The FCC says the radiation coming from your cellphone is no big deal. A cancer surgeon friend told me he begs to differ.
While public health experts continue to debate the issue and the public’s own worries may be overblown, perhaps the best approach is ‘better safe than sorry.’
That’s certainly been the approach of the attorneys for the manufacturers, who have helped craft their mobile phone’s manuals and legal notices.
Modern iPhones, including the 14 Pro Max and the iPhone SE, recommend that their customers ‘use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, headphones or other similar accessories’ to ‘reduce exposure to RF [radio frequency] energy.’
These radio frequency exposures, according to Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation, can be exceptionally high from some mobile devices — with a few energetic Android phones topping the list.
You have to wonder: What do the manufacturers know that we don’t?
A chart of cell phone radiation exposure rates from the Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) compiled by the Digital Information World last year
the New iPhone SE suggests using ‘a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, headphones or other similar accessories’ to ‘reduce exposure to RF [radio frequency] energy’
iPhones manuals published a decade ago recommended users keep their phones 10 mm away
‘People are addicted to their smartphones,’ according to Joel Moskowitz, a researcher in the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health.
‘We use them for everything now, and, in many ways, we need them to function in our daily lives,’ Moskowitz said. ‘I think the idea that they’re potentially harming our health is too much for some people.’
As the director of Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health, Moskowitz has made studying the biological effects of the radio frequency energy on the human body a research priority since 2009.
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But he’s picking up where US federal regulators, in his view, dropped the ball.
‘Cellphones, cell towers and other wireless devices are regulated by most governments,’ said Moskowitz, with one caveat. ‘Our government, however, stopped funding research on the health effects of radiofrequency radiation in the 1990s.’
In 2020, Moskowitz and his colleagues published a review of 46 case-control health studies on the issue of cell phones and health, which they published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
‘Our main takeaway,’ Moskowitz says, ‘is that approximately 1,000 hours of lifetime cellphone use, or about 17 minutes per day over a 10-year period, is associated with a statistically significant 60 percent increase in brain cancer.’
Not every researcher on the topic takes Moskowitz’s grim view, of course. And the UN’s World Health Organization currently maintains that, as yet, ‘no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.’
So, what do I do?
I play it safe and keep my phone away from my body and head as much as possible. (Yes, I’m that person taking calls on my AirPods or speakerphone.)
And I take my cues from overseas agencies, like Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) which lists data on each mobile phone’s specific absorption rate (SAR).
Some phones, it turns out, emit more radiation than others. But what exactly are we measuring with the specific absorption rate?
SAR, which is calculated in watts per kilogram of body weight, quantifies how much energy is absorbed per unit mass by the human body when it’s exposed to a radio frequency.
Typically, it’s based on an absorption value recorded when when you make a call with the phone up to your ear. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) even uses a dummy head to calculate SAR values for cell phones.
In 2018, an NIH report warned of ‘clear evidence’ of a link between high levels of cell phone radiation and brain, heart and adrenal cancers in male rats. The director of Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health, Joel Moskowitz, worries people are too ‘addicted’ too care
But, really you don’t need to know all the details, just that the legal limit is 1.6 watts/kg here in the US.
See where your cell phone falls on the list, compiled by Digital Information World.
These five models emit some of the strongest radiation on the market: Motorola Edge ( 1.79 w/kg); OnePlus 6T (1.55 w/kg); Sony Xperia XA2 Plus (1.41 w/kg) Google Pixel 3 XL (1.39 w/kg); and the Google Pixel 4a (1.37 w/kg) in a tie with the Oppo Reno5 5G (1.37 w/kg).
Men, don’t store your phone in your pant pockets. Ladies, keep it out of your bra.
Not far behind, were the Google Pixel 3 (1.33 w/kg), Huawei’s P Smart (1.27 w/kg) and the OnePlus 9 (1.26 w/kg).
If you’re concerned about your SAR risks, but don’t feel like the hassle of keeping your phone at a distance all the time, these are the phones known to emit the least radiation: the Samsung Galaxy Note10+ 5G (0.19 w/kg); Samsung’s Galaxy Note10 (0.21 w/kg); the Samsung Galaxy A80 (0.22 w/kg); LG G7 ThinQ (0.24 w/kg); and the Motorola Razr 5G (0.27 w/kg).
And given the warnings in the manuals, what about the iPhone?
Well, it falls somewhere in the middle. That iPhone SE with that warning gives off a SAR or 0.98 w/kg.
It’s comparable to other popular models: iPhone 11 (0.95 w/kg); iPhone 12 (0.98 w/kg); iPhone 13 (0.99 w/kg); and iPhone 14 (0.98 w/kg).
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