Will your cell phone cause cancer?
That’s the question Consumer Reports recently attempted to answer.
The magazine points out that the medical community is divided, but public opinion is pretty clear. Most people are not concerned about cell phone radiation or limiting their exposure to it.
(A) Consumer Reports survey (found) only 5 percent (of respondents) said they were very concerned about the radiation from cell phones, and less than half took steps to limit their exposure to it.
This is, of course, despite the manufacturer warnings that come with your cell phone. Though, it is likely that the people surveyed never saw those warnings. They are pretty hard to find.
Assuming you haven’t seen them, here are excerpts from a few:
Blackberry – “Use hands-free operation if it is available and keep the smartphone at least 15 mm (0.59 inches) from your body (including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of teenagers) when the smartphone is turned on and connected to the wireless network.”
iPhone – “To reduce exposure to RF energy, use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones or other similar accessories.
LG – “To comply with FCC RF exposure requirements, a minimum separation distance of 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) must be maintained between the user’s body and the back of the phone.”
Motorola – “… keep the mobile device and its antenna at least 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from your body when transmitting.”
These warnings are based on each phone’s Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) values. Per the FCC, SAR is a measure of the rate of RF (radiofrequency) energy absorption by the body. Though it is important to note that a lower SAR does not necessarily mean a “safer” phone.
Almost all of the cell phone manufacturers also add a caveat to their warning that states something to the effect of “accessories or cell phone cases may cause your mobile device to exceed RF energy exposure guidelines.”
In other words, your case may be making your phone work harder to find a signal, thus exceeding the legal radiation limits.
As a consumer reporter, I’ve read the warnings and covered the controversy.
As a Gen Y/Millennial who grew up with a cell phone in my hand, I admittedly have a digital addiction, and thus have long disregarded most of the warnings.
As a new mom, however, I have begun to make some modest changes based on what I’ve learned while reporting on the topic. (See “Why I Chose To Ban Cell Phones From The Bedroom.”)
What I’ve learned is that we simply don’t know enough.
The Consumer Reports article “Does Cell-Phone Radiation Cause Cancer?” does a fabulous job of explaining and summarizing the existing research and arguments on both sides.
Consumer Reports believes cell phone manufacturers need to provide more prominent warnings to help people reduce their risk of exposure. That is something the cell phone industry has been vehemently opposed to, though the tides may be turning.
CTIA – The Wireless Association recently lost a law suit that tried to stop the City of Berkeley, CA, from posting the following cell phone radiation warning in all cell phone stores.
To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. 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.
This potential risk is greater for children.Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.
– Berkeley, CA, Cell Phone Ordinance
The judge upheld the city ordinance citing FCC research and a “reasonable scientific basis” to believe cell phones do present some health risks.
However, Berkeley had to remove a line in the warning that stated children could be at greater risk. The judge noted it was still a “matter of scientific debate.”
However, Consumer Reports says it agrees with the concerns raised by the American Academy of Pediatrics and believes the FCC needs to revise its guidelines to take into account the impact of cell phone radiation on children (existing research suggests their thinner skulls may absorb more radiation).
“The evidence so far doesn’t prove that cell phones cause cancer, and we definitely need more and better research,” says Michael Hansen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Consumer Reports. “But we feel that the research does raise enough questions that taking some common-sense precautions when using your cell phone can make sense.”
Specifically, CR recommends these steps:
Try to keep the phone away from your head and body. That is particularly important when the cellular signal is weak—when your phone has only one bar, for example—because phones may increase their power then to compensate.
Text or video call when possible.
When speaking, use the speaker phone on your device or a hands-free headset.
Don’t stow your phone in your pants or shirt pocket. Instead, carry it in a bag or use a belt clip.
Have you read your cell phone manufacturer’s RF guidelines?
Has it impacted the way you use your phone?