- Using accredited lab tests that mimic human tissue, reporters from The Chicago Tribune tested smartphone radiofrequency radiation emitted by 11 models of popular cell phones.
- They found most of the phones exceeded the legal limit set by the FCC of 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue.
- Radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 — one of the most popular smartphones ever sold — measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing.
- The FCC is currently investigating the reported findings.
A recent investigation has reignited debate over the safety of cell and smartphones. It’s also spurred class-action lawsuits and has activists calling on federal regulators to reassess the limits of radiation allowed to seep out from radio-emitting mobile devices that are now a part of daily modern life.
The Chicago Tribune recently released findings of its own investigation into radiofrequency radiation emitted by popular smartphones, including several variations of the iPhone.
Overall, Tribune reporters, using accredited lab tests that mimic human tissue, tested 11 models from four companies: Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and BLU.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — which regulates cell phones, among other things, in the United States — has set radiation standards for cell phones at 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue. Most of the phones the Tribune tested well exceeded that amount at 2 millimeters, or the distance your phone would be in your pocket.
“Radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 — one of the most popular smartphones ever sold — measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing,” the Tribune reported.
Radiofrequency (RF) radiation is of a concern because, according to the FCC, “It has been known for many years that exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly.”
Essentially, it operates the same way a microwave cooks food, and organs like the eyes and testes are particularly vulnerable because there’s not enough blood flow to cool them down.
But there are larger concerns over how much radiation the U.S. federal government allows cell phones to emit, especially after the Tribune’s reporting found they often were in excess of that.
The FCC’s standards were set in 1996 and reflected the typical amount of use during that time and on a 200-pound man.
But phones back then were just that — phones.
Now with unlimited games, applications, and social media, the average time spent on smartphones is now 3 hours and 10 minutes per day. And that’s from people of all ages, sizes and genders. Some of that use borders on
Ellie Marks, executive director of the nonprofit California Brain Tumor Association, is “not at all surprised by” the Tribune’s findings and is happy to see class-action lawsuits being filed following its publication. She has testified before Congress on the issue, as her husband developed a brain tumor they believe was due to long-term cell phone use.
She’s been arguing for the FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reassess their guidelines for radiation from cell phones, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently announced they would be keeping the guidelines as they currently stand. This even as the country currently looks to expand its 5G coverage across the country, which would expose more people to even more radiofrequencies.
“This cannot be left to FCC or FDA to investigate,” Marks told Healthline. “The collusion and corruption between the FDA, FCC and telecom is out of control.”
Marks and other advocates who have wanted regulations changed argue the FCC is too beholden to private interests to address the issue.
“The industry, FDA and FCC keep repeating the mantra that there is no evidence of harm. That is a blatant lie, but they need to do this for liability reasons,” Marks said. “There is extensive research proving cell phone radiation is causing DNA damage and cancer — not just brain, but salivary gland, thyroid, breast, damage to fetuses, damage to sperm, miscarriages, bone cancer and more.”
Last November, Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health,
Dr. Santosh Kesari, a neuro-oncologist and chair of the department of translational neuro-oncology and neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said that statement was based on tests on rats, which is hard to extrapolate to humans.
“There have been many studies over the decades in animal models that show some effect on cancer incidence, however all the studies slightly differ, and again, the dose exposure is more than humans are exposed to, so the relevance to the human situation remains unclear,” Kesari told Healthline.
To be safe, experts suggest the following practices to limit unnecessary exposure to radiation from mobile devices:
- Unplug from your usual device usage as much as possible.
- Don’t keep your phone next to your body, such as in a pocket.
- Use speakerphone or a headset when making calls.
- Don’t sleep next to your phone or other devices.
- Keep the phone on airplane mode when you’re not using it.
There are some products aimed at reducing radiation, such as SafeSleeve device covers that claim to block over 99 percent of RF and 92 percent of extremely low frequency radiation.
The company was founded by Cary Subel and Alaey Kumar, who began studying electromagnetic radiation as engineering students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo a decade ago.
“Just because you can’t feel, see, smell, or hear it, does not mean that the emissions from your electronics are harmless,” Subel said, who added there is “strong evidence” that the FCC’s limits for RF exposure levels are far too high.
While activists wait for federal regulators to address allowed radiation from cell phones, Marks continues to work with cities and states across the United States that want to give consumers information about devices’ safety at the point of sale, which is often followed with lawsuits from industry saying that violates their company’s First Amendment rights.
Berkeley, California, passed an ordinance that took effect in 2016. It requirs retailers of cellular devices to carry a warning: “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.”
CTIA, trade group of devices retailers, fought the ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The city eventually prevailed and the warnings remain at cell phone retailers.
“Yes, we need new safety guidelines and experts have suggested them to no avail,” Marks said.