberra, Australia