Are cell phones completely safe? It’s easy to assume that just because a product is on the market it’s safe to use. After all, surely regulatory bodies like the FCC wouldn’t allow manufacturers to sell products that are potentially harmful to human health? Well, unfortunately, we can never take anything at face value. And so we arrive at Healthy Living Tip #8: Always read the fine print.
Table of Contents
Read the Manual
The last time you purchased a cell phone, laptop, or other EMF-emitting device, you probably didn’t take the time to read every word of the user manuals and safety pamphlets.
We don’t blame you – those things are great if you suffer from insomnia, but otherwise not particularly enticing. Manufacturers know this. They bet on consumers not bothering to dig into the fine print so they keep it dry and difficult to read on purpose. That way serious safety warnings can go largely unnoticed.
Here’s the thing though: those serious safety warnings exist. Most cell phone manuals contain warnings against holding the device against your head as well as recommendations not to carry it in your pocket.
Here’s a direct quote from the latest iPhone documentation:
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To reduce exposure to RF energy, use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories.The Apple iPhone Manual
In other words, Apple acknowledges that RF exposure from their iPhones is harmful – at the very least, exceeds federal regulatory guidelines – and should be avoided. Not even companies like Apple will say that cell phones are completely safe.
There’s also something else to be aware of when reading the small print. Documentation will often state that a device meets the legal safety requirements and exposure limits. So shouldn’t this reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about?
Not exactly. We’ll briefly explain why.
The safety limits referred to here are based on the specific absorption rate (SAR) – the rate at which human tissue absorbs RF energy. Manufacturers are legally required to publish the SAR information of their devices and appliances to sell them.
The word “absorption” in the term “specific absorption rate” is crucial here because this defines the kind of data you receive from SAR tests.
SAR doesn’t tell you how much EMF your gadgets emit. Instead, it tells you how much EMF your body will “absorb” from said devices.
Regulatory bodies around the world have set their own SAR limits. For example, to be able to sell an electronic gadget in the US, its SAR value can’t go over 1.6 w/kg, averaging over 1 gram of tissue.
What does this mean?
See, different body parts are subject to different radiation levels. For example, your ears are much more exposed than your feet simply because they’re much closer to your phone.
The SAR limit of 1.6 w/kg means that no matter where you choose a tiny sample of 1 gram of tissue from, it shouldn’t receive more than 1.6 mW (milliwatt) of radiation. [1.6 w/kg * 0.001 kg]
This is to impose a stricter limit and prevent companies from taking an average over larger samples.
To better understand this, let’s look at radiation (or SAR) levels from different iPhone generations based on US limits.
iPhone X SAR Levels
|iPhone X||1.09 w/kg||1.17 w/kg|
|iPhone XR||1.13 w/kg||1.16 w/kg|
|iPhone XS||1.19 w/kg||1.18 w/kg|
|iPhone XS Max||1.16 w/kg||1.17 w/kg|
iPhone 11 SAR Levels
|iPhone 11||1.09 w/kg||1.18 w/kg|
|iPhone 11 Pro||1.18 w/kg||1.16 w/kg|
|iPhone 11 Pro Max||1.16 w/kg||1.17 w/kg|
iPhone 12 SAR Levels
|iPhone 12||1.17 w/kg||1.19 w/kg|
|iPhone 12 Pro||1.16 w/kg||1.17 w/kg|
|iPhone 12 Mini||1.16 w/kg||1.09 w/kg|
|iPhone 12 Pro Max||1.17 w/kg||1.19 w/kg|
iPhone 13 SAR Levels
|iPhone 13||1.18 w/kg||1.19 w/kg|
|iPhone 13 Mini||1.19 w/kg||1.19 w/kg|
|iPhone 13 Pro||1.20 w/kg||1.19 w/kg|
|iPhone 13 Pro Max||1.18 w/kg||1.20 w/kg|
iPhone 14 SAR Levels
|iPhone 14||1.15 w/kg||1.16 w/kg|
|iPhone 14 Plus||1.14 w/kg||1.15 w/kg|
|iPhone 14 Pro||1.14 w/kg||1.15 w/kg|
|iPhone 14 Pro Max||1.14 w/kg||1.07 w/kg|
Pro tip: Dial *#07# on any phone to instantly see its SAR information.
The Problem With SAR
While the FCC deems SAR below 1.6 w/kg “safe,” many experts disagree. This is because research studies have found biological effects way below the legal limit.
Check out the SYB Health Effects App for more information.
SAR limits also don’t take everyone into account.
When a device’s SAR is tested, it’s done so in a lab using a dummy head (the head of a large adult male). There are numerous reasons why the accuracy of this method is iffy at best.
Some research has even found that this model underestimates radiation absorption in adults and children by a factor of two or more.
