Cell Phones Are Safe? Hold On!

Sandra Folzer, Weavers Way Environment Committee

Cell phones have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. But I have my doubts.

The FDA, in a statement released in early May, stated that “The weight of scientific evidence does not show an association between exposure to radiofrequency from cell phones and adverse health outcomes.” They added, “Additional research is warranted to address gaps in knowledge, such as the effects of cell phone use over the long term and on pediatric populations.”

Earlier this year, the National Cancer Institute conducted a review of research on non-ionizing radiation. They concluded that the studies have not shown clear evidence of a relationship between cell phone use and cancer, but that researchers have reported “some statistically significant associations for certain subgroups of people.”

This statement should not be interpreted to mean there is no risk for cell phone use, only that the research is inconclusive. A 2016 study by Grell, Frederiksen, Shutz et al found “a statistically significant association between the intracranial distribution of gliomas (malignant brain tumors) and the self-reported location of the phone.”

In August, the Chicago Tribune did their own study to see if cell phones emitted radiation beyond the legal limit set by the Federal Communication Commission. They tested 11 models from four companies using accredited labs, and found that most phones exceeded the legal limit. The iPhone 7, for example, measured more than double what Apple reported to the federal regulators. The FCC standards were set in 1997 using the typical amount of use at that time for a 200-pound man. Today, phone use is far greater, with the average time spent on cell phones clocking in at more than three hours each day.

Radiation is measured by specific absorption rate (SARS). You can learn the SARS rating for your phone, but according to an article published in late August on the FCC website, “There is considerable confusion and misunderstanding” about what the rating means. They say the SARS score reflects the worst-case situation for that particular phone but doesn’t say how much radiation occurs with normal use. Thus, a phone which has a high SARS score but low radiation during normal usage might be better than another phone with a lower SARS score but more radiation during regular use.

Cell phones have been updated to make them safer. Antennas — where most of the radiation is emitted — have been moved inside the phone at the bottom, farther away from the ear. This is important since every millimeter matters with radiation.

Here are some precautions you can take when using your phone:

  • Use a hands-free headset or select the speaker setting rather than holding the phone next to your ear. This is especially important when the power is low.
  • Don’t keep your phone in your pocket; put in a bag instead, or use a belt clip.
  • Text whenever possible.
  • Keep your phone use under 30 minutes at a time.
  • When not in use, lay your phone a short distance away.
  • Don’t sleep next to your phone or other devices.