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How Safe Are Our Cell Phones?

By 26/02/2015December 6th, 2016No Comments

I remember my first mobile phone, a beautiful Ericsson T28 which went everywhere with me. Over the years, I have invested in new phones as soon as they have been released; l love getting my new phone to see what wondrous things they can do and, of course, to keep up with the Joneses. A friend of mine asked me some years ago why I put my phone in my pocket. I thought the question was nonsensical and responded that everyone put their phones in their pockets. He told me that he didn’t put his in his pocket because he didn’t want it to damage his sperm. I didn’t laugh at him as he thought I might, instead I thought deeply about answer and whether these technologies were actually having an unknown, pernicious effect on my body. I wondered whether there was any truth to whether cell phone radiation actually had a harmful effect on male reproduction and the human body in general.

Whatever cell phone or Internet-connected device you currently use, it emits a non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that gets absorbed by body tissue closest to where it is held, be that your temple or your legs. While official studies into the negative human effects of cell phone radiation have thus far proved inconclusive, other evidence suggests that our use of mobile devices has, however small, important long, medium and short term consequences on our health.

When ultimately decide on whether or not to purchase a digital device, a multitude of factors influence that decision. From the aesthetic desirability of the design, the range of features available, all sorts of elements influence that decision. Rarely does the Specific Absorption Rate factor into that decision, the rate at which the body absorbs radio frequency energy from our mobile devices. You would not be blamed for not really considering this measure because its meaning is opaque.

For example, it would be logical to think that the phone with the lowest SAR would be the safest option to go for. However, this is not always the case as the reported SAR level for a particular device only indicates that its SAR level does not exceed the maximum level of exposure to radiation as indicated by the State. It is not an indication of the level of radiation that one is exposed to during typical usage.

More concerning is that device manufacturers are already cognisant of the fact that their products have at least some effect on the human body and have been advising people for years (deep within the Terms & Conditions) to ensure that their devices are not used in direct contact with the body. If you are not aware of what your manufacturer advises, then the following will be eye-opening to say the least:

  • BlackBerry: “If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by RIM when you carry the BlackBerry device, keep the device at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”
  • Apple iPhone – “For body-worn operation, iPhone’s SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8th inch) from the body….for body-worn operation, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8th inch) away from the body.”
  • LG Shine – “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.”
  • Samsung SGH-a737 – “For body-worn operation, this phone has been tested and meets FCC RF exposure guidelines when used with an accessory that contains no metal and that positions the handset a minimum of 1.5 cm from the body.”
  • Motorola E815 – “If you wear the mobile device on your body, always place the mobile device in a Motorola-supplied or approved clip, holder, holster, case or body harness. If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by Motorola, keep the mobile device and its antenna at least 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from your body when transmitting.”
  • LG VX8350 – “This device was tested for typical use with the back of the phone kept 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) from the body. 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, including the antenna, whether extended or retracted.”

Possible Effects of Radiation on the Body

So, if mobile phone manufacturers already caution against us using their devices so close to the body, what are some of the effects of radiation on the body?



Serial body hacker Tim Ferriss famously documented the effect of cell phone radiation on male fertility. He claimed that the morphology, motility and volume of sperm were negatively affected when he kept his phone in his pocket and only returned to normal once the device was removed. A scientific study conducted by the University of Exeter in the U.K. revealed similar traits, that the quality of sperm was significantly reduced when directly exposed to cell phone radiation. However, the research has not been officially verified by official bodies as it has not been conducted over time and the findings of the research were not repeatable. This same caveat also applies to other scientific research into the possible effects of cellphone radiation in the causation of cancerous tumours.

It’s frustrating to have written so much and to not have a definitive, scientific answer on the safety of these devices we use every day. However, the FCC has provided the following advice on how best to use cellphones:

  • Keep your cellphone away from your body. Don’t keep the phone near your head or reproductive organs whenever it is turned on. Don’t sleep with the phone near your bed. The amount of radiation is related to the square of the distance, so keeping your phone 10 inches away reduces your exposure 100-fold compared to an inch.
  • Use a corded headset or other hands-free method such as a speakerphone or text. Keep your calls short.
  • Minimize cellphone use among children, teens, and pregnant women. A child’s brain absorbs twice as much radiation as an adult brain.
  • Don’t use your phone when the signal is weak, for example, on an elevator or in a moving vehicle, as the phone is designed to increase its signal strength to compensate.
  • When carrying a cellphone in your pocket: Keep the cellphone turned off, or deactivate its signals (i.e. keep it on airplane mode, plus turn off the WiFi and Bluetooth functions). Turn it on or activate it periodically to check for messages, or check for messages from a landline. The cellphone is designed to send signals to cell towers regularly to identify its location, whenever it’s turned on. The WiFi antenna in a smartphone sends beacon signals continually if it’s not turned off.
  • Demand that the government revise regulations, fund research, and issue precautionary health recommendations.

CNET also regularly publishes a list of mobile phones with the highest and lowest SAR levels. I’ve published the most recent list for you here. You can also check out these sites and documentaries which go into this topic in greater detail:

Environmental Health Trust

Disconnected Film:

Radio Frequency Safe:

Mobilize Movie:!cast/c1p9k

Phones with the Highest SAR Concentration:

  • Motorola Droid Maxx
  • SAR: 1.54
  • Motorola Droid Ultra
  • SAR: 1.54
  • Motorola Moto E
  • SAR: 1.5
  • Apple iPhone 6
  • SAR: 1.6
  • Alcatel One Touch Evolve
  • SAR: 1.49
  • Huawei Vitria
  • SAR: 1.49
  • Kyocera Hydro Edge
  • SAR: 1.48
  • Kyocera Kona
  • SAR: 1.45
  • Kyocera Hydro XTRM
  • SAR: 1.44
  • Nokia Asha 503
  • SAR: 1.43
  • BlackBerry Z30
  • SAR: 1.41
  • ZTE Source
  • SAR: 1.41
  • ZTE Warp 4G
  • SAR: 1.41
  • Nokia Lumia 925
  • SAR: 1.4
  • Nokia Lumia 928
  • SAR: 1.4
  • Kyocera Hydro Elite
  • SAR: 1.39
  • T-Mobile Prism 2
  • SAR: 1.38
  • Sprint Vital
  • SAR: 1.38
  • Sprint Force
  • SAR: 1.37
  • Huawei Pal
  • SAR: 1.33
  • Kyocera Hydro Plus
  • SAR: 1.33


Cell Phones with the Lowest SAR Concentration

  • VeryKool RS90
  • SAR: 0.18
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
  • SAR: 0.19
  • ZTE Nubia 5
  • SAR: 0.19
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 2
  • SAR: 0.23
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega
  • SAR: 0.28
  • Kyocera DuraXT
  • SAR: 0.32
  • Pantech Discover
  • SAR: 0.33
  • Samsung Galaxy Beam
  • SAR: 0.35
  • Samsung Galaxy Stratosphere II
  • SAR: 0.36
  • Pantech Swift
  • SAR: 0.37
  • Jitterbug Plus
  • SAR: 0.39
  • Samsung Galaxy Appeal
  • SAR: 0.4
  • LG Exalt
  • SAR: 0.42
  • HTC One V
  • SAR: 0.43
  • Nokia Lumia 1320
  • SAR: 0.46
  • LG Optimus Vu
  • SAR: 0.46
  • Samsung Galaxy S Relay 4G
  • SAR: 0.47
  • Samsung Rugby 3
  • SAR: 0.47
  • HTC One Max
  • SAR: 0.5
  • LG G2
  • SAR: 0.51

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