On top of that, the exposure levels are frequently measured while the device is held away from the body. This has been called the dirty secret of cell phone testing because it doesn’t reflect real-world conditions.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of SAR if you want to know more, but for the purpose of this post, it’s just important to understand that when a device’s manual says it meets safety standards, that doesn’t mean it’s actually safe. If it was, the same fine print wouldn’t follow up with a recommendation to keep the device away from your body.
If you’re ever skeptical that radio frequency exposure is a real threat, all you have to do is pick up the documentation of your cell phone or laptop and have a look through.
Read the fine print, and you’ll find out why you shouldn’t be using your laptop on your lap or carrying your smartphone in your pocket.
In fact, this is precisely why the California Department of Public Health has issued a warning for cell phones.
The California Cell Phone EMF Radiation Warning, Explained
“Keep your phone away from your body,” the California Department of Public Health has warned in a recent set of health and safety guidelines. “Carry your cell phone in a backpack, briefcase, or purse; NOT in a pocket, bra or belt holster.” The California cell phone warning was released to the public on December 13, 2017, in a document titled “How to Reduce Exposure to Radiofrequency Energy from Cell Phones”.
Other tips for reducing exposure in California’s document include sending text messages instead of talking, using headsets, and not sleeping with your phone near your head unless it’s been switched onto airplane mode.
Public Health Concerns
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) notes that “the science is still evolving” when it comes to cell phone radiation and health. And yet, the fact that documents like the California cell phone warning exist at all highlights that there’s more to the issue than a lot of official findings would have us believe.
“There are concerns among some public health professionals and members of the public regarding long-term, high use exposure to the energy emitted by cell phones,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a statement. “We know that simple steps, such as not keeping your phone in your pocket and moving it away from your bed at night, can help reduce exposure for both children and adults.”
There’s a section in the CDPH’s guidelines that addresses the health concerns directly. It points out that some lab experiments and human health studies have already suggested that “high use of cell phones may be linked to certain types of cancer and other health effects” including “brain cancer and tumors,” “lower sperm counts and inactive or less mobile sperm,” and “effects on learning and memory, hearing, behavior, and sleep.”
These are just a few of the health risks of cell phones that science has demonstrated over the past few decades.
Cell Phone Use and Children
The CDPH also highlights the dramatic increase in cell phone use in the US in recent years. About 95 percent of Americans own a cell phone, according to their statement, while the average age when children get their first cell phone is now just 10 years old.
This sharp increase is part of what makes measuring the effects of cell phone use long-term so difficult. Real-world data for the levels of exposure we’re currently receiving simply does not exist yet on a long-term scale. This is also the case with measuring the true effects of radio frequency exposure on children, since those effects may not become apparent for a number of years, or even decades.
The studies that have been done suggest that children are more at risk from cell phone radiation. “There is not a lot of research about the effects of cell phone RF energy on children or teenagers,” notes the CDPH report, “but a few studies have shown that there may be hearing loss or ringing in the ears, headaches, and decreased general well-being.”
There are several reasons why young people are more at risk. Firstly, the RF energy can reach a larger area of a child’s brain. Secondly, that brain, as well as the child or teenager’s body, is still developing. And thirdly, early adoption of mobile technology will result in many more years of exposure over a lifetime. This is why a “better safe than sorry” approach is recommended by the CDPH and other major health organizations when it comes to cell phone use and children.
Bringing the California Cell Phone Warning To Light
Original drafts of the CDPH document were far more explicit in their warnings. On the matter of children, for example, an initial version from 2009 stated “Do not allow children to use a cell phone, except for emergencies.”
27 versions of the guidelines were reportedly produced between then and the final public version. The CDPH had become concerned that releasing the information would cause panic within the public — and so wording was gradually softened or removed, and finally the document was buried all together.
In 2016 a Berkeley professor named Joel Moskowitz, the director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health, found out that the CDPH was withholding the warnings from the public. He sued the state of California, and they were eventually ordered by the courts to release the information.
The legal situation surrounding the California cell phone warning calls attention to a common problem with health information today: too often it can become clouded by bureaucracy, or diluted for fear of causing alarm.
“It seems to me better late than never to notify the public,” Moskowitz has said. “The public has a right to this information paid for with their tax dollars.”
Why Keep Your Cell Phone Away From Your Body?
Cell phones are constantly emitting radio frequency energy as they communicate with cell towers. The closer a device is to your body, the more of this RF radiation you will absorb. As noted by the CDPH guidelines, cell phones also emit RF energy when using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but at lower levels.
Keeping your cell phone away from your body is not always possible. Thankfully there are extra measures you can take to Shield Your Body — and your children — from RF radiation. As a next step, learn why we at SYB say the best EMF protection is free.