How safe is your mobile phone?

In a recent post, we discussed the most recent stance on health risks associated with mobile phones. Now, we focus on the safety levels of specific devices.

The dramatic upsurge in mobile phone use in recent years means that our bodies are experiencing even greater exposure to non-ionising radiation. More importantly, this use is expected to escalate as the devices’ features and functionality increase, and we become even more reliant on them in our personal and professional lives. It is therefore important to consider how safe mobile phones are, especially since most of us carry them on our person, and use them close to our heads.

What levels of radiation are considered safe?

As mentioned in our earlier post, Can your mobile phone make you sick? non-ionising radiation, such as that emitted by mobile phones, microwaves and MRI machines, heats up a body at the cellular level. The rate at which this energy is absorbed by the body is called the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) – the power absorbed per mass of tissue – with units Watts per kilogram (W/kg).

There are a number of factors that affect the amount of energy emitted by a mobile phone, and consequently the amount of radiation to which a user is exposed. They include:

  • the distance between the phone’s antenna and the user
  • the distance from the nearest base station
  • the quality of the mobile device
  • the quality of connection
  • the level of network congestion at a given time (NCI).

Within the Caribbean, mobile phone vendors are most likely referencing the SAR limits used in the United States and in Europe.

  • In the United States, the SAR for mobile phones must be less than or equal to1.6 W/kg.
  • In Europe, the SAR limit for mobile phones is 2.0 W/kg.

How safe is my mobile phone?

Most of the reputable mobile phone manufacturers make the information on their devices’ SAR publicly available. It is usually included in the user guide and/or in the technical specifications. Figure 1 below presents the listed SAR levels for some of the more popular mobile phones in the Caribbean. If your phone is not listed and you would like it to be included, please drop us a note in the Comments section, or via Facebook or Twitter (@ictpulse).

Figure 1: SAR levels for select mobile phones available in the Caribbean (Source: manufacturers and industry websites)

As reflected in the graph, all of the SAR levels are below the US and EU limits, however, some phones are better than others.

Minimising your risk

Critical to minimising the level of exposure to mobile phone radiation is minimising the time that the phone’s antenna is close to the user’s body. To achieve this, the following is advised:

  • keeping conversations on mobile phones short
  • not carrying the phones on the body, and
  • using accessories or features that allow hands-free use.

However, in keeping with Can your mobile phone make you sick? it is emphasised that these suggestions are only pre-emptive the scientific community can provide more definitive answers.